Jul 08, 2020
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Group therapy isn’t as bad as you think

A little over a year ago, I decided to join group therapy. Let’s be real here, I was scared out of my mind.

I have been open about my experience with individual therapy but private about my experience in group therapy.

That is of course for confidentiality reasons, but more so because it has been such an uncomfortable yet comforting experience for me to actually enjoy group therapy.

As someone with generalized anxiety, I am hesitant about any frame of group work, both professional and personal. 

I remember being in elementary school and my teacher putting us in group work. I would go to the bathroom to avoid having to introduce myself to people.

I was not sure why that brought on so much stress for me, but the anxiety of groups has definitely stuck with me as an adult. 

I started college and had to take the worst class of my life . . . group communication.

Something about having to voice my opinions and thoughts aloud with others made me think I was being judged. Yet the only person who was doing the judging was myself. 

In November 2018, I joined a group therapy class at the urging of my therapist, telling me it would benefit me to be vulnerable with my experiences with others.

Mind you, I fought her for seven months before finally agreeing to join the group. 

I wasn’t in a good place in my life, and she was sure that this would be a great way for me to build more supportive relationships and get through personal situations by being open with others. 

I remember walking in and everyone was staring at me. I thought, “I could leave now?” I also thought, “This is stupid, why would anyone willingly go share their life with strangers?”

I decided to sit through my first day at the group and give it a try before checking out mentally or literally running out the door. 

Suddenly 30 minutes into my class, my group members started sharing painful experiences from abuse, neglect,  family dysfunction, anxiety, addiction, depression, divorce and so much more.

I remember thinking, “Wow, why am I so anxious to share with these people? They have and are sharing the same experiences and pain I am going through.”

The next week, my therapist asked me to share with the group about what was going on in my life.

I sat there with a tight chest, sweaty hands, shoulders tightening and my throat closing.

Yet before I knew it, I was telling strangers a lifetime of secrets and painfulful situations that had been building up inside me, eating me alive. 

Those secrets were keeping me sick, and I was allowing them to come out as anger and self-destruction. 

Anger is a secondary emotion, which means that underneath the anger is a primary emotion such as fear, guilt, jealousy and shame. 

Those are just some of the emotions I was feeling, and I didn’t know that till I joined group therapy. I suddenly learned that others were experiencing painful situations right beside me.

Most people think that group therapy can be competitive or a way of “comparing” problems of who has it worse, yet that stereotype is actually far from right.

I must admit, even though that was the case for my idea of groups, I started to realize it wasn’t a matter of who was better or worse, it was that we were all brought to this moment to meet each other and validate and support each other through our pain. 

The truth is, no one understands pain or trauma like someone who has first-hand experienced it, and that is what brought me a sense of safety in group therapy. 

If you told me a year ago I would look forward to my group therapy every Friday morning at 8 a.m., I would have laughed right in your face.

Group therapy has become my favorite place. 

After a long week of work and school, I get to spend two hours with people who are supportive of my journey. I get feedback on ways I can handle life situations. I get skills from my therapist group coach, and I get a place to be myself with no judgment.

Group therapy has been especially helpful in my sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Seven months of sobriety, and each group member is continually supportive in asking how I am doing and cheering me through victories of fighting relapses.

What started off as an anxiety, a moment for me to freeze and run, groups stopped being my trigger and started being my safe place. 

If you have ever thought about joining group therapy and have experienced similar anxiety or doubts, I want you to know it is not as bad as you are imagining it.

It may be uncomfortable, but change never starts with being comfortable. Uncomfortable means you are taking yourself out of the situation and seeing what you can do to better yourself. 

Allow yourself to be vulnerable because you never know who will be inspired by your life story. You also never know whose life story may inspire you. 

I stayed silent growing up because I didn’t think I had a reason to complain or have a voice. I suppressed my emotions and invalidated my painful situations of childhood abuse and neglect to protect others. 

When others shared those experiences with me, I finally saw that I wasn’t alone. That allowed me to work through the anxiety thinking I was being judged, which allowed me to start to be transparent in my life with close friends about my struggles. 

I am not alone, and neither are you. So, join the group. If you don’t give it a try, at least give it a trial.

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