naperville therapists

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“You’ll see, the ice cubes will still be there tonight.”

The summer weather is sultry when I show my friend my new water bottle. Boasting state of the art technology, it can sit in the heat all day, while the ice cubes barely melt at all. He and I will be spending the day together, so I fill the bottle with ice, and I plan to amaze him.

At first, I interpret his lack of enthusiasm as skepticism.

So, as the day progresses, every hour or so, I pick up the bottle, rattle it, and the sound of ice cubes fills the air. Each time, I look at him expectantly. Each time, he remains nonplussed. I figure it’s only a matter of time. How many hours have to pass before he is astounded?

Finally, dusk is descending. I pick up the bottle. Shake. Rattle. The ice cubes are alive and well. I look at him once again, expectantly. And finally, he responds, but it’s not the response I’m expecting: “It seems like a solution to a problem that never existed.”

Huh.

I have to admit, keeping ice cubes from melting all day is not a problem I’d ever thought about solving until this company told me it was a problem and they had a solution. After all, what’s the point of keeping water cold all day if you’re not going to drink it? It makes you wonder, how many of the solutions we seek are solutions to problems that never existed? Sort of like pre-lit Christmas trees, electric nose hair trimmers, and spicy mocha lattes.

And worthiness.

You see, as a therapist, most clients come to me searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They want to know how to become more worthy, more acceptable. They feel like something is broken inside of them and if they could only fix that thing, then life would start to work the way it is supposed to. They believe they are fundamentally flawed and if that flaw was corrected, they would finally find the peace they have been longing for.

In other words, they’ve been sold a bill of goods by their shame.

Shame—the belief we are not inherently good enough and must do something or prove something or fix something to be worthy of love and belonging—begins convincing us from a tender young age that our worthiness has gone missing. It comes from every angle and eventually gets inside of us, and it pitches all sorts of solutions to our worthiness “problem.” It whispers, “You will be worthy if…”

You win the most trophies.

Hang out with the right crowd.

Get the best grades.

Work the hardest.

Fabricate the most flawless persona.

Find a love like in the movies.

Buy the right house in the right neighborhood.

Go to the biggest church.

Vote for the right candidate.

The problem is, none of these solutions ultimately work, because they are solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist. Our worthiness has not gone missing. It is alive and well. Forgotten, perhaps, but quietly humming away at the center of us. Once upon a time we knew this. Then, once upon a time, shame caused us to forget it.

So, here is a real solution to a real problem: The 80% Rule.

For the vast majority of us, eighty percent of what we think is problematic about us is not a problem at all. The real problem is the thought that we have a problem. We’re tortured by this thought. It keeps us longing and searching and striving and doing and achieving and reading blogs and buying self-help books and paying for expensive therapies for many, many years.

As a therapist, my first job is not to help you fix all of your problems; it’s to help you discover that the bulk of them are not problems at all. In therapy, our first task is to help you to embrace who you are, including your flawed but perfectly acceptable humanity. It means confronting the lying voice of shame in your head, which you began accepting as truth so long ago. It means listening for a different voice within.

The voice of grace.

Once you’ve heard it, then we can deal with the other twenty-percent of life and pain and brokenness and grief and loss and disappointment and disorder. Then, we can starting figuring out, together, how to redeem all that mess. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First, let’s shake who you are,

let’s hear the thirst-quenching worthiness splashing around inside of you,

no ice cubes required,

and let’s rejoice at a problem that never existed in the first place.

_____

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Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing at Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives at DrKellyFlanagan.com. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

Disclaimer: Posts on the Artisan Clinical blog represent a combination of our therapists’ personal opinions and professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with a therapist via the blog post or the comments section does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more familiar with your specific situation. While all blog comments are read and appreciated by our therapists, the blog cannot be monitored continuously, so if you have a need that requires immediate attention, you should go to your nearest emergency room for assistance. We do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

If you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, you can do so on our "make an appointment" page. We respect the privacy and confidentiality of our clientele, so we write about ourselves, not our clients.
Dr. Kelly Flanagan
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