People usually live in their bubbles – and in their heads – so we can often assume that our experiences are weird and singular, and therefore something to be ashamed about.
Therapists listen to people talk day in and day out, though, so they’re more objective – and with a breadth of experience, can assure us all that these 18 things aren’t nearly as weird as we think.
1. It’s more common than people think.
When I was in private practice, I specialized in Borderline Personality Disorder. I did DBT, which is the evidence-based treatment for it, but there is so much shame and stigma around having BPD I have seen providers hesitate to diagnose it.
My favorite sessions were the ones where I would talk about why and how people get BPD and seeing the relief on people’s faces when a therapist can see that this is also something happening TO them and that there is a type of therapy specifically designed to help…those were my favorite sessions.
And, to answer the question correctly, BPD. BPD is much more common than people think.
2. A physical impact on the body.
I work with a lot of anxiety and trauma clients Whenever I ask if they would describe their experience as being anxious about being anxious, I get a lot of ‘omg, yessss.’
Anxiety has such a physical impact in the body (heart pounding, trouble breathing, feeling faint or cold, tunnel vision) that we become aware of our body’s reaction before we even notice the anxious thoughts triggering the reaction.
Then we panic about why our bodies are flipping out when we’re not even aware of feeling threatened, and the anxiety compounds on itself.
Anxiety is like an alarm system in our bodies to signal the presence of (real or perceived) danger. What would you do if your alarm was going off at your house?
Check to see if there’s a real threat (scan your environment/situation to ground yourself in the present), turn off the alarm (breathing exercises do help, along with mindfulness techniques like body scans), and then investigate what tripped the alarm (process thoughts around the situation that read like danger to you). It’s also important to note that danger doesn’t need to be a gun getting pulled on you.
Panicking during a presentation that could impact your job and threaten the way you pay your bills and afford your life can feel pretty dangerous if you think about it.
3. Those darker urges.
Did clinical work for about 5 years and heard just about everything ten times over.
But seriously, people are often reluctant to talk about their darker urges and feelings. Therapy is likely the only chance where you’ll get to have that conversation openly and honestly.
Therapists know everyone has this side to them, and working on it is both difficult and admirable.
4. Totally sad.
As someone in the substance abuse field I know that it’s difficult for clients to tell me they got high with a parent but it’s something I get told fairly regularly.
It’s kinda sad.
5. No need to feel badly.
Hello, therapist here. There are several:
Speaking to their departed loved ones. Thankfully, theories now support this and don’t consider it to be a sign they’re not “moving on with their lives”. I encourage my clients to explore the continuation of their relationships with the deceased.
Small ways they’ve made progress in the week. I know this isn’t technically weird, but my clients sometimes don’t want to tell me this, either because they fear I’d turn round and say they don’t need therapy any more, or because I might find the progress unnoteworthy. Both of which are totally untrue!
That they’re having bizarre intrusive thoughts of hurting themselves/others, s^xual fantasies and so on. As a therapist, I’m trained to appreciate the whole world that lies between thoughts and action, and all it really proves is that we have an imagination. It’s highly unlikely I’ll need to break confidentiality, and won’t call the police immediately.
S^x related things in general. Eventually we’ll talk about s^x, and I’ll see a weight lifted off their shoulders for how unphased I am by their apparently weird s^x life.
Honestly, it’s rarely that weird, and we all have kinks. Life is fruitful, there’s no need to be ashamed.
6. So much shame.
That they haven’t had s^x with their partner in years and don’t know how/if they will ever have s^x with their partner again.
There is so much shame around s^x in the USA that a lot of people are scared to talk to their partner about their s^xual needs.
Time goes by, and suddenly they haven’t had sex in 3, 5, 10 years. It starts for a lot of people in their 40s and 50s.
A lot of people (falsely) believe there is something wrong with their marriage because they fantasize about people other than their partner.
7. You need an advocate.
Sexual side effects of medication; losing your s^x drive is a common effect of SSRIs and when I meet with patients after they’ve been prescribed, I’ll ask about whether they’ve noticed a difference.
Often, they have but are worried about telling their prescriber. I will advocate for them to do so and it is usually a positive experience for them.
8. They’ve heard it all.
Everything. You name it, I’ve heard it. You regret having your child and wish you never became a mom? Okay.
You love your spouse but their cancer came back again and you don’t know how you can go through this fight again? Yeah, I get that.
Hard drugs? S*%t, it’s been a hard year.
You wanna quit your well paying job to sell carved soap figurines? Okay well let’s talk through what that might look like.
You like to collect teddy bears because they give you a special lil tingle in your nether regions? I don’t kink shame.
Seriously. We’ve heard everything. EVERYTHING.
Unless it’s someone newish to the field (less than five years maybe) it’s generally not going to shock us. And whatever it is, even if it does seem a bit of a unique circumstance, we’ll get the underlying feeling under it.
In the end, everyone wants the same overall things – to feel heard, to be loved, to take care of their loved ones, to manage stress, etc. Humans do the best they can, and therapists are there to help, but we can’t provide guidance if you don’t give us a chance, and that means opening up.
I know it’s scary and some therapists do suck. It’s a lot like dating. If you don’t click with the first one, move on until you find one you do click with.
9. You deserve a therapist.
I have come across a lot of people who also think they’d “bore” a therapist with their everyday problems and that they don’t want to take up resources for people “who will need it more”.
I’ve even had clients who were very close to actual suicidal thoughts thinking that others are worse and will need the therapist more then they do. Clients usually try to compare the severity of their problems to the problems of other people. That doesn’t work.
As soon as somebody has the urge to talk about their problems, the client and their issue needs to be taken as seriously as the next clients’. Be it a shit job, an unhappy marriage or hearing voices.
Additionally, I highly appreciate talking about someone’s shitty job instead of someone’s severe depression because they thought they didn’t need to do anything about it earlier.
10. You aren’t dangerous.
Recurring intrusive thoughts about harming others. Can be hurting/killing someone or sexual fantasies about children or relatives. Usually people take a while to admit those.
The reality is that if you are having them frequently you aren’t dangerous. You probably have OCD and are terrified that you might be dangerous.
11. It’s messy and real hard.
Being tired of being a mother. There’s this social thing of loving your kids and they should be the first thing in your life, but having a child is messy and a real hard work, is normal to just want to take a break once in a while from all that responsibility.
12. It’s a real issue.
I work in an older adults service for people with dementia and mental health problems. I see a lot of family members/Carers feeling ashamed of the fact that they are finding it incredibly difficult to care for someone that has dementia or a chronic mental health problem.
Carer burnout is a real issue and people need to know that it’s not easy to see someone you love struggling every day, or slowly fading away month by month. Carers and family members desperately need time for themselves and need to know that it’s okay to feel the way that they do.
No one is superhuman and we all have our own needs. It’s why we have therapy groups for Carers. It’s okay to struggle to look after someone and you should in no way feel ashamed of having those feelings.
13. More than a clean house.
OCD gets misunderstood a lot. It’s not just having a clean house or liking things to be organized.
Common intrusive thoughts can include violent thoughts of harming children and other loved ones, intrusive thoughts of molesting children, fear of being a serial killer etc.
My clients can feel a lot of shame when discussing the thoughts or worry I will hospitalize them.
14. An “internal voice.”
That they “hear voices”. I’ve found that a lot of people aren’t familiar with their own internal dialogue or “self talk” and that this is typically “normal” internal processing. A lot of people think that they are “hearing voices” and hallucinating. There are some pretty simple questions we can ask to determine if it’s hallucinating or just internal dialogue, and most often it’s the latter.
I want to clarify that not everyone has am internal “voice”. Some have none at all, some have more of a system of thoughts that aren’t verbal, feelings, or images. That’s normal too!
15. So much guilt.
A lot, and I mean A LOT, of people who experienced s^xual abuse feel very guilty for a myriad of reasons that are not their fault.
Guilty for “attracting the attention”
Guilty for not speaking up
Guilty for enjoying being “seen” by someone
Guilty for having any sort of pleasure from their abuse.
All those feelings are common and addressed in therapy. But it is so hard for people to discuss it.
16. They need to know.
I’m support worker (social worker) not a therapist.
I’ve had clients too scared to tell me their accomplishments because they think they should only be bringing their problems to case management and that if we see them getting better that we won’t care/prioritize them as much
Another is hard drugs. We don’t endorse it by any means but we have to know if we need to keep an eye out for inappropriate behavior and overdoses. We never get mad at them for being high, we just wanna send them to their room to sober up.
17. Yes, it’s normal.
Many of my clients lived through severe childhood trauma and neglect. They had no one to model or explain healthy emotions or to show them appropriate ways to react to stress, fear, anger, etc.
Most often they’ll describe a completely normal reaction to a stressor and then follow that up with “I don’t know if that’s normal.”
These are adults who were exposed to so much dysfunction during their formative years that they don’t know whether it’s normal to cry when they’re anxious or afraid, feel angry when their boundaries have been violated, etc.
18. Almost on a daily basis.
That they don’t like their family members, are angry/want to stop communication with their parents etc. I work in a country which Is more culturally collectivist, so not wanting anything to do with your parents makes you an a$$hole in the current cultural sense.
We deal with this almost on a daily basis. There is deep and profound shame in this and when we find that line of “oh, it might be that your parents are toxic to your mental well being/trigger your trauma” many of my clients actually get visibly angry with me.
Cultural psychology is so important, cause when I first moved here I had my American/European hat on, oh boy, did I need to adjust.
19. Nearly everyone.
Intrusive thoughts. Nearly everyone has thoughts about pushing the old lady onto the subway train, swerving into opposing traffic, or stabbing their loved one in the stomach while cooking dinner with them.
Some folks, however, take these thoughts very serious that believe that they might act them out. It’s called thought-action-fusion. Most of us are able to brush them off, though.
20. Humans aren’t robots.
Clients become quite fearful of admitting that they weren’t successful since the last time they had a session. This could include not succeeding in using a coping skill that they’re learning about, or not being able to complete a homework assignment I gave them. Humans aren’t robots, and therapy is a lot of work.
That being said, I don’t expect people to be perfect as they start to work on themselves in a positive way. It takes time to really commit to change, especially in relation to trauma or conflicted views that an individual holds. I feel as if the client doesn’t want to let me down as their therapist, but these “failure” events are just as important to talk about as successful moments!
21. Your true self.
I have heard some variant of “This is probably weird, but I feel if I am my true self around others than they won’t like me” more times than I can count.
As I explore the formative situations to this belief alongside my clients it definitely pulls at my heart strings.
22. They are burnt out.
Women often feel really ashamed when they tell me they are burnt out on being a parent or that they never want to have kids.
I wish all of them knew how common this thought is.
23. Grief is just hard.
The amount of people I see who feel like they should be grieving a “certain way” and are afraid that they “must not have loved someone,” or, “must not have cared.”
People grieve in all sorts of ways. The “5 stages of grief” are bs.
I was consulting with another clinician who was seeing a couple whose daughter had died. The wife was convinced that the husband must not have cared about her because he “wasn’t grieving out loud.”
In reality, while she had been going to support groups and outwardly expressing, he had been continuing to work in a garden that him and his daughter had kept when she was alive, using that time to process and grieve as he did. Both were perfectly fine ways of grieving, however it is expected that ones grief is more than the other.
They both ended up working it out however, he driving her and others to their weekly support group, her attempting to work in the garden with him on the condition that they didn’t talk. Really sweet.
To that same extent, the amount of people who are unaware of their own emotions and emotional process is astounding. So many people feel only “angry” or “happy” and worry something must be wrong with them otherwise. Normalizing feeling the whole gamut is just as important.
Recognizing what we’re feeling as well as what it feels like in our body when we’re feeling is incredibly helpful for understanding how we process and feel. As a whole, how we treat emotions as a society is kinda fucked. Thanks for coming to my Ted talk.
24. I hate that this is a thing.
Hyper s^xuality after some sort of s^xual trauma.
25. A deeply ingrained belief.
I’d say a common one is believing that there’s something innately, irreparably wrong with them that makes them unable to ever truly ‘fit in’.
For a lot of people it’s such a deeply ingrained belief that it can be extremely painful to acknowledge or express, regardless of the level of personal success in their lives.
26. They’ve heard it before.
Some of the most common ones have been visual and/or auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. I usually hear “I don’t want to be put in the hospital” or “I don’t want you to think I’m crazy”.
Also, basically anything s^xual. I’m not going to judge you for being into BDSM, fetishes, etc.
Honestly, I’ve probably heard it before and I’m not here to judge you. Same goes with any non-consensual experiences (especially if we’re working through trauma).
27. Every single day.
Two topics come up with regularity: when someone discloses to me that they were sexually abused as a kid, and/or when some is experiencing suicidal ideation.
Both are something I hear from clients every single day, and so I don’t find it weird at all.
But, when I have someone in front of me who’s talking about it for the first time, I know it’s important to validate the fact that even though I might be talking about this for like the fifth time that day, they have never talked about this EVER, and are in need of gentle care to feel safe.
28. She’s not shocked.
Psychologist in the US. To name a few: “compulsive” masturbation, fears of being a pedophile/rapist (this is a common OCD fear), hoarding, sexual performance difficulties, history of sexual abuse or sexual assault (unfortunately it is VERY common), drug use, amount of money spent on various things, having an ASD diagnosis, going back to an abusive relationship / staying in an abusive relationship, grieving years and years after a loss, self-harm of all sorts, wanting to abandon their current lifestyle (for example, to have more s^x, to escape responsibility or expectations), history of gang violence / crime, their s^xuality (or as^xuality), gender identity, the impact of racism / racial trauma, paranoia, hallucinations, feeling uncomfortable in therapy, not believing in therapy, difficulty trusting a therapist, fear of psychiatric medication, fear of doctors in general.
I was surprised to see suicidal ideation on others’ responses. Most of my clients seem to talk very openly about suicidal thoughts and urges from the start of therapy (which I think is super healthy). I think that most of the people I’ve worked with had SI (current or history). As weird as it may seem, I can’t imagine what a life without any thoughts about suicide would even look like.
At this point, I don’t recall a time a patient said something in therapy and I was shocked or even thought, “oh, that’s new”. And imo, if you surprise your therapist, that is okay.
I wonder if we asked Reddit, “what are you afraid to tell anyone (even a therapist) because you think it is weird?” – how many people would see that they aren’t that weird at all.
29. Not knowing is very common.
That they do not know what they enjoy doing. Often they have people in they’re life, including therapists, say “try to do something fun today” or ask “what do you like to do when you have free time?”.
Many people I work with do not know what those are. Once I explain that I dislike these statements /questions because they assume people should know the answer, and that many people don’t, I can watch as they relax, take a deep breath, and say something to the effect of “oh my, that’s so good to hear.
I have no idea what I like to do. That’s part of the problem.”. More often than not they feel like they should know and that everyone else their age has it figured out. They are embarrassed to say that they don’t know when in fact not knowing is very common.
I couldn’t even try to count how many clients I’ve had this conversation with.
30. It doesn’t have to mean anything.
Hidden s^xual dreams and fantasies about family members. More common than people think, and often stays that way and doesn’t really interfere in the person’s close relationships unless they allow it.
Many things we dream or think are unconscious and involuntary, and the root of such things is often nonsensical.
31. I don’t know.
A common one in the time I was a therapist was simply “I don’t know”.
You’d be surprised how reluctant people are to admit that they don’t know why they’re feeling how they are. But that’s exactly why you’re (or were, I’m not a therapist any more) sat there with me; so we can figure out why together.
It always put me in mind of a line from America by Simon and Garfunkel:
“Kathy, ‘I’m lost’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping. ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why’.”
32. Always compassionate.
Usually it’s s^x related.
Shame about their desires or kinks is common. Gender questioning is another. Some people are ashamed of things they did in childhood or adolescence, haven’t ever told anyone and think the team will be horrified.
We have heard everything. Everything. I’m always compassionate and always understand why we do the things we do. I’ve yet to have anyone bring something I can’t ‘get’.
33. You are not a bad person.
Unwanted intrusive thoughts are normal and do not mean you are a bad person (yes, even intrusions of sexual/religious/moral themes). By definition, these are thoughts that are unwanted bc they go against your own values and highlight what you don’t want to do (eg, a religious person having unwanted blasphemous images pop into their mind, or a new parent having unwanted sexual thoughts about their new baby).
However normal these thoughts are (over 90% of the population), the moral nature of these thoughts mean that often people experience a lot of shame and take many years before they first tell someone about them.
The occurrence of these thoughts/images/urges are normal. The best way to “manage” them is to accept that they are a normal (albeit unpleasant) brain process, and a sign of the opposite of who you are and are therefore v.v.unlikely to ever do.
Let the thought run its course in the background while you bring your attention back to (insert something you can see/feel/hear/taste/touch).
I usually say something like “ok mind! Thanks for that mind! I’m going to get back to washing the dishes and the sound/sensation of the water while you ponder all the nasties. Carry on!”
I literally say it to myself with a slightly amused tone bc I am always genuinely amused at all the wild stuff my brain can produce!!
34. A tough thing to work through.
I do a lot of trauma work. Many people who have experienced molestation or s^xual assault feel ashamed and confused because their bodies responded.
Having an erection/lubrication or even an orgasm does not mean you wanted the s^xual contact and it is still assault. Clients often hold a lot of shame and confusion about this. They wonder if it means they wanted it or if there is something wrong with them.
It is a tough thing to work through because of this. Assault is assault. Sometimes human bodies respond to s^xual touch even when we don’t want that touch.
35. All things s^x.
Psychologist here. Basically, anything having to do with sex. There’s so much shame.
S^xual abuse. S^xual fantasies and fetishes. Erectile dysfunction. Infidelity. Becoming s^xually assertive.
I’ve been told that I have a good “psychologist’s face.” I try not to have a strong reaction to normalize the discussion. With adolescents, they are extremely anxious to tell me if they’ve relapsed or aren’t doing well. They cut one night or they were suicidal. They’re having a lot of negative self-talk or panic attacks. They’ll come in, pretending everything is okay. It’s usually in the last 10-15 minutes that they’ll say something. They’ll reveal that they worried they’d let me down. That I’d be disappointed in them.
It usually turns into a discussion about policing other people’s feelings and tolerating emotions. I explain that I care about their well-being and it’s my job to monitor my emotions and reactions, not their role.
It’s nice to know we’re not alone, right?
If you’re a therapist or a counselor, share your similar insights with us in the comments!