What If I Find Out I’m Awful?: Our Fears Around Seeking Mental Health Support

For many people, seeking mental health support is a frightening thing. This can be especially true for Gen-X and Millennials like me, who came of age in a time when there was a lot of stigma around the concept of mental health. Now, even as adults, we haven’t quite shaken the things we heard our parents and peers say about what it meant to be in therapy—which were seldom positive.

Millennials are more invested in our mental health than any generation before us, and yet, we struggle with the idea of doing something about our difficult feelings. Even when we get past the stigma we learned in childhood, there is something mildly terrifying about having a therapist poke around inside our minds. What will they find? What will their discoveries say about me as a person? And what if my worst fears and insecurities about myself are actually true?

We fear learning more about ourselves because, somewhere deep down, we believe that who we are is fundamentally bad. We think perhaps we have just done a good job fooling everyone so far, but if a therapist started prodding around in there, everyone would see the walking disaster we’re pretty sure we are.

The thing I wish all of us would just accept is that there are parts of us who are not great. Some parts of ourselves are disorganized, chaotic, inconsiderate, trauma-bearing, angry, and unkind. And that still doesn’t make us awful.

I wonder how many of us would finally achieve the healing we so desire if we would just acknowledge that fact. Like, if we just accepted that we can be dynamic, multifaceted people who contain many contradictions, and the presence of the contradictions doesn’t mean that one negates the other.

Of course, as I’m sure you’ve already thought of, there are some people who are genuinely awful. I’ll grant you that. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to go to therapy—to heal, to grow, to evolve—but the fear of finding out you’re an awful person is holding you back, I’d almost guarantee that you aren’t an awful person. Awful people don’t want to change, much less acknowledge that they might be awful.

Those of us with self-awareness and the willingness to introspect are going to fear what we learn about ourselves when we start peering around the dark recesses of our personalities. That’s normal. There is nothing wrong with being reluctant to face some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. The only difference between us and the “truly awful” people is that we can overcome that fear and actually do the work.

Yes, when you go to therapy and begin taking care of your mental health, you will begin learning uncomfortable things about yourself. That is, you will if you are doing the correct work in therapy. There are some folks who go to therapy simply to tell their therapist how awful everyone is and how unfair their circumstances are, and to receive validation about those things. Those people don’t have to fear learning uncomfortable things about themselves. However, they also don’t have to fear any kind of personal growth and transformation. If you are doing the real, consistent, soul-searching work in therapy that you should be doing, you are bound to come across things about yourself that give you the ick.

What I want you to embrace is that you don’t have to be perfect to be good.

Yes, there will be those who will try to hold us accountable to being perfect, even when they themselves are not. There are those who, through their own lack of healing, will try to make us believe that if we are not perfect, then we must be bad. But we can’t change nor control those people. We can only control what we think and say about ourselves. What matters is that we allow ourselves permission to recognize the areas where growth, healing, and self-correction is needed, and to do that work in a loving way that promotes real change. We don’t have to fear acknowledging the hard-to-love parts of ourselves because the acknowledgement is the first step to change. And by the way, even when parts of us are hard to love, we are always worthy of love, acceptance, compassion, and grace.

As we work on our mental health journey of healing and growth, let’s make sure we aren’t stopping ourselves from growing because we’re afraid of learning uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Let’s not rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn better coping skills, better tools, and better self-regulation because we’re afraid of finding out we have some things about ourselves that need work.

Things that help us grow should never be feared, even when they look frightening at first.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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