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Words of Wisdom from My Therapist

Aug 12, 2022

Written by Renai Ellison, Ed.D.

Over the years, a handful of incredible individuals have proven to me that support and loyalty come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.  I can count on one hand and have fingers remaining when I think of the people in my life who have a hardcore, ride-or-die spirit. I admit that I have pushed the boundaries…often requiring a level of dedication that many folks throughout my life have experienced as difficult to embrace. I am A LOT! Being “a lot” has driven away some pretty amazing people from my life. I call them amazing because of their ability to capture my attention, albeit briefly, with their energy, zest for life, and emphasis on excellence. As I write this, I am envisioning the variety of characters and personalities that I have latched onto throughout my life and how they have individually impacted my thinking and way of being. I will say that, although it was initially difficult to let some of them go, I rarely miss them. After all, as they say, “People are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”

Yet, through it all, except for my mother, who is biologically bound to love me and be devoted, the one person who has stood the test of time has been my therapist, Marilyn. 

For nearly a quarter of a century, Marilyn has sat patiently, listening to me recount my pain, suffering, misery, struggles, triumphs, victories, successes, and wins. With her warm, wise, and Mother Earth insight, she has, from day one when we first met in 1998, provided me with unwavering support. I knew I needed a Black, female therapist, and Marilyn came to me from a referral. I felt the connection instantly. I felt safe. 

Recently, after journeying through some pretty painful times and coming out of the fire, healed without scars, I was inspired to apologize to Marilyn. As a therapist, it is obviously her job to listen to me, to support me, to offer me perspective, etc. But for 25 years? Good Lord! I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. 

One day, I offered my heartfelt, sincere apology. It was clear that every piece of advice, guidance, insight, and perspective she ever gave me was right on the money. She is a smart woman. Nevertheless, for two and a half decades, although I heard her, it took this long for it to finally sink in. I am convinced she has the patience of a saint.

It didn’t surprise me that in her unique gracious, humble, and loving way, Marilyn said, “That is my job. I knew you’d get it eventually.” And although an aspect of it being her job is the truth, there is something so unusual about a person who can essentially repeat herself for 25 years, be completely ignored, yet continue to offer the same steadfast reinforcement without losing her temper or appearing frustrated…not once. Who does that? Apparently…Marilyn!

Almost instantaneously after I offered the apology, something occurred to me. I noticed that a theme had developed over the years in my countless sessions with Marilyn. I recognized that my story with her came to life for me when I finished my book, FROM FAKE TO PHENOMENAL: 8 SECRETS TO ABANDON INAUTHENTICITY AND EMBRACE SELF-DISCOVERY. For years, she emphasized the importance of journaling and writing. Her theory was that a significant part of my healing was connected to my willingness to get it out of my head and transform my trauma into the written word. 

My rookie attempts at journaling and writing started when I ventured out on my own after my undergraduate college years. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I braved the effort to compose my story into a book. I started writing in February 2022 and finished in May 2022. My book launch is scheduled for August 2022. What I realized once I finished writing it and after my apology to Marilyn, was that my sessions with Marilyn taught me fundamental, practical yet revolutionary lessons that have made this portion of my life a bit sweeter, despite some heartache and rejection. As Maya Angelou said, “It wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” 

The root of Marilyn’s words of wisdom and gentle nudges was the consistent, persistent, ever-present, overarching message of “You are enough, Renai.” She told me:

  • Stay With You: This was Marilyn’s way of reminding me that my instincts, my intuition, and my gut are extremely intelligent. I have often given others more credit than they deserve, put people on pedestals, trusted more than I should, taken a back seat, and/or given my power away. Marilyn advocated that I remain centered, grounded, and in touch with the source that gives me strength. For me, that has always been God. More specifically, the God of the Bible.

However, in my effort to be faithful to my Lord, I have often gotten distracted by a distorted sense of what it means to be devoted. I often made idols out of jobs, romantic and friendship relationships, and even churches, and confused commitment to them with a commitment to God. I put all my energy, heart, and resources into people and entities who gave very little in return. I was left depleted. Marilyn wanted more for me.  

  • Pay Attention: Thinking the best of people and situations is a practice in which I often indulge. Ignoring red flags has been one of my bad habits. Seeing what I want to see instead of what is staring me in the face has gotten me into some unhealthy, toxic predicaments. Marilyn could see that although my heart may have been in the right place, I was a bit misguided. Imploring me to “Pay Attention” was her way of calling my attention to the idea that a healthy dose of skepticism is not always a bad thing. 

By paying attention, I can be more analytical and know what’s best for me. Part of paying attention is asking questions, and not accepting everything at face value. It’s also important for me to address challenging situations and be brave enough to confront conflict. It took me decades to learn that walking away from situations that are not edifying and feel demoralizing or oppressive, is something I had the right to do. 

  • You Haven’t Done Your Best Work Yet: This one! WOW! When this began to resonate with me, I was mortified by my own arrogance and pride. Originally, I honestly felt insulted when I heard Marilyn say these words to me. In my own unreasonable and inordinate sense of self-worth, I imagined that I had arrived. Ironically, at the same time, I had low self-esteem. What I came to understand about myself was that I was overcompensating for my feelings of not having value and purpose in my life. 

I have now embraced this concept of “You haven’t done your best work yet” as a good thing. This gives me something to look forward to in life. If my best is behind me, what hope is there for my future? Hearing this from Marilyn gave me pause. Because I trusted her immensely, I discerned that there may have been some truth to her words, even though I knew it meant digging deeper. That excavation has been life-altering, and worth every tear I cried. 

Sharing the story with you of my life-affirming relationship with my therapist, Marilyn, brings me unspeakable joy. Many Black folks have been reluctant to consider therapy as an option for healing. For good reason, a whole host of individuals in the African diaspora turn toward religion and spirituality as a singular source of strength. However, as I look back over my nearly quarter of a century of psychotherapy, I often ask myself, where would I be without the gift of Marilyn’s wholehearted, compassionate presence in my life?

The answer is always a resounding: I don’t know, and I don’t care to know. What I do know for sure is that the ability to hold space for someone in their most vulnerable, raw, wounded, broken, tired, and hopeless moments is one of the most selfless, altruistic, and noble acts one can contribute to humanity. Investing time, talent, and resources that enable another person to reshape and reimagine the impact they can have on the world; being a catalyst to healing a soul that is in despair; and delving deeply into the very core and essence of what makes a person tick…these are the techniques leveraged that have given me 25 years of a safe place to fall.

And, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, Marilyn. You. Are. Amazing!

Dr. Renai Ellison is a contributing blogger to Executive Beauty. She is the Founder & CEO of EMBRACE LIFE Enterprises. Dr. Ellison is also the author of the upcoming book, From Fake to Phenomenal. Email Dr. Renai

Executive Beauty Ministries is a mindset movement. We shift your beliefs about your outer beauty by first shifting your beliefs about your inner beauty.

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