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Present Over Perfect, Part I: How Is Therapy Similar to Vinegar?

Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

Has anyone ever told you that it’s okay to see a therapist? Yes, it is okay to see a therapist. Read that again. In fact, 48% of Americans seek counseling and the stigma around mental health has decreased in recent years. Unfortunately, because of the stigma with mental health, many people seem to be ashamed to admit that they do in fact see a therapist. 

When our stomachs hurt, when we break our arms, or if we get sick, we go to the doctor to get medicine. With the brain as the most important organ in the body, it should be no different. When we are disequilibrated, we must do something in order to feel more centered or grounded. Counseling is a profession that focuses on making the human experience constructive, meaningful, and enjoyable, both on a preventive and a remedial level. Sure, life happens to all of us, but that does not mean that it has to stop. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Present over Perfect, an inspiring book by Shauna Niequist, discusses some of the ideas shared in this blog. It focuses on learning how to live a life full of meaning and connection, as opposed to constantly pushing for perfection. These ideas relate to the experience of therapy, and beneficial lessons that can be learned from the process. In order to have a successful experience, you must put as much into therapy as you expect to get out of it. 

Oil and Vinegar 

Picture yourself in a quaint little family owned restaurant in Italy. On the table you will see a small salad dressing cruet, filled with red wine vinegar and oil. At the bottom of this cruet is the dense, deep, flavorful and rich olive oil – likely sprinkled with Italian seasonings throughout. In order to access this, we have to pour out the vinegar first – “the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh and jangling on your nerves or spirit” (Niequist, 2016). Envision the Italian seasonings speckled throughout as representative of all of your different experiences – both good and bad. So, you can’t get to the oil if you don’t pour out the vinegar first. Sure, the vinegar is puckery and acidic, but it contains all of one’s vulnerabilities – fear, worry, hurt, pain, loneliness, desperation. In order to capitalize upon this, we can focus more on what we learned to do as kids – showing up, bringing our whole selves, ridding ourselves of shame and hiding, and avoiding the desire to push and strive. 

But What About What Other People Think? 

One of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt reads: 

“You wouldn’t care so much about what other people thought of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

Often, people think that how other people feel about them can determine their happiness. Unfortunately, what they are missing is that “what people think about you means nothing in comparison to what you believe about yourself” (Niequist, 2016). If your identity depends upon outward approval, it can change at any minute. In relying on the approval of others, you force yourself to “become a three-ring circus and in each ring you’re an entirely different performing animal, anything anyone wants you to be.” So, take authority of your own life and have the courage to say to yourself:

“This is who I am, this is who I’m not, this is what I want, this is what I’m leaving behind.”

Check out part two to this blog series to learn more valuable lessons that can be learned from both Present Over Perfect as well as the process of therapy.


Niequist, S. (2016). Present over perfect. Zondervan.

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