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Life Chez Dee Episode #128: Discovering self

I’ve reached the end of this chapter on my counselling journey, and what a journey it has been. I have learned so much … so much theory; so much about others; so much about myself.

I’ve always been a deep thinker, an overthinker, a very reflective person …. looking outwardly at others, and what might be going on for them, and looking inwardly at what’s going on for me … but this last few months of learning, listening, thinking, reflecting, processing and journaling has taken my thinking to another level entirely.

For those who don’t know about what learning is like for those wanting to go into the counselling profession, I’ll explain a little. In fact, for those who don't really understand what might be involved if they go to speak with a counsellor, I'll touch on this too. We begin each week checking in with one other, sharing what’s going on for us, how we have felt in the week, or just how we feel at that very moment. At that very moment it is all about you, what you think, what you feel, what your impact has been on others, how others have impacted you. None of what you think or feel is wrong … none of it. What you think, what you feel is all down to what you have experienced, forming your thoughts and perceptions. Everything you experience and feel is real, and important, and yours to own. Your colleagues are all sitting there, holding space for you; a safe space for you to talk and just be, where you are listened to and heard, accepted and not judged, and everything you bring stays in that space.

Wow, I need to just say this again. A confidential space, where the time is yours to speak and be heard, where you are unconditionally accepted and not judged… how huge is this.

And it is huge, because this is the very essence of our learning. To be able to hold space for another person. Giving space for another person to just be, to be themselves, to be heard … they have a voice, they have acceptance, they feel safe, they feel real.

And in that space you find out who you are. Not who you are meant to be, who you should be, who you ought to be … just who you are. It’s about knowing you, who YOU were, who YOU want to be, but more importantly who YOU are.

We do a lot of introspection. We apply the theories we study to ourselves. We dissect ourselves layer, by layer, by layer, and by doing this we discover so much about ourselves. Only can we be there to help another when we really know and understand ourselves.

We become a version of our real self based on all those conditions placed on us by the world as we go through life. Everyone we encounter, particularly significant others in our lives play a part in this, parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, employers, colleagues, friends, children, the media and society in general. Of course there must be rules and expectations in any civilised society, but these conditions are more than that, these are the expectations of others, these are the values we take on and internalise, these are our learned behaviours of how to get reward from others, whether that be praise, friendship, money, wages, bonuses, promotions, love, respect. All these are the learned behaviours that we take so much for granted, but the impact on our learning and conditioning is huge.

We know as a child if we sit nicely at the table and eat all our meal, all our vegetables we receive a smile and a hug from our parents, we may get a reward sticker even. We know that in order to get that praise, we must conform to the values and expectations placed on us. And so it goes on throughout life, the same conforming to others to be worthy of praise or reward.

So what if we were to be loved unconditionally despite anything we did. To be accepted totally and completely for what we are … not conforming, but singing to our own tune, doing what we liked not what others liked, wanted or expected. We may be viewed as difficult, selfish, trouble … but how many of us feel that we are like this. How many of us behave in a way which is not congruent with ourselves, behaviour which is changed to meet the environment we are in, meeting the needs of others, meeting the expectations of others, meeting the values of others, ticking all the boxes for the other person. Maybe we know that we want that praise, or reward, or promotion, or friendship, or acceptance, or love … and so we conform, in order to gain in some way from our actions and behaviours. But at the same time we learn … we learn that we are seeking our value elsewhere, not within. We learn that in order for us to gain, do better, feel accepted, feel loved, feel wanted we must meet the needs and conform to the values and beliefs of others rather than ourselves.

There’s a lot there to digest. This is huge and I’m oversimplifying things to get this written down in this piece; of course there are so many other factors which might come into play too. But in a nutshell, this is what you will discover if you go and speak to a counsellor. You will be empowered to strip back the layers of what makes you you. You look at yourself as the real person underneath all these introjected values, and find yourself. You’ve always been there, but years and years of living and experiencing and interacting with others, you have become hidden underneath. In stripping back the layers you discover the real you before the world got its hands on you … and this is liberating.

It doesn’t feel liberating at the time, it feels dark, and sad, and lonely; you feel bitter, and angry, and disappointed, and lost, but learning and processing these discoveries, allows you to see more clearly, and discover you, the real you, who you are, were and want to be.

It is a journey, a long journey at that, and for some that journey is so much longer than the journey it might be for others. Some have had the most unimaginable difficulties and traumas to deal with in their lives. But you can get through this, you can find your way through the darkness, you can find someone who will sit with you in that darkness and pain and be by your side every step of the way.

Going to counselling is not weak, it is not you giving up, or failing, or relying on others. Going to counselling takes courage, and honesty, and lots and lots of hard work, because the only person who can find you, is you. By being given a space to talk and be heard, and be accepted and not judged, maybe offered another perspective, maybe offered a gentle challenge to your thinking, you will after weeks and weeks of process, find the answers.

The person who knows what is best for you, is you. You know what you like, what you don’t like, what you want to do, what you don’t want to do, you know what upsets you, what your triggers are, and the reasons why, you know what to change and how to change it, you know what to fix and how to fix it. The questions are in you, the answers are in you … all of this is the real you.

People have said to me after the death of Edward “have you been for counselling?” like this is some magic wand which is wafted for me, and all is ok. All is not ok, what happened to me was unimaginably traumatic, it was, is and always will be traumatic, but understanding me, understanding my thoughts, understanding my feelings, not just surrounding this traumatic event, but in relation to every aspect of my life, my experiences, my relationships, is how I deal with this traumatic event. Understanding me is the key to everything.

I don’t want to give advice … it isn’t my style, and to be honest it isn’t appropriate, but what I would say is that counselling is for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you have going on in your life, whether there is upset, difficulty, drama or whether everything is ticking along nicely for you. Counselling will give you so much insight into you that not only does this allow you a healthy relationship with yourself, and give you the tools and strategies to cope with whatever life throws at you, but it also gives you more confidence in yourself when allowing yourself to be you, to be real, and sing to your own tune. This is personal growth on a different level, this is healthy personal growth, there is value in this for anyone and everyone and I have no hesitation in advocating this for all.

I feel incredibly proud of achieving my Level 3 Diploma qualification in Counselling. It has challenged me mentally, emotionally and academically, and has taken me on one heck of a journey so far. There is still a long way to go, and I actually don’t know what the next chapter looks like for me on my counselling journey as yet. I will apply for more courses, I will do my best and I will be authentic, and I will wait in hope that I receive offers for places to continue my education. But I know that listening to me, doing what I feel is right, listening to my gut and trusting in this, has always been and always will be the right way for me. I am trusting in the process of being, being open to whatever comes my way, and embracing whatever feels right for me.

I know that I want to help others and I know that my experiences will allow me to have a deeper empathy for others. I know how much I have been helped by someone holding space for me to process my thoughts, and I know how much I can offer to others in holding space for them. Continuing my counselling journey and gaining these qualifications though is also something I need to do for me; a personal goal to give me that sense of achievement and all part of my self worth.

I have met some wonderful people on this journey, who I’m confident will always be a part of my life going forward. We have shared such personal and intimate stories and experiences, that we will always have a special bond. We finished our course telling each other what we admired and the impact they’d had on us. It was a very beautiful and very humbling experience, giving feedback, witnessing feedback, and also receiving feedback, an experience which I know will stay with me.

Counselling is a journey; a very personal journey of discovery and growth. It requires us to give so much of ourselves, and with every discovery there is more work to do, but as a result, we grow. What a privilege it is to be able to hear the story of another, and what a beautiful thing it is to be heard.

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