The hooks and barbs of life

Harpagophytum procumbens

Looks pretty vicious, doesn’t it? But the whole plant looks much less scary:


Harpagophytum plant

I was talking to a classmate today about not being held, and how that not being held was uncomfortable, even painful. And I became aware that there are two things here. There is the very real pain that I am feeling now, and the OTHER very real pain that is coming from the hook of the barbed plant.


You see, I think that many (if not all of us) have these things. It would be close I think to Rogers’ ‘conditions of worth’ where we internalise values imposed on us by others.


We also experience hurts. Sometimes, by playing in a place where we accidentally come across such a barb as above, where we don’t really notice what’s happened until it’s stuck. Sometimes we can get that barb out. Sometimes we can get most of it out, and we don’t realise until later. Sometimes people tell us it’s safe to play there, thinking that we won’t notice, or that we won’t tell. Sometimes we are too busy trying to avoid the GIANT BARB OF DOOM that we just don’t notice a dozen smaller barbs that have stuck in.


And then throughout our lives, we continue to Not Notice. Sometimes this not noticing is genuine, and sometimes we spend an awful lot of time and energy Not Noticing the barbs. Either way, I suspect that we spend a lot of time protecting the site of the barb, which may be red and angry, or it may have healed over almost completely. We protect it. We feel a niggling pain but because we are Not Noticing the barb, we pass it off as something else.


Then one day, perhaps we fall over and bash it, or perhaps someone says ‘what’s that?’ and we must look at it, we are confronted with the thought that ‘oww; this hurts!’ and we have a choice. We can go on protecting and Not Noticing, or we can take a look at the problem.

Perhaps we are lucky and have a therapist, and perhaps we are that therapist who has a client who has found a barb. Perhaps we have seen that barb and asked them what this curious thing is. As a person-centred therapist it would feel too directive to me, to DEMAND that a client look at the barb, but it would also feel like collusion to notice that something was there and pretend it wasn’t.

And then as we attend to the very real present hurt that has occurred in the bumping of the hurt, we must also attend to the removal of the hurt, which is often very dug in, not to mention sore, possibly slightly infected.


It seems to me that as clients, and as (trainee) therapists with such clients, that we (and they)  are much better meeting them where they are, and holding in them in all of Rogers’ conditions.


This post brought to you by a) meanderings and b) a reading of this paper

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