I was out running yesterday around my local park. It’s beautiful there. The weather was cooler – but just right for me and running in.
As I started my second lap, I saw a small child – about three years old and their caregiver. The child had no coat on, and long sleeves and trousers and seemed quite content – my running app tells me it was 18 degrees. But what caught my attention was the caregiver’s insistence that ‘you need to put a coat on. It’s cold and everyone else has one’. The child insisted they were not cold and the caregiver insisted it was cold and so the child needed to put a coat on.
Even at my slow speed, I was past this little dyad before I saw the end of that play out, but I imagine that not many three year olds win that battle. And it made me sad. For me, it’s a prime, and very basic example of Rogers’ organismic valuing process (our valuing system). The child is being told that its valuing process is incorrect (MUST be cold) and then (assuming this pattern continues throughout life) learns that many other things that it thinks are somehow ALSO ‘incorrect’. And before you know it, we have clients in our therapy rooms who don’t know who they are or what they feel, or what they like and need.
As trainees also – we are confronted with a LOT of things as trainees – from spending days (by the end of training) with each other in group process, trying to manage the way we feel in response to several people’s feels. Yet, when you are told something as basic as ‘You are cold’ and you do not think you ARE cold, how can you trust in yourself for the big decisions, when you ‘know’ you were wrong about the small ones? This follows on to our ‘experiential learning’ also – in may places throughout our training, we are experiencing things that are very different to what we have experienced in our lives so far. In my family, you didn’t talk about how you felt. That’s not going to get me far in counselling training (or in therapy). So in training I am constantly looking at theory, at conversations, and trying to ‘get at’ my feelings around these things, as well as trying to make academic theory make sense, so I am doing ‘double duty’ here (as I suspect, many people are).
But this not TALKING about feelings then often leads to not having them, because what’s the point of having a feeling if you can’t talk about it? – if as a small child, you are alone with that feeling, both good and bad. There is a difficulty then as an adult, when people say to you that as you use language like ‘gut feeling’ that you MUST then be having a feeling. In my case, it doesn’t SEEM like a feeling, it seems like knowledge, but just as the small child who was told they were cold, when they did not feel they were, I am told I have a feeling, when I do not feel like I do. I accept that other people in my position might experience this as a feeling, but at the same time, I think that I need to do much more work in my own therapy before I can get to that stage for myself. Unlike that child, I can choose to reject the assertion, and know that their experience of those words is just that, and mine is mine. After all, Rogers – proposition two: The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual. I think I just reached a new level of personal acceptance there.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”