knowing myself


Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is alre...

Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is already taken up (Photo credit: symphony of love)


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”


Openness – the results



20-open-frame-rhombicuboctahedra-02 (Photo credit: Ardonik)

The results of ‘trying to be more open’


I’ve posted here the last two weeks on being open to experience, and showing my workings. Perhaps ironically, the post i WANTED to write today is one that feels TOO open, and so I am choosing not to post it. It’s hiding in a private post, waiting for me to become braver.


But also of note are what I’ve noticed as a result of trying to put in to practice the things I blogged about. We had our training weekend, and it was tough on many levels. There is a tutor on my course that in day to day life, I get on fine with; I like them. In class, I often feel left and misheard by them. It is an experience witnessed by members of my cohort as well (by which I mean it’s not just in my head, which is always a possibility!). They were my tutor for this weekend, and in all honesty, I was dreading it. The topic for the weekend was ‘trauma’ and that’s not usually an easy weekend a- we all have our own traumas that cause us to view life through various filters, and when we are asked specifically to look at trauma, it is very hard not to look at OUR trauma. Like many people, there are aspects of trauma that resonate deeply with me, and it was difficult to see this ‘ending well’.


Also this weekend, I knew that it would be interpersonally hard, as some issues had arisen that needed resolving, and as one of the people involved, I was finding the idea of that hard. But all through the weekend, I kept trying to think about being open, about showing my workings; about not just ‘delivering’ pronouncements, but letting people see where I was coming from.


You would not believe how hard that was…..


I’m not saying I succeeded all weekend, but I was trying hard. And then towards the end of the weekend, someone commented that they were finding me softer than normal. I felt more heard by my tutor also – certainly there were no instances of being ‘missed’, and there was a point in class where it might all have gone disastrously wrong, but perhaps because of this, when a decision had to be made, the ‘right’ decision was made. After my fellow-student commented that they found me softer, my tutor also commented this, and that having seen the ‘softer’ me made them look forward to seeing the ‘spiky’ me.


I found it spill over into my ‘normal life’ also. I have a new person in my life and we met on Saturday evening for a few hours. We spent a couple of hours just wandering around Nottingham talking, and as I saw them off on their train they commented ‘thank you for making it easy for me to talk’. We hadn’t talked about anything massively in depth, but I had again been aware as we were talking that I wanted to say where I was when I was speaking, and I wanted to be open to whatever came from them. I digested what landed and tried not to ‘react’ to things, but instead to wonder about how they were arriving. My immediate quip was that ‘at least psychotherapy training is good for something’, but it is true – this training is showing me how to calm down; how to experience. It seems to have take a couple of weeks to sink in – I’m not yet aware of it specifically in my relationship with my partner, but actually, I see bits of change there also, and I’m pleased.

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Open to experience?


'Life In A Lava Lamp' - Levity III Luminarium,...

‘Life In A Lava Lamp’ – Levity III Luminarium, Bangor Open Air Festival (Photo credit: Kristofer Williams)


It started with a phonecall in my dayjob:


Caller: Where do IT services put contact details?

Me: I don’t know- I don’t work in IT services

Caller: then how do we know where they go?

Me: we don’t. What do you need to know?

Caller: I need contact details to display on this webpage

Me: I can do that for you.


Now, had the caller called and said what they *needed*, I would have been much better placed to answer, without that conversation going round in circles (which it did for some minutes before I was able to work out what they wanted).


This got me thinking about myself, and whether I am good (or not) at asking for what I need. Essentially, I’m not. I try to be, and I try to be honest and open about my needs and desires, but it can be really hard.


It seems to me that it’s linked to Rogers’ becoming a fully functioning person: – Openness to experience. The more I try and be open to experience, without being defensive, the more I become a fully-functioning person. But it means putting down my defences, and my defences are where I find it hard – as a client said to me: ‘I don’t want to have to owe anyone anything – I will get hurt’, and I suspect that’s a lot of people’s experiences. Certainly, it’s been mine in the past, and it’s hard to put that down as an adult.


I see myself thinking on ridiculously small things – like ‘I really fancy chips for dinner’, but if my partner is cooking, I don’t feel able to express a desire for that always. Because somehow it’s better to want chips and not have that desire met through not asking, than it is to ask and have that desire not met. I’m thinking too much there and rationally, I don’t care, but somewhere inside a small part of me feels that it was important to ask so there had better be a REALLY good reason why chips aren’t forthcoming. And there would be. But still, I can’t always risk it. I don’t even realise I do this all the time.


Fred, bless him, told me in supervision last time that he felt I accepted critical comments on my practice well. And I do. In THAT situation, I am open to the experience and do not feel the need to put up defences against it. There can still be a lot to lose in supervision – the desire to be seen as a ‘good’ trainee, the good working relationship we have. But somehow, I go in with the bigger picture in mind and it seems ok to be told ‘it seems to me that possibly you need to consider X situation with your client’ and it’s a BIG thing.


I see it in other areas in my life. There is some .. upset going on in a part of my life. I am trying hard to remain open to the experience, but actually, a big part of me just wants to snap back. For me, it is when life feels ‘unfair’ that the openness to experience disappears. When it’s supervision and my supervisor is much more experienced than me, that’s fine. When it’s my reading of a situation over another’s and I feel put in to the ‘bad person’ corner, it is MUCH harder to be open to that experience. Of course, what it really needs is much less of a general ‘open to experience’ label and much more of a ‘what’s going on for me when this happens?’ experience. And this is where I fall down – this is one of those things I’m trying to address in my personal therapy. It’s a long long road.


So for me, it’s two-fold. One must be able to ask to have one’s needs/desires met, and at the same time, one must be open to the experience of receiving ‘no’, and to be able to work out what’s behind the response to that.


All of this makes me think back to my own clients and their paths down this road and the monumental tasks some clients set themselves, often subconsciously, in order to try and get further towards (generally) happiness or peace. If this is where I am, with two years of reading Rogers’ theories behind me, how much harder does a client, with only themselves to guide themselves (and me, beside them) have to work to achieve the same things. Some days, I’m in awe of my clients.


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