The Inner Self
We all have an inner world…in that world there is a running dialogue…it tells us “behave this way not that way” and so on. Therapists are often seeking to engage with people on that level.
We are trying to befriend that person…that part of another that is authentic…that part of self that is real…that part of self that, while often mistaken, is also rarely fake.
At the same time we are taught not to inject ourselves too much into our work. By this I mean…our biases.
- The next part is that we all have biases and must be aware of them.
- Then if we have a bias that impacts the client we must acknowledge it without imposing it…
- all while honoring the unique identity of that individual…whew!
It is a mentally challenging part of what we learn to do that eventually becomes second nature. After many years (and even sometimes early on in our practice) we can develop a filter that can hear and take in everything from the mundane to the horrifying. All while nodding…while having the appropriate sincere facial expression. And while having our inner experience – which may be magnified or dulled…and having our own opinion – which on one hand must inform our response but also be based on a conceptual framework that supports the therapeutic goals and the uniqueness of the person we are treating.
You Don’t Have to Take Care of Everyone!
When we behave as if the world is our client…for example our colleagues, our friends, family, students, neighbors, people we bump into in public…by being our filtered self (partly authentic but partly shielding aspects of ourselves that might interfere with the other person), we can end up having interactions that are very satisfactory and helpful to others. But they can leave us feeling depleted, unfulfilled and only partially known…never being “off from work”… so to speak.
When we don’t behave like the world is our client, we don’t have to walk the balance beam. We don’t have to get all of the facts and information right. We can be a little more selfish and self indulgent. I’m not saying to be awful and inconsiderate. What I am saying is that we don’t always have to take care of everyone else.
I don’t think we (therapists) are very conscious of this behavior. But those around us are keenly aware. They see our minds working all of the time…they hear the question phrased in a way that suggests that we already know the answer or what we think their answer should be (a false technique by the way…from which I try to disabuse my supervisees as they hone their therapeutic skills). Those we engage with in these ways know that we have a conceptualization of them (what they might call “anaylizing them”). They know we have ideas about what they do and why they do it…they tire of the “perfected” self instead of opportunities they have to know our “whole” selves.
You Don’t Have to be Perfect!
I’m not saying that therapists are never “real.” I am saying that we are a pretty judgmental lot. We have high and exacting standards. At the same time we have tremendous capacities for compassion.
We can be hard on others. But in my observation we are very hard on ourselves. There is a pressure to be “okay.” A pressure to be the picture of mental health and emotional health which includes appropriate interpersonal skills and a range of emotional expression and experience that is deemed “healthy.”
For me, this translated to years of not fully expressing feelings like anger, hurt, fear or sadness when I felt them. When I did it was in my own therapy and it was like a floodgate opening. My therapist was kind and receptive to my tearful monologues. I would use at least a 1/2 a box of tissues in a session. In retrospect, the crying was a release. It was the letting loose of a dam of emotion…both something I adopted as a therapist but also a clear strategy learned from my family of origin and from my culture as a black woman (the message being: don’t be angry, don’t be threatening, don’t have an attitude etc…).
Occasionally I would have a candid discussion with a close friend, but for the most part I learned the art of containment. I found the best way to do this was to focus on others.
I don’t think I would have consciously called it being “fake.” But I do think that I could be described as “guarded.” In some cases, so expertly so that those with whom I had general contact would not know the insincerity…for them I was warm and engaging and that was true (but only part of the truth). Even those close to me would know me…but not really know me and thinking back, that must have been my preference.
Authenticity at All Times
Now an older, wiser me prefers authenticity at all times. Even if it’s not always pretty or appropriate. For some people, this has never been a problem. Some of you will not relate to artfully guarding your persona and always trying to align with the right thing to say or do.
Today I let myself feel and express my whole range of emotion. I might say exactly what is real in the moment to someone without running it through my filter. I’m not saying this is the ideal way to be for everyone. What I am saying is that it is very liberating for me.
Some of us need to learn how to “act right” and some of us need to learn to “let it fly!” Yes, there are consequences to both ways of being and there is, of course, an in-between space that is a blend of the two.
The Feeling Wheel
I think there is an element of Zen to be authentic all of the time…being 100% real in your emotional expression. It involves the expression of peaceful, powerful and joyful feelings as well as sad, mad and scared feelings, just like the “feeling wheel” I often share with clients.
Now that I indulge my pain more openly whether to myself in private, in dialogue with a friend, or when I am sharing publicly on social media or in my blog. I am reminded of the many years of an inner world only known to myself (and often hidden from my conscious self). I feel a hastening of my current and next stage of life that is always free to mess up. Free to fix it or not. Free to say “f” it.
I enjoy the part of me that does not hold back in expressing joy (through singing, dance, listening to music, movement, through words, images and pictures). I enjoy embracing the part of me that feels beautiful and the part of me that feels needy (something I used to feel ashamed about). I express love to those I love and I am more practiced in letting those for whom I feel no affinity fall away. I don’t need for someone I like or even barely like or know… to find value in me. I have befriended my shadow. I’ve learned to care and not care whether someone likes me or gets me. I’ve given myself permission to be true to whatever is in the moment…to be in some ways predictable and in other ways totally unexpected.
Never Fake It
I’ve given myself permission to shine and be a bright light…when I was taught as a young girl and as a young women to be hidden. I embrace the parts of me that are illogical and don’t make sense…the same way I have embraced that in others all these many years.
My key to fulfillment is to never be fake! It’s okay to express the full range of emotion. It will be too much for some people. Our world has taught us that emotion is feminine and even if you are a woman, that being “too emotional” is wrong. This has harmed men and women tremendously.
Yes I think (too much); I feel (too much); I notice (too much). I am a woman after all…it is part of my biological imperative. These beautifully blended characteristics bond us to all of humanity and to one another and form families and forge connections that last a life time.
I say be unapologetically real and whole…never play small! What is it to lead an emotionally safe and sheltered life and not be known? You don’t have to be the invisible man or woman. You can be public and still have sacred spaces that are known to only you and those who you allow into that private space.
Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.