This week was a bit more abstract and self-exploratory than usual, in that we carried on exploring our understanding of the relationship between our personalities and our helping work by asking ourselves various introspective questions (Unit 5.1), and we also considered the ways in which our life history has impacted on our behaviour and life choices (Unit 5.2). Because of this, there is only an entry in my Reflective Diary and no Learning Log.
How do I see myself? I see myself as a decent, hard-working, capable and intelligent human. I used to see myself as timid, or shy, as that is how my mother referred to me, but I have come to reconsider this quite recently, and reframed it as my being a quiet person, and that I make considered decisions rather than acting on impulse. One thing I have noticed is that I do tend to compare how I used to be with how I am now quite a lot. I will explore this later on in this entry as it is a major theme in the second life event I have chosen to write about. I am being very conscious and aware of the fact I rarely just say what I am like as a person now; I always feel the need to mention how I used to be as well.
How do others see me? I asked a few close colleagues this question, and they told me I am kind, warm, funny and easy-going. I asked a colleague that I was not so close to, and she said I was funny, but a bit distant at times. I asked my son, and being three years old, he didn’t really understand the question. So I asked him if Daddy was funny or clever or big or strong; what is Daddy? He said Daddy is super rough-tough. That seems appropriate.
My personality relates to my helping work in that I am curious about people. I work in retail at the moment and I like to do things by the book – as such, I am usually the person that trains new employees when they join our department. I relish these days as I love teaching them the ropes as I get to know them. I really enjoy getting to know people and I ask them about their previous jobs and how they could transfer their skills to this new job. I ask them about their hobbies and their hopes and dreams and their ambitions and their family and their favourite films and I make sure to show them the correct way of doing things rather than cut corners or do take shortcuts. I’d rather show them how to do something properly and it takes a while, than do something in half the time but it cause problems for someone else later down the line.
I also enjoy talking to customers about their lives, and, serendipitously, their problems. I don’t seek out these people; they tend to gravitate towards me. I don’t like to gossip about what people tell me, and pride myself on being honest, open and trustworthy. I like letting people talk to me, I like lending an ear, and active listening came naturally to me before I learnt about it on the course. Also, before I came on this course, I would never know what advice to give someone who had just spent half an hour telling me their problems, so I would offer none – but I now realise it’s not my place to offer advice. They just want to be heard.
By contrast, and as an introvert, I do not really like talking about myself; so in that respect, becoming a counsellor would be perfect, as the focus would always be on the client rather than me!
We were asked the question: Why do I do this work and why do I do it here and in this way? At the moment I work in retail because it was easy and I was lazy, and for a long time I was comfortable and complacent, cruising along from month to month, going nowhere near the edge of my comfort zone. By starting this course I have taken positive action, and I feel like I have taken big strides out of my comfort zone. I do it in Waterlooville because that is where my Wife lived before we got together, and she convinced me to move over here as it would provide us and our future family a higher standard of living. I cannot disagree with that, as Waterlooville is beautiful, and very peaceful.
I feel like I should also answer the question in relation to my future ideal job, which would be: Why do I want to do that work and why do I want to do it in that place and in that way? I covered this in the creative work I did when we were designing our perfect counselling rooms; It is not limited to this particular demographic, but I didn’t feel I had anywhere to turn when I had my mid-life crisis, so I want other men around my age to know that if they need a guiding light through the long dark night of their soul, I will be their torch. I want my practise to be based in a centralised location with lots of access for both private and public transport, to allow as many people as possible to visit me. I want to get as much experience as possible so I can help as many people as possible, from adolescents to middle-aged men, to couples and anyone who needs help. I am also considering things like art therapy and life-coaching, or maybe doing one day a week helping my clients as a personal trainer or nutritionist. My future options are not set in stone.
Later in the lesson we were asked to pick two pivotal or important events on our lives and consider the ways in which these events in our life history impact our current behaviours and life choices.
The first event I have chosen to explore is my Father leaving and the subsequent lack of any role models, particularly male role models, during my early years. My Dad was removed from our family group by the things my Mum’s side of the family said about him. I have since spoken to him about the situation, which was so long ago, and his side of the story does feel like it reflects the reality of what happened, but I do understand and accept that I will never know 100% for sure what exactly happened. He felt he had to leave because, although in his mind he had done nothing wrong, my Mum’s side of the family had decided he was having numerous affairs, and was not actually travelling around Europe with his job as an International Logistics Manager for a large, pan-continental company. My Dad speaks his mind freely, and is a bit of a peculiar character, not at all like my Mum’s side of the family, and he felt that he never really fit in because of those traits.
When my Dad left us, my Mum had to work 60 hours a week to keep the roof over our heads. My brother and I, as well as our two cousins, were often left with our Grand-parents, in particular our Grandad, who had had a stroke and although he was 100% mentally fit, he was not able to move around or even talk easily. As the eldest, I was expected to be the “responsible one” even though I had no real idea of how to be the responsible one. The key difference between the two sets of siblings was that our cousins still had both of their parents at home, whereas my brother and I did not – we barely had one parent.
This experience was incredibly formative, in that I never really learned from a grown-up how to be a grown-up and I never felt like I had a masculine role model to demonstrate how to be a man. I was raised by women and I felt great shame that I was male. As such, my masculine polarity was skewed for a long time, but I am getting back on track with that, and it feels incredibly empowering to be able to embrace my masculine traits and not feel ashamed for being male.
It also instilled a feeling of having to please people at my own expense, and also that if my opinions stray too far from the opinions of the group, then I will be kicked out of the group. This relates to my Dad’s character traits of speaking his mind and being a bit of a character, in that I saw him as peculiar and able to have opinions that strongly differed from the main group’s consensus, and he was thus removed from the group. This connection was made mid-2017 in my course of CBT therapy, and I am no longer afraid of standing out of the crowd and being peculiar myself.
Sometimes this doesn’t make me feel terribly congruent inside myself. As an example, I will react internally to something in one way, but show a different reaction externally. The external reaction would quite often be one that would not cause offense or upset in others. While I understand this could be construed as being considerate of other people, I do sometimes feel that holding myself back so much does leave me feeling dishonest. I think it could be that I see my differing internal and external reactions as polar opposites, as very definite black and white. I understand that not everyone always has the same opinion, and it is ok for this to happen. It’s not the end of the world if I and someone else have different opinions.
The second event is the mental breakdown I suffered in February 2017, when I peered into the void and didn’t like what was staring back at me. For a long time I held personal core beliefs that were damaging me. I believed that people were inherently not nice. I believed that I did not deserve a fulfilling career or a prosperous future. I believed that if I didn’t follow the group’s wishes I would be rejected and removed from the group. I believed that I had crippling social anxiety and that I was unable to live a “normal” life. And as seen above, I believed that I had to fit in and go along with the other person’s opinion or be rejected, as I believed that their opinion was more important than mine.
These beliefs all culminated in an evening in which, after feeling particularly rejected by my Wife and my Mother-in-law, and thus, the group I was currently part of, I left work at 10pm and walked in the opposite direction to home. I had no idea where I was going, but I felt in that moment that I was not coming back; I had been utterly rejected by the group. I saw a future spread out in front of me which I did not like, one thought following another, a future that mirrored my own Father’s relationship with me. I felt I would have to leave my Wife, get a place of my own. I would only see my three year old son every other weekend and he would be robbed of a masculine role-model. But I couldn’t afford a place of my own; I would have to live on the streets. I would rather die than live on the streets. My son would definitely lose a male role-model. He would grow up and be like me, and ruin his son’s future. My thoughts took over, and I walked and walked for hours. Then I sat on a bench for hours.
And then, I had an epiphany, I saw a sign.
A ginger cat, much like one I used to know and love, long since deceased, appeared and started meowing. It snapped me out of my funk. I resolved to break the cycle there and then. I would not disappear into the night and leave my son alone in this world. I knew I had some hard decisions to make, and some long-standing habits to break. I knew I had to question everything I thought I knew about myself, and learn to be better, learn how to be a man that could stand on his own two feet, it was instinctual. I suspected that I had gotten too comfortable and too lazy, and it was time to admit it, fully, to myself. It was time to tell myself the hard truths I had been avoiding.
I had CBT therapy short after that, as well as doing extensive personal exploratory writing therapy, in which I identified and challenged those core beliefs. People are not inherently evil, not all people want to hurt me. I do deserve a fulfilling career and a prosperous future, and I can be an excellent masculine role-model for my son. I am able to express my opinion freely, just as everyone else is; no-one’s opinion is more important than mine, just as mine is not any more important than anyone else’s.
My therapeutic writing, my course of CBT and the exercises set by my tutor on this course have helped me uncover and understand my biases, my unconscious core beliefs, my pre-conceived notions, and made me really consider their origins, and hold them up to the light of truth, to challenge them objectively and without prejudice to see if they still ring true with the person I am today. If these things do not resonate with who I am, I understand I can change them. My past is my past and it shaped who I am. I cannot change the events in my own history that made me form these beliefs. However, I can realise those beliefs are flawed and wrong, and change them. I am not beyond throwing out a belief that was formed when I was a child and was based on a child’s knowledge or a child’s perceptions or a child’s expectations of the world.
That was my revelation. I feel that helping my clients to realise this truth would empower them as much as it has empowered me. Helping them connect those early experiences to their current problems, and questioning whether they honestly see their personalities as rigid. Hopefully they will come to realise that although the past shaped them initially, they are pliable, and free to reshape themselves as they see fit. Obviously this will not help every single client, but for those it can help, it will be life-changing. The insights I gain from exploring my past like this help me enormously in understanding why I am the way I am, what motivates me, and why I do certain things. It is like having a course of counselling with myself, and I find it very therapeutic. I feel like I will definitely keep a reflective diary and carry on my therapeutic writing even after I have finished this course.