“Why do I always wait until I’m coming out of my dark place before I talk to you? I need to be encouraged to engage sooner; my dark place and my internal monologue is not a good place for me to hang out.”
That’s what someone mentioned earlier this week. It’s a common refrain as we so easily perceive ‘Counselling’ as a sign of weakness and for ‘needy’ people. Ask anyone who does Marriage Counselling and they’ll tell you that if couples asked for help earlier many more marriages would be salvaged. By the time they ring the bell for help both are usually exhausted, demoralized, and just want out. Individuals fall into the same trap – all the time (maybe there’s a link to pride coming before a fall).
This short article is not suggesting that Counselling is the magic bullet with an answer for everything. It’s merely encouraging us to possibly re-frame and reconsider it as a helpful option that might prevent a crash landing if taken hold of; sooner rather than later. And it’s not just about solutions and fixing people. It is about listening, hearing, and walking alongside – with someone else – as we figure things out.
Counselling really is about finding a safe place to ‘be yourself’ in the worst of times. An opportunity where we can express everything that we’re feeling, thinking, and experiencing without fear of rejection or judgement. The issues may arise from marital conflict, disillusionment, depression, abuse, gender identity, work (or lack thereof), and a multitude of combinations of the above. Safety, acceptance, and confidentiality are key; and when they are present hope arises.
In such a politically correct climate many people walk wounded, confused, and quiet. Shame is an ugly enemy attaching itself to our struggles, our failures, and our awkward identities. We know that no-one is perfect and yet in a culture where Facebook and Instagram portray ‘others’ as having such success and fun, we can so easily conclude that we are not keeping up, not measuring up, and not as accomplished. “If people really knew what is going on inside me……”
Many of these hidden thoughts and conclusions arising from our internal conversations are exaggerated, distorted, inaccurate, and often downright lies. But how are we to know? People live for years under dark shadows of false perceptions while their confidence and identity shrivels to a skeleton of a self that supports precious little joy, hope, or healthy self esteem. We haven’t YET learned that such self esteem is never rooted in success, wealth, or perfection. Rather, it’s the product of acceptance and transparency. It’s an embracing of the journey we’re on that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly that inevitably arises along the way.
And that’s where Counselling can be so helpful. It provides space and time for talking and listening in the presence of another human being. “That makes sense, but why do I have to pay for it?” Because it takes time for those who Counsel to learn how to listen well, how to discern what is perhaps the meaning behind the words. It takes time for the one who listens to know themselves well enough that they do not project, over advise, try to fix, be shocked or judge. Those attributes don’t magically appear. They emerge within many conversations, some research, and most importantly, life experience.
It is helpful and hopeful to learn that my thoughts, struggles, fears, and feelings, are not unusual or cause for undue alarm. It’s encouraging to be told that someone else has found hope and victory in the same area I’m presently experiencing overwhelming defeat.
To save money one can self-medicate, build the house, fix the car, make the clothes, grow the food, and educate the children. The reality is that we cannot be good at everything and neither do we have the time to be trustworthy and reliable in every aspect of life. Therefore, we depend on one another to complement our interests and skills.
There is no shame in having my car serviced by another, visiting the doctor for a medical check up, or having the electrician fix a water heater etc. Likewise, there need be no shame or apology for placing enough value and importance on our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well being to invest in time out for personal Counselling. In fact it may be long overdue.
Don’t walk alone, don’t talk to yourself (too much), or be deluded into thinking no-one will understand you. The truth is you’re not the first to struggle, there are usually good reasons why you’re where you are, it’s not always your fault, and there is hope and a way forward.
Therapists aren’t people you pay to care for you. They are people you pay to help you care for yourself. 🙂