It had been four weeks since we’d all been together and it seemed like an awfully long time. But there was lots of smiles and happiness as we started in a relaxed atmosphere that seemed different, like a fresh start without any tension. We lost one permanently and had a couple of absences.
Most of us were relieved to be handing our first proper assignment in although worried about how it would be received. I did say that I’d like some feedback before we started on our next one just so that I know whether it’s OK or not. I feel amazingly confused over it but felt better that so were most of the rest of us.
The fishbowl got mentioned. We’re going to do some more at the end of term but not in full groups. As soon as she mentioned it, and the laughter I cringed and wanted to disappear. There was relief (again) that I’d done it but also embarrassment. It was used an example of immediacy, that the listener should have said “you’re smiling/laughing as you tell this painful story. Why?”
I reflected on something that had come up in therapy, and I’m not sure why it came back to me. Adler talks about the youngest child frequently becoming a perfectionist or an over-achiever, driven to gain approval this way. As my father is a perfectionist and an extremely hard worker I rejected these approaches and instead settled for being fiercely independent, even if it was just inside my own head. This stubbornness, this willingness to dig my heels in and do it my way, which is also very Yorkshire, I inherited all this from my father who is also very independent minded. My sanity has been helped and occasionally hindered by my absolute determination to decide who I am for myself. I’ve never been a conformist, never wanted to be a sheep.
I remember my son (think it was 4son) coming home from school one day saying he’d felt left out of the lesson because they were discussing some recent event in Eastenders about which he knew nothing. I held my breath wondering how much Eastenders we would have to start watching and he just said “why do people watch this sort of rubbish” and I relaxed, welcoming that he didn’t want to watch something just because everyone else does. In the same way this household does not watch I’m A Celebrity, Come Dancing, The Voice or any of that sort of popular cheap television. No sirree, if we’re going to watch crap television we are at least going to choose it for ourselves.
Bloody-mindedness has stopped me from compromising and has sometimes made it harder for me to make friends but, given that I have limited self-esteem it counter-balances that with sheer independent will.
We changed triads and I had a really good one. I was a rubbish observer as I got too interested in the speaker and wanted to say me too, been there, done that. Empathy was oozing out and it was hard to focus on the observer. It was also hard to be more critical as we had all agreed to do. I suggested she struggled to ask the right questions and to pick up on some of the strong words used and she then observed afterwards that my listener had asked 9 questions which seemed too many to her but not to me. It seemed ironic. Anyway I talked about the New Year and how difficult I found it to be hopeful considering all the crap I had to go through and he actually strengthened my resolve in those twelve minutes and made me feel more capable and competent and able.
I spent some time afterwards wondering why this person had that impact and I came to a sweeping generalisation, that introverts are better active listeners than extroverts. They spend more time listening to other people, are less inclined to jump in, to take over the conversation for their own story. They are more likely to pick up the under-currents and are less likely to want to impose their own views on the conversation. All this adds up to being more experienced at the active listening that is necessary to be a counsellor. I’ll see if this holds true as we work through triads with other people.
We also talked briefly about Roger’s seven stages of process (On Becoming A Person, p132-158, summarised very briefly above). In it he discusses the process of change of a person, from the first stage of being totally rigid to the end of being a fluid, fully functioning person. I am somewhere in stage 5 or 6. For me the difficulty is in accepting the qualities that I do have rather than actually developing them.
Last year’s huge achievement was my acceptance of my parenting skills and my ability to feel proud of where my children are (despite all the ongoing problems) and to simply accept that I have done a good job. I feel this acceptance and awareness every day in my interactions with them and it does help keep me strong.
This year’s emphasis needs to be on self-care. To not forget that sense of acceptance and achievement about my parenting and, if I cannot yet feel that about myself as an independent person, I can at least become better at looking after myself which will help me get through the next months. That self-care includes carrying on my daily meditation which, since I started with Calm, I have missed about four days in the last three months. I would like to do twice daily but I’m recognising the value of each meditation and the peace that it brings. I would like to get out of the house more for a walk, both for the exercise and the peace. If not to do half an hour every day just to do it occasionally. I’m quite good at, but need to continue recognising that I cannot do everything today or this week and must limit myself to what needs to be done and to try and let go of everything else.
During my triad I was thinking that anxiety is like the contractions of childbirth. Instead of feeling anxious or in pain for the entire duration, it’s important to recognise feeling anxious in the moment of dealing with some event and to then let go until the next event (or contraction). That ability to let go gives you the peace and strength to deal with what happens next but it is vital to relax in between.
So I also need to try and let go of things over the next few months, deal with them when they come up and then let them go until they need a further action. I need to be kind to myself, whether it’s allowing myself to veg out, read a light book, have a bath, to give myself the permission to not be on all the time.