According to Family Therapist Virginia Satir, the world isn’t the way it’s meant to be, it is the way it is – and it’s the way we cope with it that makes the difference; how we process our experiences is what makes us able to cope or not.
As a coach or therapist, it is vital for us to question why we respond the way we do. Why do we react to different clients in different ways, and why do they respond to us differently? This is the heart of transference and countertransference, and it behoves us to pay attention or we can be led down the rocky paths of Drama Triangle, collusion and blind spots. We ignore our own “stuff” at our peril; and this is one of the reasons we have Clinical Supervision – and why it’s not just desirable, it is essential.
We are only able to process our experiences through the lens of our previous experiences; we can never be truly objective, because this is how we perceive and understand our world – and how we each construct our own reality; we see the world not as it is, says Jung, but as we are. Whatever we perceive in others, therefore, gives us an opportunity to learn something about ourselves… because it is a reflection of our own unconscious mind.
Because of our subjective nature, we will judge things according to our own values, beliefs and past experiences which form our mental filters; what we perceive to be right, wrong, good, bad and so on. The moment a judgement about someone or something else comes into our consciousness, it is our perception, and therefore we must have an understanding of it because we’ve labelled it.
Our judgements are the result of our own unique combination of unconscious filters; our filters influence what we pay attention to, how we interpret situations and how we make sense of ambiguous situations. We unconsciously pay attention to information that confirms and supports our beliefs, and we ignore or minimise information that contradicts them.
We also project our 'stuff' onto others - expecting people to behave in particular ways based on our values, and then blaming them because they don't (or sometimes because they do) live up or down to our expectations - but they are not us, and their way of perceiving the world is very different from ours. Also, if there are aspects of ourselves that we don't like, and refuse to own (Jung called this our 'Shadow Self'), then we may see those aspects in others, and dislike them because of it... we see in others whatever needs healing in ourselves.
It is, therefore imperative for those of us working in therapy, coaching or counselling to pay attention and to bring our (sometimes deeply repressed) 'stuff' into consciousness, in order to become as clear a vessel as possible. Only then are we able to be fully present with our client, and have the ability to create a safe, non-judgemental space, in which the client can be supported to learn about themselves, and process their own issues.
We know nobody can “make” us feel or do anything – we do that to ourselves; other people do whatever they do, and what we do with that is up to us. Other people’s behaviour can, however, trigger a reaction in us, and if we are having an unuseful reaction to someone or something then we need to pay attention and seek to understand why. We need to “make the darkness conscious” as Jung says, otherwise we are potentially heading down the path of conflict with others, or collusion and blind spots with our clients.
In other words, as therapists and coaches, we need to deal with our own ‘stuff’, and we can’t change something until we become consciously aware of it; as author Susan David says, “awareness is a prerequisite for change”… hence the necessity for self-awareness – and it’s an ongoing journey; a life-long job… Jung called it ‘Individuation’. What old core beliefs and injunctions are we running? Until we become aware of them and challenge them, they will carry on directing our lives, says Jung, and we will call it fate.
And throughout our lives, stuff is going to happen to us; we will have experiences that we perceive to be unpleasant and challenging – and what can we do? We have a choice… we can either be a victim of them, and blame someone or something else, or we can take responsibility and learn from them. My psychotherapy tutor called these things ‘JAFLOs’ – they are Just Another F[insert appropriate word]-ing Learning Opportunity. And they might be truly awful, terrible, traumatic things – but from those huge, awful terrible things might indeed come our biggest learnings... Learnings that set us free forever - perhaps from the tyranny of a repeating, self-sabotaging pattern that has been running our life for years.
Eric Berne described this freedom as autonomy; our capacity for developing awareness, choice, responsibility, spontaneity and intimacy. Autonomy means living our life as an authentic, integrated adult, without the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’.
Living an autonomous life is an ideal, to which we as coaches and therapists can only truly assist our clients to aspire if we first do the work ourselves, and commit to doing so in the spirit of openness and curiosity... so that we can own our 'stuff'; use it like compost and grow from it - and thrive, and blossom...
Life is for living and learning… enjoy the ride…
If you are interested in exploring and developing your own self-awareness, we offer a number of courses, workshops and groups to help you... click on the link below to take a look at our Forthcoming Courses to see what is coming up...
It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride… Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience. “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.
She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower… The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.
An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny. The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…
And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.
I am fascinated by the different approaches that the dogs have to their walks. Theo is excited by everything – and if something excited him on the previous walk, then he will remember and get even more excited as we approach the same place in the walk, obviously hoping that the same pheasant, hare or whatever will leap out again at the same spot (and if it did, he would probably explode with joy). He has a constant air of anticipation – “what excitement will happen next?” seems to be his motto.
Lily is mainly concerned with keeping her eye on us; if we stop for any reason, she will hurry across, jumping up and putting a paw on our leg, gazing up in mute, gentle enquiry with her beautiful black eyes.
Daisy, on the other hand, is a keen student of nature and takes her research seriously. When she finds something worthy of study, it will occupy her entire attention so that she becomes completely deaf to our calls, or to the fact that we are now a considerable distance ahead. Eventually, one of us will be forced to hurry back and encourage her on her way – at which point she will look up at us in amazement that we are not sharing her fascination. She will then dance along the path until, a few yards further along, she comes across the next object worthy of study… To Daisy, the journey truly is the destination.
From time to time, we allow all three of the canine members of staff to have a sleep-over in our bedroom… Daisy and Lily like to sleep in the middle of the bed (although I have occasionally woken in the night with Daisy lying across my neck like a scarf) and Theo sleeps in his bed in the corner of the room… or at least he is supposed to. In practice, he will wait until we are asleep and then climb stealthily onto the bottom of the bed, hoping that we won’t notice.
Daisy is usually the first to awaken (generally before the alarm goes off), and likes to start her day with her morning exercises of upside down rolling, accompanied by tiny growls of pleasure. If we make the slightest movement to demonstrate that we are awake, however, this will then send Lily and Theo into ecstatic transports of delight, involving much leaping around and general joyousness at our appearance from the realms of sleep.
What are your first thoughts when you awaken in the morning? The thoughts you choose to have in your head will colour your entire day…. If you start off believing you will have a bad day, then your unconscious mind will obligingly provide you with evidence throughout the day to support this belief – and you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What if, instead, you decide to start your day with enthusiasm, gratitude and curiosity…?
We never knew poodles were so absorbent. Regular readers of the blog will remember that Lily has paid a couple of unscheduled visits to our pond in the past, but dealing with her weed-bespattered, dripping little form was nothing compared to the epic drama of dealing with a similar incident involving Snippets yesterday evening…
I watched the scene from the kitchen window and was powerless to intervene as she, being curious, jumped up onto the stone edge around the pond and then, with a leap of unsurpassing insouciance and elegance, launched herself innocently into the water which, judging from her reaction, was not quite the medium she had been expecting. Nothing daunted, however, she swam valiantly across the pond and hauled herself out on the far bank – by now liberally festooned with an assortment of weed and leaves, and her fur weighed down by an extremely large sample of pond water.
After a bath in Lily’s usual hot-tub (aka the utility room sink) we then had to repair to the bathroom for specialist intervention with the shower hose – it turns out that poodle fur is very resistant to releasing anything it has captured, so poor Snippets had to endure a good deal of hosing and rinsing until the last vestige of pondlife was exorcised. As we had already discovered, poodle fur is also astonishingly absorbent and three bath sheets were required to dry her – even then we needed another towel for her to sit on during the evening as she continued gently with her dehumidifying process in front of the fire over the next few hours.
She seemed quite content throughout with all the fuss – we’re just hoping she doesn’t decide to increase her possibilities of an Oscar nomination through further performances.
I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks studying and researching so I can add exciting new content to my courses later in the spring. (Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief is just incredible, and if you haven’t read it I can highly recommend it!) I enjoy sitting at the kitchen table to read and study; there’s a lovely view out over the garden for the times when I want to stop and contemplate something and, of course, the kettle is handy…
The canine members of staff also appreciate my kitchen study-time. They do have the difficult decision to make of whether to sleep on my knee, on the bench next to me, in the dog bed or on the rug in front of the Aga, but after a bit of shuffling they seem to cope with that. Theo makes particularly good relaxing noises from time to time and Daisy will do one of her famous squeaky yawns… Poppy snores and Lily’s feet twitch as she dreams…
Yesterday afternoon I was working at the dental practice. The morning had been spent in study and I had left everything on the kitchen table to await my return. John was first into the kitchen when we arrived home and he discovered a strange little object in the middle of the kitchen floor… which turned out to be a tiny metal spring, amalgamated with a piece of chewed plastic – the mortal remains of the propelling pencil I had been using to make my notes.
I’m not sure what was so attractive about the pencil (although it was pink, which seems to be Theo’s favourite colour) but fortunately the other items on the table had escaped relatively unscathed; I had to re-write the top page of notes (slightly torn) and my bookmark was discovered in the dog bed, but the textbook and the rail tickets which had arrived in that day’s post were untouched…
I suspect a Theo/Lily joint venture here; they both love to indulge their wanton curiosity. Their motto seems to be, “If it smells of you, we want it; if it’s crunchy, we will eat it and if you leave it where we can reach it then it’s ours.” Theo has in the past demonstrated a talent for stealing things from the kitchen table (usually unguarded food, particularly after a dinner party) and Lily loves to chew crunchy things (recent casualties include an adaptor from a favourite lamp and my mother’s hearing aid, and previously a pair of John’s glasses – no squeaky plastic toy is safe). Together, mother and son, they make a formidable team!
Theo and Lily’s Teachings:
Poppy arrived today – and has been greeted by general adulation from all of us. A happy and contented little soul – she has settled in remarkably quickly, completely unfazed by the other three canine members of staff, who have also been remarkably unfazed by this unexpected addition to their ranks.
Poppy now has the joy of discovering the delights of carpets and sofas; coming as she does from a kennel environment which, although scrupulously clean, was nevertheless a little on the spartan side. Once it stops raining, she will also have the pleasure of exploring the garden – what excitement awaits amongst the herbacious borders!
What would happen if we were all to explore our world with such wanton curiosity? Maybe we would discover the untold secrets and pleasures that lie all around us, if only we have the ability to pay sufficient attention to what our senses are telling us.
...and the Canine Members of Staff