The Mind and Body are the same system - what affects one affects the other. The beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us have a profound effect on our biology, because we experience life through the feelings created by our thoughts....
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...
Mungo came to us in February... he was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life. Probably his only experience of love in all that time, since being taken from his mother, until he came to us, was the eight weeks he spent in a wonderful foster-home (you can read more about his early journey here).
As human beings, it's easy for us to get stuck in the story we are telling ourselves each day... we will continue to do a particular behaviour, or think particular thoughts, because we've always done it that way. We interact with the world because of the labels we give ourselves - or accept from other people - "Anxious", "Introverted", "Extroverted", "Victim", "Intelligent", "Stupid"... When labels give us permission to limit ourselves, then we don't have to take responsibility - instead we can blame the label, because the label gives us our story... without realising that it's also the story that is "proving" the label. Those "knots of our own making" that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about.
There's a wonderful poem by Marianne Williamson, called "Our Deepest Fear" (I have it on the wall in my office), and in it she explains that it's our light, not our darkness that frightens us... our deepest fear, she says, is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure...
In my work as a therapist and a trainer, I see many people who do change the stories they have been telling themselves, often for decades - it requires courage, and insight, and self-awareness, and self-compassion to do that, and I'm in awe every single time, because it proves the truth of Marianne's words...
And then I look at this beautiful little soul who has joined our family... every "first time" he does something new - like jumping up next to us on the sofa, or climbing up four steps instead of three, or allowing Luna to share his bed - he is releasing and re-writing a little bit of that old story and it makes my heart melt, because he's letting a little bit more of his light shine.
If he is not afraid to re-write his old story, why should any of us be? In Marianne's words, again, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same..." If we are bringing that kind of inspiration into the world, then what can happen? That's another story - what if we were to write it?
Little Matilda joined our family in early April, following the sad loss of our beautiful Theo to lymphoma earlier in the year. She needed us as much as we needed her - her previous Mum had developed some health issues and was no longer able to look after her, so we took Luna to meet Matilda and they were friends at first sight...
She is, as all puppies are, part little angel, part tiny demon... but as Carl Jung once wrote, "The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites."
"The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites." - Carl Jung
Matilda certainly has great energy, as Luna can testify; they play crazy games of chase together - not caring whether they are in the garden, bedroom or sitting room, and then subside in a panting, happy heap. Like Luna, and like Daisy before her, Matilda knows how to bring the joy...
Matilda of course has no concept of self-judgement - she is fearless! She doesn't worry that she is "not good enough" because she likes to roll in pigeon poo, or that she is a "bad person" because she cherishes secret fantasies of catching one of the voles who inhabit the garden wall... she doesn't wallow in guilt because she was sick on our duvet at 4am... she just is as she is, and accepts herself for who she is because she has no idea that there is any other way to be. What liberation! No wonder she is so joyful...
Self-acceptance is a key aspect in developing wellbeing and rediscovering our own joy. To quote Carl Jung once again, "How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole." When we can accept all of ourselves - the light as well as the dark - then we are liberated from others' judgements of us; we realise that what others think of us is not about us at all - it is a reflection of their own thoughts and being.
It doesn't matter what others think of you - it is what you think of you that is the most important thing. Become fearless and spread the joy!
I've always loved undoing knots. I don't know why, particularly, only that I find it a peculiarly satisfying activity. The other evening, when called upon to assist my husband with a knotted shoelace, followed in quick succession by the knotted string on the top of a bag of logs, it brought the pattern into consciousness.
As a child, I always enjoyed the challenge of undoing knots - my father would pass me things to undo; a necklace of my mother's, perhaps - hopelessly tangled - or a tiny chain destined to become part of something he was making or mending. I remember I once spent a happy evening undoing the fine wire encasing a Chianti bottle, just for the joy of it.
As I thought of these things, it occurred to me that even now in my work as a therapist, this is what I do - I help people to untie the "knots of their own making" as Rainer Maria Rilke called them:
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead, we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused..."
Sometimes we just need somebody outside ourselves to help us see the knots are there... and then to help us to disentangle ourselves so that we might, indeed, rise up as our true, congruent self.
...and the Canine Members of Staff