There are so many ways to climb to the peak of the mountain, metaphorically speaking. None of them is inherently wrong but some are unnecessarily laborious. I wonder how many of us are doing the trek of life on the expert level without first acquiring the expertise?
People who are functioning relatively well in society, like me who’s always held down jobs (well, sort of), had long term relationships etc, would walk straight passed counselling unless we have a significant emotional issue we can no longer ignore. Only when I studied to become a counsellor had I realised how powerful counselling is for self-empowerment, for anyone.
Henry David Thoreau famously said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ Our unconscious desperation is what drives us to go on spiritual retreats again and again, and read self-help books. Well, exactly, we try to self-help till our next achievement, where our gas starts to run dry again.
Having long suffered from imposter syndrome, I hopped from one qualification to the next, feeling invincible one minute and emulating a rabbit in the headlights the next. My desire to play my part in shining a light of healing where there is darkness has always been strong. Why then, my sense of purpose was never enough?
I have been down many windy paths of self-discovery, some thorny, going two steps forward and one step back. Over the course of this series on self counselling tips, you will get a pretty good picture of my life thus far. Congruence, ie authenticity, is an absolute must for successful counselling. If I cannot self-disclose here, I won’t be a good guide for you. I’ll only hinder your progress. As within, so without.
In this article I want to highlight where I went ‘wrong,’ where I got my mind in a knot. People who are reading this article must be resonating in a similar range of frequencies as me, so I am hoping this piece of information will be a life-changer for you too. I turned my life back to simple again, untangling my chaotic mind, by focusing more on my self-concept instead of my self-esteem.
When we chronically feel bad, we tend to focus on our self-esteem as if it’s causing the way we feel, don’t we? Some of us even go to the doctors to remedy those feelings. ‘Once I fix my self-esteem issue, I will feel better.’ This, I’m suggesting, is a myth. Carl R Rogers (1902-1987), one of the founders of Humanistic approach to psychology, considered equal with Sigmund Freud, suggests that emotions are not illnesses. Emotions are always going to be there. We don’t want them to go anyway, do we? I definitely won’t do away with my romantic feelings. They absolutely float my boat. I am a sucker for love.
The basic premises of Human Givens, a theory in psychotherapy first outlined by Joe Griffin (1947-) and Ivan Tyrrell (1943-), are these:
I was unaware of Human Givens until I undertook my counselling course. A bit of self-disclosure here, I was (and possibly still am) one of those people who I described above; I went to many spiritual retreats where I got qualifications to coach and heal, and read hundreds of self-help books. For a time, I even managed a New Age centre with a book shop geared towards this genre, as well as the esoteric. I was still pretty ‘lost’ and lacking in direction. While my Counselling Psychology instructor was lecturing on Human Givens, penny dropped for me. So many puzzle pieces of my life started to fall into place like magic.
After the lecture, while I was mulling over this theory, still feeling exhilarated from the earlier revelation, I came up with a simple analogy to help me drill into my own head the difference between self-esteem and self-concept. I thought of a scene from my childhood, when my Mum asked me to go down to the nearest grocery store, literally 25 meters down the hill, to buy a loaf of bread. There was a road I had to cross from my street to the shop. A road near Tokyo, which meant that it was nearly always busy. I would double check and triple check before crossing but quite often I would still jump in front of a car. It was a phenomenon. The driver would beep, stop to wind down the window and hurl abuse at me. I would go into the shop, pretty shaken up, to receive a familiar funny look from the owner of the shop behind the counter who had witnessed the whole thing. I knew he would tell my Mum on me again.
The range of emotions I felt there were just passing emotions; shock, embarrassment, annoyance at the shop owner, and worry for what my mother would say, etc. They never stopped me from fulfilling my purpose of buying a loaf of bread (spiritual needs, remember this is an analogy) because I knew where I was going (my navigation system), the shop. In my childhood, I ran so many errands to that shop. I just kept doing it anyway. I liked the walk. The shop was full of interesting things too. In short, our feelings and emotions aren’t a reliable indicator of whether or not we are on course to fulfilling our spiritual needs. When we are striving toward fulfilling our self-concept, which is the best version of ourselves that we can envision, we feel such a strong sense of purpose that those passing emotions don’t affect us so much any more.
Self-esteem, in comparison, is how we feel about ourselves and more often than not we tie them to external things, such as validation from others, possessions and professions. I can appreciate how dangerous this dynamic actually is. When we lose these things, then what? When we lack clarity of vision, we can fall for focusing too much on how we feel because that’s all we can ‘see.’
Just a slight shift in my perspective made all the difference in unburdening me from the weight of regrets and anticipatory anxieties (worrying about getting into a situation where I might feel anxious in future). When I experience set-backs and feel discouraged, I remember my analogy and say to myself, ‘That never put me off going to the shop.'
Genuine confidence can only come from knowing ourselves. Know Thyself. It’s a cliche, I know, but at the same time it seems the universal truth. In the next article, I’ll discuss solidifying our self-concept. If you resonate with what I wrote above, I’m sure you can appreciate self-concept is the important starting point in road to self-empowerment.
I would invite you to ponder what your self-concept is by our next ‘meeting.' I see my self-concept as constantly evolving. I keep adding details to the core value of it, which is to play my part in the world in shining a light of healing where there is darkness. I’ve come across the following passaging in a book today that encapsulates my core value:
“In ancient times, when sailing on the dark seas there was always a person known as a ‘grounder.’ A grounder was analogous to a navigator. On the darkest night with no light or star to be guided by, a grounder could hear the ocean songs and locate the boat’s position in relation to the land. A grounder knew all the music of the oceans. A grounder could always lead you safely to your destination.” - David Carson and Nina Sammons in Oracle 2013
I wish to be the grounder for people who are right now sailing across the dark seas of their souls. It’s lifework I consider important to embark on, no matter how high the tides of my emotions may be. I’ll just keep on going to the shop, if you get me.
Read a little bit more about my childhood here.