I’m sitting across from Jane, who suffers from codependency issues and depression. She is telling me how she married this fellow, ‘who was a bum’, and went into a career ‘she hates’. I get a similar story from Bob, an alcoholic who keeps shaking his head in bewilderment at his life, which is ‘so screwed up’. In fact, they, like many of my clients, don’t understand how they got their lives into such a mess.
I can see a lot of it stems from bad choices. They make them because they don’t know what they what they want. “I thought he was right for me. Why can’t I think straight.” Now, despite my eagerness, I can’t just say, “You make wrong choices because you don’t know who you are.” They would look at me like I’m crazy and say, of course they know who they are. So a lot of my work consists in helping them see another person, most often a better one than they see.
Helping People See Their True Selves
I do this by getting them to tell their story and helping them to see it in a new way. For example, Bob will say his father was a ‘good guy most of the time until he was drunk, and then he would beat us up’. Or Jane will say that her mother was ‘very loving’ but then ‘she often thought I was having an affair with my father’. At this point, or down the road, I try to question their reality, since this reality has shaped their sense of self. Of course I have to do this gently since none of us want to give up our ‘reality’ no matter how skewed it is. My hope is that they will gradually begin to transform how they see their life and, as a result, who they are.
As Jane and Bob tell their stories and begin to see their lives in a new way, they will begin to experience feelings about what happened to them. Bob might begin to feel sad and angry about his father’s behaviour, instead of normalizing it. And Jane might feel a sense of hurt and invasion about her mother’s behaviour. They start to feel things they have repressed all their lives. More and more, they connect to who they are as their self knowledge grows.
Knowing the Self – Knowing What You Want
With her greater self knowledge Jane can say, “I went on a date and I knew right away that this guy was not right for me. I could feel how controlling he was, and I wouldn’t have felt that in the past.” And Bob can say, “I really hate how alcohol make me feel. I see how depressed and self hating I get after drinking.” Both know much more who they are, and, as a result, what they want and don’t want.
Many of the people who come to me have a limited sense of who they are. As a result, they are unable to know what is right for them. When they can connect to who they are and what they feel, they have a greater ability to take care of their needs through positive choices.