I Know I’m Not A Hopeless Case: A Lesson From Counselling

So lockdown’s been weird huh?

When the announcement came towards the end of March that we would all have to isolate ourselves from each other for a while (BUT NOT FOR THIS LONG), a lot of people, including myself found themselves in an interesting position. If we were fortunate enough to be furloughed with enough money to support us, and we didnt have people we were responsible for, we could finally find the time to devote ourselves to new or existing hobbies. Maybe you became an aspiring baker, painter, poet, musician, or perhaps you took the opportunity to read all of the classic works you never got around to. Me? I chose to seek counselling.

My decision to seek professional counselling was something that had begun two years prior. I thought that counselling was necessary after an incident I have alluded to in previous posts where I emotionally hurt someone I cared about because of unresolved issues in my own life. But, as things were, there never seemed to be a great time to do it. Finding the time to go to someone’s office really wasn’t an option as I was so busy outside of work. But when both work and meeting up with friends or church activities became impossible, the timing seemed perfect. They also offered phone counselling, meaning I could drive a short way from my house and sit in my car for the session.

This post is about something I realised because of that counselling. In the third session, I began talking about one of my greatest fears. I can’t remember how we got onto this topic, but I’m so glad we did because it’s helped me to identify a problem that hopefully I can work on.

How People See Me

In our third session, my counsellor (Marcia) and I were chatting about a decision we had come to the previous session to reach out to the person I had hurt. I had sent a letter, and we were talking about how that felt. I said it was a scary thing for me to do, because I am always scared of being judged negatively by people. And over the course of the next hour, we dug into that aspect of my psychology.

I get very nervous around new groups of people. I stay on the periphery and don’t find it naturally easy to converse with people I do not know very well. I would say I am an introvert, but the truth is I do not think I am. I am intensely social – one of my top love languages is quality time – and thrive best when with my friends regularly, which lockdown has unfortunately had a detrimental affect on. So why do I find it so hard, if I enjoy being social and sociable, to get to know people and put myself out there?

The truth of the matter is I am intensely worried that people will not like me once they get to know me. I cant help but think that some secret will emerge in our conversations and interactions that they will find fundamentally off-putting, some aspect of me that is so unlovable that people will recoil from me and think “Oh no, this guy again.”

I do not know when this started, but I can see how this has had a negative impact on my life and personal relationships. Having this fear of judgement means that it is hard to distinguish between legitimate criticism and people actually being malicious (not that many people have been malicious to me, which makes it all the more confusing). Any mild criticism of my behaviour can result in a negative thought spiral. An example would be if someone is disappointed in me for whatever reason. I could rarely take it as specific to this situation which I can improve, its always a total disappointment where I will be considered worthless by the people around me, leading them to abandon me. I can never see myself as being enough.

So because of this, I tried to change myself. Jesus once said if your hand offends you, cut it off (Matt 18:8), meaning that we should aim to get rid of things from our lives that do not serve us well, so thats what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to rid myself of the aspects of me people might find offputting, but last year that impulse was almost all I could think about somedays. But although the energy was there, the mentality wasn’t correct. I was too close to the situation and too emotional to have a clear idea of what was within my power to change, what I could not change and what should really be left alone. It was like trying to perform surgery whilst drunk. I was trying to take off my hand but was in danger of losing my whole arm.

How I See Myself

What the counselling was able to do was identify the true problem. The problem wasn’t that other people saw me as worthless and unlovable; the problem was that’s how I thought about myself. Because I saw myself as unlovable, I thought everybody else did too, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary! God has blessed me with so many wonderful friends who have truly made my life infinitely better. God loves me, they clearly love me. The problem is my own self-perception!

Counselling has also helped me to develop a better toolkit for dealing with this problem. I have to tell myself that I am loved so I start believing it. And it’s working I think! My opinion of myself is slowly improving. This in turn helps me to better assess myself and realise what needs changing, because I am able to better understand what is good about me.

It’s not an easy process. It takes a lot of unpacking that comes in little pieces, slow realisations that will hopefully build over time into a better person. And with Gods help that will happen.

After all, if my family loves me, my friends love me and my God loves me, then surely I can love myself.

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