Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thought for the day: maybe now, you understand a little better

I saw a man, sitting alone in a corner.  People would talk to him, but still he looked so alone.  Occasionally, his face would brighten, when certain people in the room came to him.  With them, it seemed, he no longer felt alone.  I realised that those moments in which he truly connected with another human being were enough for him, that he was able to cope with the crushing loneliness, because a small number made him feel less lonely.

Then, I saw that he was carrying a huge weight.  I realised that he believed his purpose was to make others feel that they weren't alone in the world, that someone wanted to listen, that someone cared about how things were for them.  I thought it important that there were people who brought a smile to his face, in whose company he felt he could temporarily put down the weight he'd been carrying, but then I realised that those people were too few in number, and were heavily outnumbered by those who made him feel alone.  I felt so sad for him, and fought back the tears that were beginning to form in my eyes.

I saw how he was struggling to know what to say, and the weight was pressing down harder on him.  No one seemed to notice.  He didn't ask for help, but continued to listen.  I saw so many people feeling less alone in the world, as his own sense of loneliness grew.  I noticed how deflated he was feeling, and wondered why no one else was able to see it.  I wanted to tell him to run, to leave this place, but then I saw him looking towards one of the few who made him feel less alone, and thought I saw him smile.

I summoned up the courage to go and talk to him.  Thinking of how I'd seen him interact with others, I started by saying that he'd shown a lot of love to a lot of people.  I was shocked when he replied that sometimes he hated them.  He said that he saw so much cruelty and suffering in the world, and it affected him to the point where he felt sickened by it.  When I asked whether he felt people had been cruel to him, he bowed his head and, looking at the floor between his feet, said that he was more concerned about the suffering of others.

I thought about how this man, so affected by the suffering of others, had so many people coming to him to talk about their suffering.  When I put this to him, he said that he saw their pain, whether they came to him to talk about it or not.

I decided to introduce myself, but he said that he already knew my name, and I knew his.  He sensed my confusion, and extended his hand.

"Hello, you," he said, "meet you."

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Imbalance or, how I'm feeling

Someone wrote about how I'm feeling...

Then, I saw something written by a friend, and the feeling intensified...

One of the kindest things that anyone has ever said about me is that I don't know how much I help people.  I couldn't help thinking about this a few days ago, when I was at a dance, and a couple of friends were telling me to stop replying to my messages, at least for a while.

The problem is that, to a greater or lesser extent, I love everyone.  I'm not talking about the gushing, romantic love that you feel for your partner because, frankly, that would be weird, and more than a little problematic.  What I'm talking about is a tendency to care for others and be deeply affected by what they feel.

There are people to whom I willingly give my support.  I'm privileged to call a lot of these people my friends.  They are good, kind, generous, supportive and patient people.  There's a sense that I couldn't do enough for these friends because, as someone recently said of me, they're probably unaware of how much they help me.  The problem is that not everyone is so good.  There are people who abuse my good nature.

Where I'd disagree with the post about INFJ burnout is the need for validation.  I have a need to feel hope, though.   The world can seem like a cold, uncaring, unforgiving place.  If I spend too much time with people who demand my empathy and positive regard, and I feel I haven't received enough of these things myself, then the temptation to write the world off as a bad place and limit my contact with other people is strong.

The piece by my friend made me feel sad initially, that such expressions of acceptance are, for her, a rare occurrence right now.  Then, I felt hope, because at least one person refused to respond with fear, hatred or anger.  As the post mentions, in that area, there are more than enough reasons, historically, for the local population to feel those things.  Maybe the world isn't such a bad place.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


The counselling skills course is coming to an end, and I knew the end was coming.  People move on, and that's not unexpected either.  Then, you start to realise that, even if you stay in touch, you'll never meet in the same way, or under the same circumstances, again.

I felt the same way when a year of studying the Welsh language came to an end.  In some ways, that was even harder, because people drifted away during the course, leaving a very small class.

I know it's that whole INFJ thing again.  I unintentionally pick up a lot about people, without trying.  At the end of a study year, especially in a subject like counselling, I feel that I know my fellow students.  I think back to that first class, when few people, if any, knew each other.  Friendships develop during the course, and then...

I know the social conventions.  I know that people don't understand how I see the world.  No one understands.  If I told people that I see the beauty in everything and everyone, they might suggest that I seek help.  Still, I detect warmth, sensitivity and other great qualities in certain people, and I wish I had a way to tell them that I see those things in them, without breaking the social norms or freaking them out.

What they see is someone who doesn't express these things.  Would I say that it might be nice to just hang out with them and chat some time?  Could I tell them how much I'd love that?  No, definitely not.  So, people don't know whether I even see them as a friend.  At most, I'll have the courage to say something that's very much an INFJ thing:

"If you ever need to talk, you know where I am."

That's the INFJ way of saying something we know we can't say, for fear of going against what's expected by those who don't see the world in the same way we do:

"I sense that you're a good person.  I see that in you.  I'd like it if we could get together some time, maybe, as friends, and just talk about things - anything, really.  I enjoy your company." 

Of course, you can't say any of that.  You're aware that most of your behaviour can be wrongly interpreted as flirting anyway, so telling someone that you like spending time with them is tantamount to booking a hotel room for the two of you, in their eyes.

How about saying you consider them to be a friend?  Whoa!  What if they don't say it back?  Or, worse, what if they say it back, and that talent you have, as an INFJ, for picking up what people are really feeling tells you that they don't mean it?  That's not just rejection.  That's the worst kind of rejection!  Besides, social norms dictate that, if you say any of that, they'll think you're a bit weird as well.

Play it cool.  That's the way.  There's no risk of rejection then.  People will walk out of your life, but at least you can believe they could have been friends.  No one will understand.  Only another INFJ would really understand, and you know how rare those are.  We're the loneliest people in the world, and yet we spend so much of our time making sure that others don't feel alone.

Sunday, 5 June 2016


"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." ~Lewis B. Smedes

I hadn't danced with her for over six months.  The last time I'd asked her to dance, she'd refused, telling me that I should ask someone else.  As the intermediate class came to an end, however, I found myself partnered with her.  I couldn't help thinking of the time when we were friends, and how we'd regularly dance together.

The talent I have for detecting the slightest changes in body language, facial expression and other things, interpreting them in terms of feelings, doesn't always serve me well.  The waves of animosity I felt coming from her made it difficult to concentrate, so I fell back to basic movements.  It was still a difficult dance.

As the music ended, I bowed politely, and thanked her for the dance.  She returned the bow.  As I started to process what I'd seen, I realised that there had been another feeling, hidden beneath the waves of animosity I'd detected all too clearly.  On the surface, she'd tried to appear impassive, but she hadn't been able to hide her ill feeling towards me.  Underneath all of that, there'd been another feeling entirely.

I see and hear a lot of things said and written about forgiveness and, to my mind, it's a concept that is often misunderstood.  Accepting an apology is not forgiveness, nor is a willingness to act as though no injury had been caused and no offence committed.  Forgiveness is not about the actions of another person: it is about us.

In the case of a friendship falling apart, it's natural to question how much of a part we played in its destruction.  Often, the degree to which we were responsible for the breakdown of the relationship is not important, and it's enough for us to simply acknowledge that we played our part.  From there, we may understand the actions of the other person, however hurtful, as a reaction.  We might feel that their actions weren't justified or were out of proportion, but these things aren't important.

The important thing to realise is that, when other people hurt us, it doesn't come from nowhere.  They hurt us because they, themselves, have been hurt.

Now we're getting to the essence of forgiveness.  I don't have to repair the relationship to forgive the other person.  What I have to do - and this is the whole point of forgiveness - is to let go of the hurt.  Forgetting the incident, or incidents, which caused the hurt is not a part of this.  Indeed, we must accept that these things happened, rather than brushing them under the carpet.  To forgive and forget, as they say, is the ideal, but forgetting is not always possible.

Sometimes, letting go of the hurt involves accepting that the relationship you once had with the other person is beyond repair.  This can be hard.  Unless it's in your nature to see people walk out of your life, which would say more about you than it does about them, it's difficult to come to terms with the fact that moving on involves firmly shutting the door on someone to whom you may once have felt close.

Forgiveness is all about letting go of the hurt.  Sometimes, however, it is about just letting go.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Making peace with myself

I'm told that, when I make a contribution during the class, what comes across to the rest of the group is a wealth of knowledge and depth of understanding.  It's also been said that I don't seem to realise how much I help people.  What I've heard from some of the people I've supported, whether informally or in my work, is that they've told me things they would never tell anyone else.  Occasionally, people go as far as to tell me that I've been good, that I've helped them, and they feel a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

I should be able to accept all this positive feedback.  I think it's now reached the point where I really should accept it, because a failure to do so would suggest that either I don't trust the judgement of the people saying these things, or I believe they are being dishonest.  Actually, that was never the problem.  The problem was that I was suffering from impostor syndrome - a feeling that I really shouldn't have been there, and certainly not getting praise for it, because doing so only meant that I had successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of a lot of people.

I'm at an age where I've started to question everything that's happened in my life so far - the journey, as it were - and try to understand what it all means.  Hopefully, by asking ourselves these questions, and finding the answers, we reach a state of congruence, self-actualization, self-acceptance, or whatever it may be called in the school of psychology or belief system to which we subscribe.  I prefer to look at it as being at peace with who are, because I believe that reaching this state brings us peace and, if we are to make peace with the outside world and the people in it, we must first make peace with ourselves.  I also believe that, in trying to achieve this inner peace, we are, to some extent, aiming at a moving target.

I realise that a piece of writing such as this could be seen as a narcissistic drone, but I sincerely hope it doesn't come across as such.  If you see it in such a way, it is easy enough to stop reading.  Maybe you'll see something that applies to your own situation, though, and reading my self-absorbed waffling will help you in some way.  Has that been my intention all along?  I'll leave that for you to decide.

If we accept that a sense of inner peace is a moving target, how do we achieve inner peace?  Some people find it through religion or spirituality.  Some people find it through finding a sense of purpose.  I hear that some find a certain contentment in family life, whereas others like to travel and learn about cultures that are different from their own.  One of the things I find wonderful about us humans is that we are all so different.  It stands to reason that a sense of inner peace will look different to each of us and, as I have said, is likely to be something that changes over time.

I started by talking about my inability to accept positive appraisals of my ability as a counsellor.  I regard this as an obstacle on the path.  I feel that achieving a sense of peace within ourselves requires many of the same elements which are needed to make peace with others: patience, understanding and, most importantly in my eyes, acceptance.

We change and, hopefully, we grow as individuals.  So, a sense of inner peace is largely a moving target.  As much as we change, however, key aspects of us remain the same, or were there all along, and we were barely conscious of them.  We could see these as the core, or fundamental, truths of who we are.  In person-centred therapy, this is known as the organismic self.

Abraham Maslow spoke of a hierarchy of needs, where basic physical and safety needs must be met first, before a sense of belonging and self-esteem lead the individual further along the path towards what he termed self-actualization.  Maybe there should also be a hierarchy of acceptance, where we first accept the fundamental truths about ourselves, then the things about us that will change, before we are able to practise acceptance of the wider world and the people in it.

My own path is currently leading towards me becoming a counsellor, and stands in stark contrast to where I was being led by my earlier career and academic endeavours.  Looking back, I can see how I ignored the fundamental truths about myself or, as Carl Rogers might have said, I was in a state of incongruence.  What I would say is that, although I still struggle to accept positive feedback, I'm on a path where I feel more at peace with myself.  Should I say I'm in a more congruent state, or I'm further along the path to self-actualization?  I'd argue that those are equally valid, but those who know me will be aware of the effect that Zen philosophy has had on the way I see the world, and may be more surprised that I didn't refer to the path of enlightenment.

My reason for talking in terms of peace is that what I see are a great many people who aren't at peace with themselves.  Am I, through simply listening, without making judgements about them, able to help people find a way forward and feel more at peace with who they are?  I truly hope so.  I don't consider that I have any great skill or wisdom: I just listen.  If you've made it this far through my ramblings, then you have effectively done the same for me, and I offer you my most sincere thanks for that.

Monday, 23 May 2016

The true self

For the last few months, I've been attending two dance classes and continuing with my study of counselling skills.  What I haven't been doing - and it's a change that was forced upon me - is attending lessons in wing chun.

Before my temporary break from martial arts practice, a number of things had pointed the way to feelings of which I was barely aware.  Some of the other students, and one in particular, had said that I was one of the more defensive fighters in the class, and didn't seem particularly eager to attack.  More tellingly, my performance in sparring sessions was poor.

As recently as six years ago, when I was a student of jujitsu, my performance in sparring sessions was anything but poor.  I'll say no more about that, because I take little pride in it now.  A few minor incidents outside of my time in the wing chun class also showed that I was more than capable of applying what I'd learned, if needed.  A sparring session with some mixed martial artists convinced me that I'd built up a great deal of skill.  So, why the poor performance in sparring and chi sao?  Why was I a defensive, rather than attacking, fighter?


The way that I came to learn to dance could almost be described as an accident.  I was at an outdoor concert, and one of the ladies present mentioned that she was going to give a dance class about which she'd heard a go, if someone would go along with her.  Eventually, it became obvious that I was the focus of her request that someone go with her to the class.  I agreed, with the warning that I probably wouldn't enjoy it.

I was wrong about not enjoying it.  I was learning a new set of movements, and none of them had anything to do with combat!  How could I be enjoying it?  Around this time, in the counselling skills class, we were learning about the concept of the organismic, or true, self.  The theory is that we try to mould ourselves to fit in with the expectations of others but, as much as we try to hold it back, the truth of who we are will eventually make itself known, to some extent, in a way that even we may not be expecting.  The real me likes to dance, apparently.

Things change

Now, the time has come for me to go back to wing chun, and taking a break from it has changed things.  When I tried to run through the forms again, I noticed that some muscle groups had been neglected, through not training, but dancing had developed other muscle groups.  More importantly, I'd had time to analyse my relationship with martial arts, and come to terms with it.

I've come to realise that violence, and the threat of violence, have always been a part of my life: sometimes in the background, and sometimes very much to the fore.  My response was to commit much of my time to attempting to make myself a one man army, so to speak.  On that journey, however, I became more interested in Zen and the other elements of philosophy behind the combat arts I was practising.  Again, this was a very clear sign that my true self was gradually becoming known to me.

A little bit of self-reflection, courtesy of my study of counselling skills, put the final piece of the puzzle into place, and revealed something that I really should have known all along.  I have no interest in fighting, and it's likely that I never did.  I've seen too much violence, and taken part in quite a bit of it myself, and I have no wish for that to continue being a part of my life.  I'm going back to wing chun, but with a different focus, or maybe the same focus that I had all along, if only I'd been able to admit it to myself.

I was reluctant to take a break, because I feared that a temporary break would become permanent.  What happened, though, was that the break became a chance to check my motivation, to ask the questions that weren't being asked.  The result is that I'm returning to something I love, but now it's different because, this time, I'm going as myself.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

No one's first choice

We all have things that we believe about ourselves, about others, and about how we are to interact with the wider world.  For example, we probably have some idea of how others see us, though this will inevitably be affected by how we see ourselves.

When someone I know came to talk to me recently, I pointed out that she didn't have to.  She'd arrived at the venue with her friends and, due to a problem between me and one of her friends, I sat alone.  The last thing I wanted was to create further problems, so I'd assumed that she would remain at her table, with her friends, and I would remain at mine.

When I said that she didn't have to come to talk to me, it wasn't that I didn't want her to talk to me.  I was simply thinking of the ongoing stand off between another person at her table and myself.  The reply was that she was there because I'm her friend.

It might be useful, at this point, to list some of my core beliefs about how people see me:
  1. No one really wants to listen to me.  It's best if I don't talk too much about myself, and that could also come across as me being self-absorbed anyway.
  2. If people want to talk to me, they'll talk to me.  If they don't come to talk to me, it's because they don't want to.  Approaching someone, or initiating a conversation, might mean I'm forcing a conversation they don't necessarily want to have.
  3. I'm no one's first choice of friend.  I'm there in the absence of other options.
When I list them in such a way, they sound very negative, and they are.  The incident I've mentioned highlights the negative and presumptuous nature of these beliefs.  I'd made assumptions about how another person saw me, and it seems that I was wrong.  Those core beliefs told me that I was simply someone she saw at dance classes, and nothing else.

Point number 3 is the important one.  I never feel that I'm particularly important to anyone although, even as I write it, I'm aware that it's more likely to be a self-esteem issue than an accurate evaluation of my worth.  I know that I often present people with difficulties, however, because they've been quite open in telling me that I'm difficult.
If you can see the image, and you're wondering what the letters INFJ signify, it's a personality type.  More accurately, it's a personality type described by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.  Unlike a lot of personality tests that are available online, the MBTI, as it is often abbreviated, is based on genuine psychological theory.

Now, we should be careful about attaching labels to people.  The whole point about the MBTI, and Jung's personality types, upon which the test is based, is that these traits are apparent to a greater or lesser degree, and we must always see someone as an individual, rather than a type.  People are inherently complex, and psychological theory barely scratches the surface of that complexity.

Where those types are useful is in understanding how we see the world and the people in it.  If it wasn't clear before, it is now crystal clear that each of us sees the world in a different way.  I can't tell you, with any certainty, that the generalisations about the INFJ personality type are accurate but, in my case, they seem to ring true.

The first picture suggested that I keep a lot of myself hidden.  I've heard people say this about me.  On one occasion, someone noted that she'd told me a lot about herself, but knew next to nothing about me.  A good friend has commented that I'm a very private person.  There are so many other examples, but I'm sure you get the idea.  I realise I'm doing it.  What about the charge that people tell me a lot about themselves?
It's been said that people feel the need to fill the silences that I leave.  That's fair.  I listen and observe more than I talk.  I express myself better in writing, like I'm doing right now, but I still leave a lot of myself closed off from the world.  As the image above suggests, people tend to get the best response from me when they are showing me who they truly are, beneath the layers of pretence that they often use to protect themselves from the scrutiny of others.

Does this mean that I can tell when people aren't showing me who they truly are?  Do I have the ability to see whether someone is being genuine or not?  Is that my superpower?
I'd hardly call it a superpower.  It might sound like a good thing to have, and I admit that it's saved me from embarrassment a few times but, in terms of interacting socially, it's a nightmare.  You quickly realise that people present many different faces to the world, are different things to different people, and all of it is absolutely essential to the smooth functioning of social interactions.  You can see behind the façade, however, and it makes it difficult for you to deal with people.  If they stick around long enough to give you a chance, they eventually come to realise that they have to be genuinely themselves in your company, that you won't judge them for it, because you already know who they are.

The bottom line?  Most people don't like feeling so exposed and vulnerable.  You can count the people with whom you will develop a close friendship on the fingers of one hand, but those friendships will be sincere and meaningful.  The people who turn their backs on you either can't accept a fundamental aspect of who you are, or wrongly assume that you won't accept a fundamental aspect of who they are.
You're probably thinking I could put on a pretence myself, to make social interactions easier.  I can't.  What you see is who I am.  The only trick I have in the bag, so to speak, is to limit how much of myself I show.  This can present itself as me being cold, distant or reserved and can frustrate anyone who is trying to get to know me.  I can't be different things to different people.  I can only be myself.  That feeling of being exposed and vulnerable, which people often feel when I get to see behind the façade they've chosen to put up?  I feel that all the time.  I can only protect myself through being silent, keeping things to myself, and pushing down a lot of powerful feelings.

When Halloween comes around again, if I attend costume parties, I'll choose a costume that allows me to cover my face.  I believe a face like mine really should be covered, but that's a whole other issue.  If I have the chance to be present and still hide myself from view, I'm a whole lot more comfortable.  Like I said, it's the only trick I have in the bag.

The likelihood of me being the first person someone thinks of when asked to name a friend of theirs is remote.  If we've known each other for some time, however, they genuinely know me, and I know them.  I may not be the first friend they think of, but I'm a true friend.