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.