Back to the drivers…
These are major drivers for me and often cause me the most pain, even though I’m fully and exquisitely aware that I’m being driven by them. They are twisty little b*stards that often work in tandem. ‘Be strong’ means I find it difficult to ask for help or to admit that I can’t do a thing. I will take on extra work and favours, almost to the point of exhaustion, then feel resentful and put on. I feel at my most strong when I’m doing it all by myself, yet crave the offers of help from others so I can refuse, masochistically, and struggle on alone. ‘Be perfect’ means it is easier to do it by myself as I won’t trust other people to get it exactly right.
This twisted logic comes from two psychodynamic sources – firstly, my role models growing up were two immensely strong maternal figures who fought and struggled till they took their last breath. My mother would never acknowledge she was ill, taking in turn her model from my grandmother who refused help moving furniture even after her second heart attack. These women were giant, formidable figures, right on through my childhood and, as with all heroes, took on an even more glittering mythology after they died.
My second source is simply my own locus of evaluation. There is immense energy here. Rogers talks about the necessity of self-evaluation and rejecting the ‘conditions of worth’ imposed on us while we are growing up, whilst Steiner talks of ‘stroke economy’; fundamentally we are taught to crave and work for other people’s acceptance, praise and regard but these are usually conditional on us earning or proving our worth. It feels as if I am constantly trying to show how brave and strong and perfect I am. I accepted the utter loneliness of proving that I am totally independent and not needing anyone – paradoxically needing everyone to witness my ‘strength’ and ‘independence’ preferably by telling me what a hard worker, or how helpful or how strong I am. There is no self-acceptance here – only a load of measuring myself through the admiring comments of others and when I don’t get these, I get resentful and sulky.
I’m bellowing, “Look at how brilliantly strong and wonderful I am” but under my breath – It all feels a bit ridiculous now that I’m writing it.
What this does is it prevents me getting close and putting my trust in others and is self-fulfilling. When I do need help and others around me don’t guess I need it and do it telepathically, this proves how untrustworthy other people are and drives me in the direction of ‘Be perfect’. Why would I ask for help when I won’t trust people to get it absolutely right? My way or the highway people, particularly if it means giving up a task that I know will prove how strong I am.
The big problem with these drivers in client work is how I use them to measure others. Will I judge clients as ‘not strong’ for asking for help and will I judge others as ‘imperfect’ for not getting it all absolutely right? Will I dislike a client for not doing ‘perfect’ therapy? Is it simply time to give myself a rest from trying to control other people’s opinions of me by allowing my weaknesses and imperfections to be fully out there? It’s bloody exhausting trying to be fantastic at all times and I think it might be liberating to acknowledge that I’m not very good at other people’s ‘brilliantly strong and wonderful’, whatever that might be. Being honest and flawed and real will make me a better counsellor and a much more bearable human.