One of the biggest things that drew me to becoming a counselor, was an interest in hearing truth. Sure, I had a strong interest in helping people, in making a difference, and in making the world a better place. Psychology has always fascinated me, and I was curious to understand what makes people do what they do. I knew that if I was able to help just one person feel better and do better, it could have far-reaching and positive consequences for others. But there’s a lot of other ways I could have chosen to be helpful. I was also drawn to the depth of conversation that is an integral part of the counseling process.
In a therapist’s office, we have a private and safe space to not only look inside but to speak about what’s there. Amazing conversations take place. Often a therapist is the one and only person who hears the truth about how someone really feels about their spouse, or about how lonely and tired they are despite outward appearances. We may be the first or only ones to hear about someone’s deep insecurities and about their heartfelt dreams. The traumas in their past? Yes, we are the holder of the space where those things are acknowledged and met.
It’s an incredible thing, and deeply healing, to have the environment and support we need to reveal who we really are and to be accepted as that. No need for pretense; it won’t help us progress. No need for whitewashing or denying; those are false survival strategies that leave things unsettled and unresolved.
Yet, for many, coming out of the superficial responses and commentary we verbalize during our daily interactions with others, is not easy. There resides inside a deep discomfort with allowing others to see and know who we are. We fear they will judge and reject us. We fear they will abandon us and walk away in disgust or anger. Like times in the past when that happened, and it hurt us deeply.
The truth is, what holds us back from living and expressing ourselves more authentically goes beyond concern about other people’s responses. We might not be comfortable with knowing ourselves, either. We hold harsh judgments against ourselves. We might abandon ourselves. We might hold anger against the parts of us that we see as not good enough, or even despicable. In many ways, those thoughts and feelings hurt us more than what comes from the outside, and they are often so subtle we don’t even know they are there and operating freely, creating restrictions on our self-expression and freedom of movement.
In counseling, we have an opportunity to uncover the roots of those judgments, move through resentments about their origins, resolve feelings about how you were treated in the past, and get to a place of forgiveness. Then there’s the hard piece of work of dealing with our own internalized responses that mirror those of our parents, society, or from others who harmed us.
So, some stay shallow. They color their daily conversations with perfunctory, repetitious, at times silly, and often meaningless talk. They’re fine. How’s the weather? I like that shirt. Did you get your hair cut? While this level of interaction is socially acceptable and appropriate in certain circumstances, most of us can let it go and move out of it when the time is right. When there’s time, when we are one on one, and when we have a quiet and safe place to talk. These moments of being able to speak truth are like a balm to the soul, and they could not be more important to our mental or spiritual health.
Sadly, I think, there are many people who could skate along at the surface of their lives forever. They won’t go for therapy, and nothing you can do or say can elicit even a small amount of meaningful conversation. I am reminded of years ago when I was running a group for court-ordered men who had been arrested for DUIs. No one wanted to talk about their drinking. No one wanted to admit it was out of control. They wanted to show up, shut up and get out.
I get it. When people are afraid, they resort to any behavior that will work to help them feel less afraid. Even people with no big secrets, like a drinking problem, will keep to the surface because they either don’t know they can change, or they don’t believe the risk of speaking truth is worth it. Maybe they were punished for it in the past. Keeping the pretense keeps us in our comfort zone, which is where a lot of people want to hang out all day.
The price we pay for being inauthentic, though, is very high. The consequences of skating through life at the surface, denying our deeper selves and hidden truths, are many and not anything we really want. We miss out on feeling our lives, we limit exploring who we can be, and we don’t get to have the amazing experience of being met, as is. Years can go by lost in striving to get through life without really being you. This effort drains your energy, and, on some level, you will feel a disconnect from your life purpose and your spiritual source. Even now you can notice how diminished you feel at the end of a day when you were never met and never seen. Sometimes those days were highly peopled. You just didn’t let any of them in.
Are we not here to be us? To be and express our amazing individuality, our uniqueness, our expression of the Divine? I think so. And I also think that the world needs that. The world needs our truth to be spoken, and our hearts need for our feelings to be expressed. For all of us to be well.
So, if you do find that you are a skater through your own life, I invite you to contemplate what it would be like to just be you. What might it feel like to be off duty from all your rules about how you should be and what you should say or feel, and know that you are free? Imagine you have no one to impress, and no one to earn approval from. Imagine you are already, as is, just fine. From that place of freedom, you may find you are called to be more, to give more, and to enjoy life more. It’s truly worth doing.