According to Family Therapist Virginia Satir, the world isn’t the way it’s meant to be, it is the way it is – and it’s the way we cope with it that makes the difference; how we process our experiences is what makes us able to cope or not.

As a coach or therapist, it is vital for us to question why we respond the way we do.  Why do we react to different clients in different ways, and why do they respond to us differently?  This is the heart of transference and countertransference, and it behoves us to pay attention or we can be led down the rocky paths of Drama Triangle, collusion and blind spots.  We ignore our own “stuff” at our peril; and this is one of the reasons we have Clinical Supervision – and why it’s not just desirable, it is essential.

We are only able to process our experiences through the lens of our previous experiences; we can never be truly objective, because this is how we perceive and understand our world – and how we each construct our own reality; we see the world not as it is, says Jung, but as we are.  Whatever we perceive in others, therefore, gives us an opportunity to learn something about ourselves… because it is a reflection of our own unconscious mind.

Because of our subjective nature, we will judge things according to our own values, beliefs and past experiences which form our mental filters; what we perceive to be right, wrong, good, bad and so on.  The moment a judgement about someone or something else comes into our consciousness, it is our perception, and therefore we must have an understanding of it because we’ve labelled it.

Our judgements are the result of our own unique combination of unconscious filters; our filters influence what we pay attention to, how we interpret situations and how we make sense of ambiguous situations.  We unconsciously pay attention to information that confirms and supports our beliefs, and we ignore or minimise information that contradicts them.

We also project our ‘stuff’ onto others – expecting people to behave in particular ways based on our values, and then blaming them because they don’t (or sometimes because they do) live up or down to our expectations – but they are not us, and their way of perceiving the world is very different from ours.  Also, if there are aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, and refuse to own (Jung called this our ‘Shadow Self’), then we may see those aspects in others, and dislike them because of it… we see in others whatever needs healing in ourselves. 

It is, therefore imperative for those of us working in therapy, coaching or counselling to pay attention and to bring our (sometimes deeply repressed) ‘stuff’ into consciousness, in order to become as clear a vessel as possible.  Only then are we able to be fully present with our client, and have the ability to create a safe, non-judgemental space, in which the client can be supported to learn about themselves, and process their own issues.

We know nobody can “make” us feel or do anything – we do that to ourselves; other people do whatever they do, and what we do with that is up to us.  Other people’s behaviour can, however, trigger a reaction in us, and if we are having an unuseful reaction to someone or something then we need to pay attention and seek to understand why.  We need to “make the darkness conscious” as Jung says, otherwise we are potentially heading down the path of conflict with others, or collusion and blind spots with our clients. 

In other words, as therapists and coaches, we need to deal with our own ‘stuff’, and we can’t change something until we become consciously aware of it; as author Susan David says, “awareness is a prerequisite for change”… hence the necessity for self-awareness – and it’s an ongoing journey; a life-long job… Jung called it ‘Individuation’. What old core beliefs and injunctions are we running? Until we become aware of them and challenge them, they will carry on directing our lives, says Jung, and we will call it fate.

And throughout our lives, stuff is going to happen to us; we will have experiences that we perceive to be unpleasant and challenging – and what can we do?  We have a choice… we can either be a victim of them, and blame someone or something else, or we can take responsibility and learn from them.  My psychotherapy tutor called these things ‘JAFLOs’ – they are Just Another F[insert appropriate word]-ing Learning Opportunity.  And they might be truly awful, terrible, traumatic things – but from those huge, awful terrible things might indeed come our biggest learnings… Learnings that set us free forever – perhaps from the tyranny of a repeating, self-sabotaging pattern that has been running our life for years.

Eric Berne described this freedom as autonomy; our capacity for developing awareness, choice, responsibility, spontaneity and intimacy.  Autonomy means living our life as an authentic, integrated adult, without the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’.

Living an autonomous life is an ideal, to which we as coaches and therapists can only truly assist our clients to aspire if we first do the work ourselves, and commit to doing so in the spirit of openness and curiosity… so that we can own our ‘stuff’; use it like compost and grow from it – and thrive, and blossom… 

Life is for living and learning… enjoy the ride…

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