How My Best Counselor Helped Me to Break Through My Illusions and Self-doubt
Hi everyone. Yay it’s Spring! I hope you are enjoying the beauty of nature as it comes to life again. That’s how I’m feeling too–as if I am coming to life–happier than I’ve ever been in my life. And it is a new feeling–I catch myself out of habit being tensed up in my shoulders and neck and then I realize it and relax. It feels like for the first time I can finally… really relax! It is really quite amazing to me–this feeling of exhilaration with my life and how I can feel happy in the moment. As highly sensitive people (HSPs) we are all too hard on ourselves–as children it HURTS to be different from almost everyone else around us–so without proper encouragement and support, we hide our gifts away to protect ourselves from further pain.
It’s taken me so long to come to this place where I understand what it means to be my own best friend. I used to hear people say that or I’d read about it and it just sounded like Blah, Blah, Blah, (like the adults sounded on Charlie Brown ha ha). But now I get it. I found it difficult to feel good about myself or love myself growing up. I grew up in a time when I felt I wasn’t even supposed to like myself. I could feel the “Who do you think you are?” judgement of those around me much of the time. I didn’t know who I was but I felt who I was trying to be was never ever good enough.
I have realized that illusions play a valuable role in our survival as children when we have been emotionally diminished (abused), whether it was intentional or not. The pain of our disappointment is too great to bear as highly sensitive children, so we make decisions about ourselves that help us to cope with the situation. For example, rather than facing this pain we say to ourselves, it must be me, I need to act differently in order to get love and approval so I will become obedient and do what others want, then I will be loved and seen. And it appears that we feel accepted as long as we keep up this facade and keep our “real” selves and feelings hidden away. I believe this is why journaling “for your eyes only” works so well to uncover the truth of how we really feel about things–and we can then break through those illusions and gradually free ourselves from our false self that we created to survive and eventually find our true voice. But you really need to do it often enough that the voice in your journal (and your heart) becomes dominant over the negative voice in your head. I know I’ve written about this before, and I apologize if I am repeating myself. But I guess I feel it is crucial to really make this point–the way you speak to your “self” is ultimately what ends up mattering the most in your ability to be able to comfort yourself and relax and enjoy your life in the way you truly deserve.
I apologize if I make it sound easy. It can be really difficult if you don’t know where to start and when you write it’s all bad feelings and it doesn’t help you feel better. I guess my real success in journaling really didn’t start until after I had found a person I could trust to talk to–an outside support for the hidden “me” that I was sure was supposed to be hiding away because I was sure I was flawed and thought “something is wrong with me”. I had forgotten about the fact that I really felt that way most of the time but it wasn’t even in my awareness–I didn’t know I was hiding–I just existed that way–it was completely hidden from me. I thought, this is who I am–an insecure and anxious person who will always and forever need someone else to take care of me. Until that special day–the day I went to my first counselor who turned out to be the best counselor I’ve ever had in my life–and she really changed my life.
At the time I had no idea how hard it would be to find another counselor who came close to her compassion and depth of understanding ever again. But I will never forget her words and wisdom and how she saw the potential in me that I didn’t dare even imagine. I was 22. She listened and cared and I learned to trust her with my deepest feelings and I shared some of my poems with her. She told me, to my surprise, that I was a gifted writer and that I could be my own psychotherapist if I kept on writing in this special way. Together we discovered the roots of my self-doubt and she revealed to me that she had benefitted from counseling too in the past. She confided that, as a counselor, she felt it was important to have been on both sides in order to really understand the helping process. Another very helpful part of this special counseling experience was when she had me take the character and temperament test from the book Please Understand Me (See Recommended Books). My results were that I was an INFJ–Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judicial and that this type is only 1% of the population. Then she told me I had the gift of empathy like her and that she was an INFJ too. (I will explain more about the 16 temperament types in a future post). I thought how could this be…like her? She had a Ph.D and was a successful professional clinical psychotherapist and yet she said I was like her. Unbelievable…could all those hopes and dreams I had in the back of my mind actually be a possibility? I went out and bought that book and I studied it a lot. The book talks about the positive aspects of each of the types and my type described me so well I felt special and normal and understood for the first time in my life.
I went to see her once a week for 6 months and then I had to stop because our health insurance only covered 25 visits per year. During that time, my confidence soared and, I remember now, I joined the Sweet Adelines and had fun performing in a barbershop quartet. (It was easy to perform with these other ladies on stage with me–I continued to have stagefright about performing alone or singing the kind of music where I expressed my soul though, but it was a start in overcoming it ). I also started taking some guitar lessons and learning to play and sing the songs I had always loved. Even though I had my college degree, I had temporarily taken a job at JCPenney’s catalog ordering service because I thought I wasn’t ready to help other people until I figured myself out first. But she said this job was way beneath me and encouraged me to go to graduate school in counseling psychology. (Even with a 3.8 in my major, much praise from my professors, internship experience, and letters of recommendation–when my graduation was barely acknowledged, all my confidence had evaporated.) “Make sure it is a program that is APA approved,” she said. And I listened. And I grew in confidence and continued writing my self-help poetry. And you know what happened next…I was so confident in myself, I thought I could even change my relationship with my extended family! Without talking to her first, we moved many states away from my wonderful counselor. We decided to start a family and I put graduate school on hold…
And now, telling you my story, I realize I do NOT want to emphasize how tragic it was…and that I had to wait so long to find myself and be happy and figure myself out so I could finally be that counselor/coach and writer that she saw that I could be. Instead I feel strongly that it all really worked out for the best. I grew so much as a person watching how my children thrived with our unconditional love and emotional support and I saw the world through their eyes and healed my soul right along with them experiencing the wonders in this world. And I continued to write in a way that I was able to be my own psychotherapist–writing through the layers of pain and breaking through the illusions that helped me survive a childhood of feeling emotionally diminished and misunderstood.
And I see how I had to try everything before I had the ability to start setting boundaries in certain relationships in my life. My counselor back then never used the word narcissisism and I wonder if that would have helped me realize the futility of my quest for healthy give-and-take in certain relationships in my life sooner. It is all right though, because I know the meaning of the word now and had to find out the depth and scope of it’s meaning in my own way. I hope my journey inspires you to embrace the path you are on but also to look inward and explore your true feelings and write about them–and keep listening to your hopes and dreams that exist in the back of your mind . For I believe that is the voice of your true self that you must not ignore.
Finding a caring, empathic counselor to support the true reasons for my deepest fears, and self-doubt, and to believe in my unique gifts made all the difference in my life. Her words kept me on the right track and kept me writing through the layers of pain that would arise between the numbness or anxiety. Her words kept guiding me towards the release of my pain and ultimately to the joy and pride on the other side. It changed the course of my life and to her I will always be grateful. I hope my story has been helpful to you and provides you with some comfort and encouragement.
Today I am releasing the lyrics for the song “This Too Shall Pass”. This song was written to ease myself through a period of my worst grief and anger when I started setting some boundaries for myself–and instead of getting respect and love, I felt rejection and experienced guilt-inducing manipulations. It was a pivotal point in my recovery when I let go of my illusions about the potential of certain relationships and grieved for what would never be and comforted myself by writing this song. After writing it and singing it, I felt stronger than ever before that everything was going to be alright and that ultimately I must take care of myself and honor my feelings. This song still comforts me when I am feeling my worst and I hope it does the same for you. I hope you enjoy it.
With love, Roxanne
Techniques for Journaling and Over-riding Your Inner Critic–For The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
Hi everyone. I’m happy to be back. I had a wonderful vacation and it is also great to be back home. I am feeling renewed and energetic now (five days after we returned) but I was extremely exhausted when we first got back. And my husband bounced right back after like one day–and so, comparing myself to him, I was feeling very much lost and empty and discouraged…. and then started wondering how will I ever write another post and even…how did I ever write all that stuff I already wrote–I was spiraling negative thoughts again–my inner critic took over! And it was so hard to decipher–I just felt bad and exhausted with no hope in sight. So I wrote in my journal and it helped!–so I thought I would share with you my technique.
First of all, in journaling you must tell yourself that no one is going to read this ever! –and mean it and believe it. Then you let loose with all your feelings. I started out saying ” I feel horrible! I can’t remember who I am or how to feel good.” Within 2 sentences though I remembered, ” I used to feel this way all the time as a child.” And then, “Oh yes this is childhood pain coming up to heal. I just had a wonderful vacation! My inner child is expecting to be punished.” Then my own compassion kicks in with ” I need to be extra nice to myself. I am being too hard on myself. Do nice things for myself today. I am a highly sensitive person. No wonder I am tired–vacations are highly stimulating–just give myself extra time. Everything is going to be okay.” Before long I am cheering myself up. I have over-ridden my inner critic–that negative voice inside my head. This process always amazes me because I feel like I should be “fixed” by now and should never feel bad again. But that is the negative voice in my head–the pressure from my mother to “be happy — just get over it, you are too sensitive blah, blah, blah.” That is the opposite of what I needed as a highly sensitive child. On vacations I would get overwhelmed, over-tired with all the new sights and activities. I know I deserved kindness instead of impatience, rest instead of guilt for slowing them down, compassion for my ability to see the beauty in the small things like nature instead of annoyance about my questions and my disappointment in their lack of carefulness with my feelings. There was nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with me now. My only mistake was believing them when they blamed me. I don’t believe them and choose to be around people who are safe and kind and who like me easily. My husband is one of those people and was the first to remind me to not be so hard on myself and to take it easy. He was right.
Do not be discouraged if this technique of journaling does not come so easily to you yet. This takes a long time and lots of effort deciphering the truth of what you went through and what you truly deserved as a highly sensitive child. The book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is SO helpful in guiding people through the journaling process that helps unblock creativity (finding your voice and your true self!)
Many different techniques help me to find my voice and vitality again. Sometimes it is playing my songs when I am feeling so lost I don’t remember being able to write songs. Reading your own journal helps too especially if you are the kind of journaler who ends up feeling hopeful after you write. (You have to make yourself do it–it doesn’t come natural to read your own stuff when you are feeling bad about yourself–you’ll be surprised how your own words lift your spirits.) Other times I read books or blogs by people with a compassionate voice and I recover my own compassionate voice. Elaine Aron wrote the book on “The Highly Sensitive Person” and was the catalyst that started the HSP support groups that have grown and spread in cities and online. Online, I read her article on “the problem of bearing an unbearable emotion” that she wrote in her newsletter for Feb. 2006 and I immediately felt “found and validated” just by her compassionate words–my energy came back and I was excited about my life again. I hope my blog does the same for you.
I was fortunate to have some time to find myself and work on myself and read self-help books and write in journals while my children were growing up because my husband was so grateful that I was home raising emotionally healthy kids–he is a “thinking” type although a highly sensitive guy (an INTJ), whereas I am a “feeling” type (an INFJ). (See the book by Keirsey and Bates in my Recommended Books section for a test on temperament types.) He had an even more difficult childhood than I did and is grateful for my compassionate ways. When I think of how far I have come, it feels rather miraculous so I want so much to help others who are as lost and hiding as I was. I believe that those of us who are the most sensitive and almost destroyed are an important resource to this planet if we can join together and rise up as a voice of love, peace, and compassion. The fact that you are feeling beaten down is the very indicator that your sensitive ways have been misunderstood and need to be put to better use. All you need is a witness to validate the injustices you have suffered and then you can rise up and start speaking your mind and being a messenger of compassion that the world needs. DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE! You are exactly the way you are supposed to be. Be kind to yourself and learn to love yourself.
Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life is a book I have been reading on and off for 15 years. The positive affirmations in her book I use daily now but felt so foreign to me when I first got the book. One of my favorites is “I give myself permission to be the best that I can be”. Growing up I was not allowed to express my authentic self (or be my best) because it threatened my narcissistic mother and she would withdraw her love and approval. My mother was jealous of my many gifts. I didn’t know I had any gifts at all because she was determined to control me and keep me close and, in her view, if I knew I was gifted I might leave her. That whole concept was hard for me to grasp because it would never occur to me to be that way or be jealous of a child of mine–it is my responsibility to help my child see all his/her gifts and how special he/she is. So this explains why I couldn’t have compassion for myself–I trusted so completely in my mother. And also then came the question “why would God give me a mother who was so manipulative and unloving?” That was another chapter in my life that I now have completely resolved. God did not arrange for me to have this emotional pain and hardship but has given me the inner strength and compassion to overcome it and become strong. Had I not had a mother like that I would not be reaching out to help others who also experienced a mother like that right now in this moment.
In this moment, I am happy and complete and grateful for all the pain I went through to make me this strong. But while I was in the pain and lost and alone and not knowing how to let God’s love in, I was not grateful–no way! But there was a pivotal moment when I was crying in despair that I became aware that no one but me was going to rescue me–of the two of us, my husband and I, I was the stronger one emotionally. Something Eckhart Tolle said in his book A New Earth helped a lot. He said something to the effect of… I am not all that happens to me–I am ” the presence” that observes all that happens to me…. It made me realize I am not this abused child who is forever a victim. I am all the wisdom from what I have learned from it and can comfort my inner abused child through it. I still keep learning it over and over and each time it gets easier to find myself again. So do not give up. You who are hiding and afraid to speak up–it’s okay and you have every right to be afraid. But that it is not all of you. You have a gift, a wisdom, a compassion, that is sorely needed in the world. Don’t let the bullies and controllers and competitors win. They are not like you and so cannot understand you. But you can understand you! You are on this planet for a reason exactly as you are. Change only the people you are around. Elaine Aron says that HSPs have an easier time overcoming depression just by changing our environment to being around people who love us and accept us as we are. She says “get out of competitive environments where you have to fear that you will be judged, rejected, or seen as a failure, and stay around those who like you.” (see her newsletter the Comfort Zone , and the article called “A Few Happy Things Regarding Depression”). I am adding her website to my blogroll. It is hsperson dot com. I hope I have helped you to feel more hopeful and happy. You deserve it. You are a highly sensitive person and that my friend is a gift. Thank you to my readers.