When we choose to have counselling, we are prompted by feelings of unhappiness so much so that we lose our normal reserve and come to talk to a stranger about our most private thoughts.
What often drives us to talk is fear that these feelings are never going to disappear, and that we won't become a healthy all-round individual. For some people it is anger that prompts them to seek help, for others a sorrow that pervades their lives. Others however may fear self-destructive behaviour. The discussion, though not without its more light hearted moments, is serious and heartfelt.
I have thought now for some time that what we really need to talk about is our sense of shame - of our behaviour, our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others. We are all dependent upon the good opinion of other people, and even the most aggressive people I have ever met want to be loved and fear they are unlovable.
Shame sits in the gaps where we had expected a smile of encouragement and are met with a blank look. It resides in the many fraught moments when we want things to go well, and to impress others. Most meaningful communication is transmitted via our eyes - the way we look at others and how they look back at us.
A baby gets an idea of the love his mother has for him by her gaze. As adults we want the same - we look for approval from our partners, our parents and our friends. If our efforts are not met with the response we were expecting we feel a deep sense of humiliation and shame which can affect our view of ourselves.
Seen through the lens of other people's eyes we experience who we are reflected in the looks they bestow upon us. When we are looked down upon, sneered at, humiliated in those throw away comments or more deliberately hurtful comments, we feel inadequate and suffused with shame. We feel embarrassed, angry and seek revenge for the hurt we have experienced. If these feelings have a resonance with how we felt too often as a child then such behaviour or hurtful remarks can sting and have the power to hurt us more than we would like to admit.
Shame is often expressed by anger or indignation. It is difficult to admit we feel shame or jealousy because it does not fit in with how we want to think of ourselves. Any thought we dare not look at, or any feeling we don't like to acknowledge, may have shame at its root. When our children, our partner, or friends show a side of themselves we find hard to cope with and accept, we may feel ashamed that we are judging them.
Sometimes the need we have for others and their support can make us feel ashamed. The pleas for help we make which go unheard are all underlying causes for shame and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings are uncomfortable and do not sit easily with us as they sit at the very core of our being. This is why the counselling space is a serious one and that is why we need to be mindful of who is listening to us.
This is also why counsellors and therapists have to work hard to understand that the material they are dealing with is a precious cargo which has already travelled a huge distance just to get to the room itself.
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