I have (finally!) reached the point in my graduate counseling studies where we are practicing actual counseling skills in semi-realistic settings with semi-realistic people and problems. This is exciting. What can be less-than-exciting is the realization that the strengths and weaknesses in our personalities and behavior patterns that we grapple with in daily life are magnified significantly in a therapeutic setting. Yikes. It turns out my tendency to jump in to agree with what someone else is saying––and connect it to my own experience––is actually called “interrupting” to most people! All kidding aside, being forced to examine my own personal strengths and weaknesses as a counselor has truly felt like an examination of my strengths and weaknesses as a human being. Making note of things like: What are my tendencies when someone comes to me with a problem that hits really close to home? How do I treat someone whose communication style differs wildly from my own? It’s fascinating to act as an observer to your own thoughts and behaviors, and has been a learning experience beyond what I expected.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve come away with from this stage of my education is that for every strength there is an accompanying weakness––a two sides of the same coin kind of deal. The clearest example I have of this playing out in my own life is my perception of people. I believe one of my strengths is in my ability to read people; I can pick up on tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and really hear what people are meaning even if it’s not exactly what they are saying. When these powers are used for good, I believe they can help me be a compassionate, empathetic, and intuitive helper. On the flip side, this gift has immense power to be destructive. If I know what someone is feeling, if I can imagine what to say to make someone feel relieved or supported, this means I also have a good idea of what to say to make them feel the opposite. I can tear people down with one carefully selected string of words. And this is a scary, scary truth.
An idea that helped me both discover the above truth about myself and also helped me manage the instant fear that came with that lesson is: approach yourself and others with genuine curiosity. This means asking a lot of questions (“Why did I just say what I did?” “I wonder if he feels angry about that?”) instead of making judgments that are not ours to make (“That was a really stupid thing to say.” “She needs to quit letting people walk all over her.” ).
Remaining open to possibilities in ourselves and in others makes us more open to recognizing what is true… and makes the difficult truths just a bit easier to palate.
tags: psychology school personal growth