Notes from my therapy room

By Mignon Johnson
9th July 2020

My marriage was breaking down and I needed answers. Therapy was a shocking eye-opener for me but provided psychoeducation and self awareness. Naively, I thought I had ‘got away with it’ as until then, I held a belief that my life had gone relatively well considering my dysfunctional childhood.

Looking deeper, I realised that this was more luck than planned judgement.

“Self-awareness informs my professional practice”.

This distinctive self-reflective period is marked by learning, personal growth, a process of evolving and transformation from a series of adverse experiences and emotional pain.

Most importantly, counselling is about being authentic, congruent with my own feelings and having real conversations.

The personal process from which I have emerged makes me more effective in my counselling work. Greater self-awareness enables me to recognise and understand the other and to discern my client’s incongruence.

I was astounded by my mother’s throwaway comment when I told her I was progressing my counselling ‘business’. Although happy to hear it, it felt like she had dropped a small bombshell by saying, “I never see that as a business, it’s more a social service”. What she meant was that people shouldn’t have to pay for counselling.

This triggered my fear of being seen, provided an opportunity to reflect on my previous insecurities about opening my counselling business, and gave me insight into why I had previously struggled to value my skills  – this enabled me to reframe my internal conflict. Traditionally, most people deal with problems by talking to someone close. But what happens when family, friends and the community at large IS the problem? While it’s fine to talk about some things, there are barriers to addressing some other familial or cultural issues; more often than not these are ‘no go’ topics. Some superficial conversations might help, but often these are not enough to address the complex and damaging deeper-rooted emotional issues.

There are many reasons people choose not to challenge the ‘tribe’. Instinctual, tribal & human need to belong add to fear of challenging status quo, fear of excommunication, abandonment, rejection creates toxic tolerance for abuse and control in relationships in order to remain part of the tribe.

This interaction reminded me of the difficulties I’ve encountered when I challenged my parents about adverse experiences in my upbringing. Each curious inquiry was met with denial, excuses or bid to hastily brush things under the carpet. My disappointment always got the better of me and I couldn’t hide my exasperation at meeting their defence, which felt like resistance and hypocrisy. I was deeply enraged by their failure to acknowledge their part, and their persistent pushing of me towards unconditional forgiveness for their past misdemeanours.

Over years my confidence grew, so did my persistence with authentic questioning and seeking honest responses and genuine remorse. I am aware that this little girl (me) has persisted with seeking justice, validation and acceptance from her parents.

My experience taught me that there are no shortcuts to forgiveness. It became important to acknowledge my feelings, because not doing so would be doing myself a disservice.

Personal Therapy has been challenging, overwhelming at times. This rewarding period of my life deserves to be celebrated for bringing monumental insight and transformation for personal growth and the opportunity for seeing myself going forward more positively by being better informed.

Self-awareness is a dance between consciousness’ that helps me to recognise and reflect dark inner places that my clients show me, both in themselves and in me, which I can then reflect back to them and help them to see and recognise their own shadow selves. This process enables me to eliminate the damaging stronghold of guilt, shame and fear, recognize boundaries and question beliefs, blind spots and values.

Tuning into my own experience enables me to inspire personal growth for my clients, from victim to empowerment, self validation, self approval and self reliance.

My client described self-harming in her childhood and difficulties getting on with mum. She had been experiencing panic attacks and nightmares related to abusive ex-partner. While relating her anxiety story, she broke down in tears about something unrelated, from the past. When she was 14, her father ran over her dog accidentally, and killed it. Her tears spoke to me about a layer of unprocessed grief. The silent family culture, over-protection of her father meant that she was never given the opportunity to talk about this incident. So she missed the chance of grieving the loss of her beloved dog.

I was able to make her aware of the impact of suppressing feelings in her family culture. I asked her, “What’s it like in your family regarding sharing feelings?”

Her disconnect from her own feelings made it difficult for her to acknowledge to herself that single parenting is hard.

My client work continues to bring new self awareness as I reflect on my experience and learning by their stories.

My client used the term ‘close bond’ to describe her relationship with her mother, who lives next door. When she admitted that during the lockdown her mother had been there for her everyday, I wondered if she was too close.

Together we explored my client’s feelings of not being good enough, the possibility of a link between the way she felt about herself and relationship with her mother could originate in her mother’s high expectations of her at school, constant comparisons to others, reinforcing her perception of inadequacy. She told me, “I’m not a high enough standard for my mum”. Her mother’s cutting words, even in her adulthood “You’re not doing it right, let me do it”, has left my client feeling incompetent, as if in fact she couldn’t do anything right. Her mother often complained about her father. “My mother texts me about her problems”. When I asked her if she would stand up to her mum, she responded with, “She might take it the wrong way”.

It soon became clear that her mother undermined her with criticism, resulting in her always expecting her disapproval.

Her assertion, “She doesn’t mean any harm”, gave opportunity for gentle challenge, I said “Do you want her to back off?”. Her response was, “Sometimes I ignore it, other times I have to reply”.

This powerful exchange helped her to realise toxic codependency.

Growing up in what’s always felt like my sister’s shadow, I’ve processed inadequacy and feeling ‘I’m not good enough’. Our situations are very different, but my experience helped me to tune into her’s with empathy and compassion.

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Mignon Johnson

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