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  • Writer's pictureHilary McMeeking

Losing sight of yourself

Who am I?

Is that a strange question? Or maybe I should ask, can you answer that question; straight away or after some thought or not at all?

I spent a lot of my life being proud of my chameleon like tendencies; I was proud of being able to fit in, being whatever people wanted or expected me to be, pleasing everyone I knew yet, at the same time, not often pleasing myself... but I didn't realise that at the time.

It wasn't until I started my training as a counsellor that I was faced with the question of 'who am I?' And when faced with it, I had absolutely no idea of the answer. I was at a loss. How could I have safely got through a fair amount of childhood, teen angst, and unpredictable 20's to childbearing 30's and have no idea who I am?

It felt kind of scary. Surely I should know the answer? I could real off; daughter, friend, mother, wife but they meant nothing, the substance was missing. It took a lot of work to discover who I really am. In a way, I guess, I'm still learning. I realised that all the people pleasing and being what other people wanted me to be, meant that I was lost to myself. The roles I played carried masks or faces which I automatically knew how to wear, but what if I took them off? That was the scary bit.

The main worry for those of us who have had to develop this way of being is, what if others don't like what they see once they know who I really am?

We can lose sight of ourselves as far back as childhood; our parents love us conditionally; on the condition we are 'good' or 'quiet' or 'well behaved'. Perhaps too we are valued at school for our achievements, but what if we are better at music than spelling? Are we failures if we can't do our 6 x tables?

In early years we pick up these subtleties. If we are 'good' we are loved and get our needs met. So it makes sense to be 'good' as often as we can; we start to play the role of 'the good child'. We keep on doing what is expected of us, even if it goes against our 'real selves'. For example, you may have enjoyed playing in the mud or climbing trees but the expectations of your parents may have been that you stayed clean and tidy. When we start to play our part, we can start to lose the person we were supposed to be. If our parents 'notice' us and value us for our natural tendencies then all is well, we can climb trees and get muddy and feel accepted. If we are expected to play other sorts of games and stay clean, that's where things can get confused. We don't want to make mum angry, we want her to smile and accept us, so we play tidy, clean games and forget or bury the part of us that is a natural explorer for good. That game leads us into trouble.

If we are not noticed and valued by our parents, things become even more difficult. Babies learn who they are and if they are loved, through looking into their parents faces. Small children need feedback when they feel an emotion - they aren't naturally able to name it or know what to do with the feeling it brings. How do you know who you are if no one at home is there noticing you? What do you do with that 'ikky' feeling? It's like there is no mirror, your parents are not reflecting back your feelings or emotions; it becomes difficult to find who you are, or understand what you feel. It's almost like you are invisible, and eventually you lose sight of yourself.

So when you get to your 20s, 30s, or later, and someone asks you who you are, you might realise that you don't really know. Life is a grind, your job isn't satisfying and, despite feeling low, you can't find anyone to tell. You fear that you are not the person you are 'supposed' to be. You fear that no one will like you unless you people please and put yourself last all the time yet this makes you resentful and tired.

Like being a child again you are driven to perform to feel loved and accepted, with the thought that underneath it all, if people 'really' knew you, they wouldn't like you at all. You might even have feelings and emotions that you don't understand; sensations in your body that make no sense, or you might feel numb. Does this feel familiar?

If you recognise some of this you will already know that it's exhausting. Holding on to your masks and being who others want you to be all the time can take its toll on your mental health, it can make you feel anxious; what if you let go and slip up and show you're not coping? It can make you feel stressed; I just want to be me. It can make you feel unheard and unnoticed, you can forget your own needs and let others needs come first all the time. You feel worn out and nobody has noticed. You feel you can't burden someone with your worries in case they see the real you.

So who were you supposed to be? What is your passion? What makes your heart sing? What did you enjoy doing as a child. What would you do today if you didn't have to please anyone else and had unlimited funds? What can your goals and dreams tell you about yourself? How do you find yourself after all these years? The answer is within you.

When you train to be a counsellor you also have to go through your own counselling journey. This exploration helped me work out who I was and I have consciously continued to find myself since then (it's never a done deal!) . Counselling also showed me how I'd lost myself in the first place, mostly in the ways I have mentioned above. It's strange how you can feel like the only person feeling empty and alone and that everyone else has it all together perfectly...this is rarely the case.

Counselling can help you look at your core beliefs. These were often arrived at through the 'data' we absorbed in our early years. Once we find these, and they really are huge drivers of our lives, we can learn to challenge and reality check, 'do I really need to run around 24/7 looking after others just to feel worthy?' for example and then 'what would happen if I stopped?' Finding these answers can often be the most difficult because our brains have got so used to only seeing the world or the issue, one way. The challenge is to turn things around in order to see a new way forward. Are you up for the challenge?

It is possible to change once you can see the old beliefs that are holding you back. You can learn to say 'NO'; it's not easy but it can be essential to turning the corner. You can move from feeling that you don't matter or constantly putting others first, to choosing which times this feels right to do and which times you could put yourself first and rest or leave the party or whatever it is that feels right.

You can learn to think about you for a change, about what you really want. After all, it's difficult to look after others if you feel exhausted, resentful and empty. You can feel less exhausted. You can learn and work out how to ask for what you want, once you have worked out what that is. I suppose what I'm talking about is learning to care for yourself before others, could you even love yourself? Change is possible, you are possible.

Start counselling today to work out who you really are...

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