I’ve not written in a few weeks. I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of faith in my ability to write coherent words that seem to make sense (to me at least). More than that though, and more emotionally dangerous for me, I have been listening to those negative voices in my head that always seem to have greater control over my thoughts than the voice of self belief. This hasn’t been a conscious thing, it never is, is it! I don’t think that there has been an internal monologue of discussion and debate around my ability but a more subtle form of subversive thinking that has undermined my ability to continue to write. So in a way to exorcise these demons I’m sharing how this has happened.
If you want to skip a personal & personal reflection on my own psyche please pass along now and know that normal service will resume.
It seeems to have all started recently when I watched the Rio Ferdinand story on BBC, commented on social media about it ended up somehow writing an article for Premier Blog and subsequently for Youth and Children’s Work Magazine.
Now, when I started writing this blog back in January, I wrote just for me. I wrote as a way of journaling my thoughts. Importantly as a way for me process my thinking around some issues I, as a counsellor and mentor, was thinking about. It’s really helpful to go deeper in your thinking around how you approach issues your support young people with or the way you can combat negative thinking (I’m spotting the irony here!) in those people I support.
It honestly surprised me the amount of positive feedback I was receiving. It surprised me more that people I didn’t know were signing up to receive email notifications that I had uploaded a new post. It honestly seems strange that anyone would want to read what I was writing.
However,I think it’s worth taking a quick side step here…. for those who have signed up for notifications when I post and those who do take the time to read; THANK YOU. I still write for me but to think that my words have meaning to someone else or that they support the learning and development of another professional is mind-blowing.
And why I think that this is mind-blowing is worth considering in this post and is impossible to consider without stepping back a few years. It is true that we are all a product of our past experiences, positive and negative. Some of them have a positive effect on the way we view ourselves in the world and others negatively shape the way we see ourselves now. For me some past experiences are intrinsically linked to my current thinking and to process whats happening now I need to look at them.
In secondary school I was given a nickname by my english teacher. He called me “Fusspot Taylor” not the worst name, I grant you, but one that had a deep and lasting impact. I was graciously given this name because I simply had to know and understand the full context of any subject in which he asked us to write about. I needed to know the why, how and what I was writing about. I need the motivation and reasons for the situation we were given. It wasn’t enough just to write. I had to know why.
As I think about this now, I truly pity the man. I must have driven him insane!
However, when I wasn’t given the level of detail I felt I needed and I started to write, I felt lost and I doubted my words. This in turn ultimately led to a belief that my thoughts on what I had to write about had no value as they had no place in a wider picture and therefore I had nothing to say, in written word,which was worthwhile or worthy to read. This stayed with me for longer than you could imagine. It shaped how I trusted my answers in any written work and especially exams, how I never pushed myself to learn the skill of writing, secure in the belief that I would “fail at words”. I even left university after 5 months of trying as I realised that I couldn’t write essays. Having previously spent 3 year at college on a BTEC course which graded presentations, projects and course work, I hadn’t learnt how to. As i reflect on the word “couldn’t write essays” I now know that what I should have said at the time was, “I don’t yet have the skills necessary, but I could ask for help”. This could have transformed how I approached it. But clearly that was never going to happen.
Fast forward 15 years from my name calling teacher when Esther, my then soon to be wife, was working with Bath university helping set up & run an international conference on dyslexia. The more she worked with the student services and was around the subject the more she started to believe that I was possibly dyslexic. Eventually this led to a dyslexia screening test and low and behold I was found to be dyslexic.
This was great. I finally had answers as to why I thought and struggled like I did, yet this in itself became problematic as it also gave me a really convenient shield to hide behind. I could now say, and point to exactly the reasons, why I wasn’t able to write. I had a medical reason why I didn’t need to put myself into positions of perceived failure. Even several years later when I had the statutory youth service in Southend approach me and offer to send me to college to gain youth work qualifications to become a senior leader in the youth work service I said “no, it wasn’t for me”. This belief literally stopped me developing. I had convinced myself that I had an upper limit in my education ability and I had reached it and could go no further.
When I decided to train to become a counsellor I didn’t put 2&2 together at all. I didn’t consider that I would have weekly journals, essays, exams and final case studies. I just wanted to train. So it came as a bit of a shock to me when the realisation of the work hit. Yet hit it did and I completely surprised myself when I found that i could write, I had an ability to express my thoughts in written form in a way that I hadn’t thought was in me. I also discovered that with the write tools I could also manage exams. Not only manage but received the highest grade of the whole college that year. (I say this not to brag but to remind myself of the things I have the potential to achieve. Celebrating the victories is really important).
A year on from passing my exam and a friend in the states really encouraged me to start blogging. John has blogged daily for 15 years. A remarkable feat that he puts down to many factors. When I got going his words were that; I should write for an audience of 1. For myself. Write what I would want to read. Never write something or in a style that you think you should write in. Write what you know about and in a way that is you. I guess I would call this congruence. But he also went on to say that in writing every day your skill in writing will improve and you will undoubtable get better at it. Then you will be surprised at what opportunities open up to you. Cue the two writing assignments last month.
Brilliant! I had overcome demons. Killed off the negative voices. ‘Fusspot Taylor’ was no more. I was approached to write, rather than go look for it. I was paid for my words. PAID for the words that I had in my brain. I had confidence and self belief. Most of all I had evidence to show myself, when I was feeling down, that I had done something with my words.
Then… What I didn’t notice was all of the old thoughts that has started to creep back with reinforcements. It started to get to me in many ways: Regardless of how good the practice I have built up with the schools I support and how well I had written I suddenly saw other people doing way better than me. Developing well their own practice – or even just starting out on their learning at the very beginning of counselling and all I could hear and see was that everything I was doing was inferior to them. That what I had to offer wasn’t of value. So why bother!?
It was like I had suddenly tapped into a deep well of negativity that is always there building up pressure to come out and the release valve was me celebrating an achievement. It was like I couldn’t possibly allow myself that moment. That everything in me objects to doing well.
Old habits, it seems, are hard to break.
So slowly I have picked these things apart. Each negative thought has been shown the light of day, examined and put in its place. I explain this to clients like a police investigator looking at a piece of evidence and weighing it up against facts and beliefs. When you take the thought out of the context in which it thrives you can approach it almost scientifically and see it for what it actually is. A dead end process.
The final piece of the straw has been the blank page of a blog post. To get something up, to start to write, to hit ‘publish’, to look at my words and not care one bit for their value to anyone else. To not care about the quality, or comparative merits to someone else’s writing. To write for the audience of one again.
My demons are that when I am praised for something I question the authenticity of the praise, to question and doubt them and to wonder on the motives of them. Assuming that really it is a hidden way of pulling me down. In doing that I am, of course, pulled down. This has the effect of reinforcing the belief that they are doing what they were designed to do. But this is a self fulfilling prophecy based on lies I tell myself.
So here I am, pulling them out in the open to call them out for what they are. Automatic Negative thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less. Getting back in the saddle. Here I am.
None of us are immune from this. I suspect that my experience may be similar to your own. You may have spoken openly about this or it may be the first time that you have realised that you thinking this way. I know that I am capable, when I am aware of it, of dealing with it. My weakness is clearly the awareness of it in the first place. More time to personally reflect and train myself to be mindful of what is internally going on is clearly needed.
If you struggle with this go chat it through with a supervisor, counsellor or mentor. Just because we deal with it doesn’t mean that we are immune from it. Don’t let it consume you. Rise up and know the true you.