Lately, I have been feeling somewhat helpless in my role as a counselor. Sometimes, I think I don’t have what it takes to be effective and supportive. Sometimes I think that I have forgotten all of the things I learned. Sometimes I feel like I am not able to connect to clients. I would say that this belief circulates every year or so. When it does, it can ride roughshod through most aspects of my life. I often reflect in order to make sense of the overpowering waves of feelings that appear when I feel helpless. In my reflection, I usually find that when I feel helpless, it is in direct correlation to how much self-criticism I am piling on.
Recently, I have taken upon new challenges and changes in my life, and I think those have impacted the amount of time I devote to me. One would think that since the challenges and changes were initiated by me I should be completely thrilled, happy, joyous and satisfied. Here’s the funny thing about all that – I am thrilled, happy, joyous and satisfied - in the logical part of my brain. The emotional side of me is questioning my decisions, admonishing my efforts, and inserting various negative phrases such as “what were you thinking”, “why did you think this was the right time” and my favorite “really?!?”. Needless to say, I know that I can be harder on myself than any other critic out there. I have always felt that if I beat myself up first then no one can make me feel any worse!
So when the helpless feeling emerges, I need to pay attention and I need to remind myself that I have no special powers, no extraordinary gifts of mind reading or magical healing talents. I am only me. When I feel helpless as a counselor that is a big sign that what I need to really do is look at what I am propagating in me. What am I telling myself, what criticisms are true? I get out the bulldozer and dig deep down. I sift through the debris, separating the piles into meaningful evidence of what is true, semi true and patently false. Most times the pile of patently false tends to be a mile high – another extraordinary gift of self propagation. I do it every time – when I’m feeling helpless in my life. The most logical part of me says – “hey, you fell into the self-made trap again – gee when will you ever learn? But, the emotional part of me says “hey logic, butt out, let me have this feeling for a short time so I don’t ever forget that I am only human.”
How do you treat yourself in times of helplessness?
Kathy Renfree is a counselor in a community mental health setting, teaches in a graduate counseling program as needed, and is looking forward to building a private practice.