One of the most common things I have noticed that I share with my clients is the need for permission to be different. Some of my clients have expressed the desire to make changes in their own worlds but feel unable to do so because they have difficulty seeing themselves in the new roles they desire or want. They can list a million different reasons as to why they are unable to achieve these new roles they desire for themselves. As with any goal, there will always be challenges. Challenges do not mean that we should give up. Anything worth having is usually worth fighting for; this was perfectly summed up by Mr. Michael Phelps, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”
Challenges can be internal and/or external. Some clients expressed barriers within themselves. They noted that they had trouble visualizing themselves in these new roles they wanted. Sometimes, they felt they didn’t deserve these new beginnings because of things experienced in their past; they were simply not worthy of second chances. Others just didn’t know how to begin to attempt these changes and some didn’t want to bother trying. Some have expressed fear of failure. While others have expressed that the changes they want in their lives will cast them in new lights to themselves and the people around them which will create a shock throughout their ecosystems, and they themselves may not even be ready to accept these changes, much less the people around them. For me, it has been a combination of all of these which has allowed me to be empathetic to my clients. After all, we are all on our own journeys of self-development. Hence, in some ways, we all require permission from someone to work at making necessary changes within our lives. Whether it is permission from ourselves or loved ones, we have to maintain self-awareness to recognize what is needed for us to work at the changes we need to be healthier, happier, and more balanced.
What does it mean to be different?
We all have to change and adapt to keep up with the needs and responsibilities in our lives. Whether we realize it or not, we have to make changes daily in our lives. Sometimes, this is a reactive change and sometimes it is a choice that we proactively make. I believe that actively choosing to make a change in your life is even more important because this is a proactive choice rather than a reaction to a situation that life has put you in. An example of a reactive change is, say you go for your yearly physical check-up and have been told that you are on the borderline for becoming a diabetic, you are given suggestions on things to change to reduce this risk but a month later, you have left the suggestions and returned to your old ways. Then you have a health scare months later and then have to return to your physician who has now told you that you are no longer at risk but have developed diabetes. You now have no choice but to do as you are being told because of the situation you are now in. On the other hand, if you had heeded the advice, things may have worked out differently. If you had actively created a plan to address the health issues, sought help to act and be different from the way you had been living, you may have avoided developing diabetes. Yes, this is a bit of a simplistic example, but I think it demonstrates the point. The point is when you actively make a choice, you are more in control of your decisions and goals and are probably more internally motivated and this may even allow you to be more success in your goals.
I try to use this dynamic with my clients and encourage them to recognize places where they have choices and help them to follow the consequences of the choices they have made or will make when thinking of how they could do something differently. Being intrinsically motivated allows for self-evaluation and the development of one’s self worth. Taking the time to assess where we are and how we are feeling, and what our needs and wants are and how we want to move forward with the goals we have for ourselves is essential. An additional point is that making plans can only take us so far. When we create our plans, we have to be willing to execute them and not just execute, but be dedicated and committed. So in essence, to be different is to recognize where we are and being willing to set goals for the things we desire and want, and creating an action plan to pursue these goals. This requires us to accept ourselves for whom and what we are and allowing ourselves the freedom to pursue the things we want. We also have to understand that sometimes others may not understand our choices and that there will be setbacks but these should be viewed as learning experiences so that we can try again and move forward.
The Need to Conform
Conformity is a not a new concept. In high school, we strove hard to fit in with our friends and to follow the rules so that we were not ostracized. By adulthood, this is an ingrained lesson. We learn to accept the status quo and believe that in order to belong, we have to fit comfortably into a certain box. Yet, change requires an entirely different belief and mindset. To experience growth, we have to be willing to change our thoughts, our beliefs, and our mindsets. Growth comes from discomfort. Challenging ourselves and each other is not comfortable and of course, fear of the unknown can scare us right back into our boxes. But without discomfort, how do we learn what we are capable of? How do we stretch our bodies and our minds to think beyond the boxes we are taught to fit in? Change is a distinct part of life. If we do not attempt to change, then life changes around us and we are left feeling stuck. This is a fact for us all, clients and counselors alike. As counselors, professional and self-development is mandatory for us to be able to service our clients effectively. We have to learn new tools, interventions, and methods to stay effective in our work with our clients. Personally, we have constant work/life balance struggles, changes in our family situations, and changes within ourselves. For clients, they experience the same things which bring them into our offices for assistance. If we feel that we are exempt from the things that our clients go through, then it is clear we need to re-evaluate our beliefs and thoughts.
Conforming to things that make us comfortable can only last for so long. Feeling stuck or stagnant is not a desirable place to be. From Lynne Shallcross’s January 2011 article, Taking care of yourself as a counselor, Stephanie Burns, noted that “…If we want to see change occur, we have to take ownership of what we want to see happen and do it. We have to make a choice, take ownership of it and then act on it.” Permission to be different allows us to begin where we are and with the things we have and work towards the changes and goals we seek. Being proactive and taking ownership allows us more freedom and control and reduces and removes negative feelings such as helplessness, boredom, dependence, purposeless, and hopelessness. Letting fear and other emotions control us will only allow us to be stagnant and unhappy because we are functioning on automation rather than moving through life with purpose, faith, and confidence.
Our Best Selves
I truly believe that our purpose here on this planet is to become our best selves. There is no one in this world like me. There is no one in the world like you. We are all here for a purpose and I believe that the hardest job we have is to become our best selves. Carl Rogers spoke about authenticity, congruence, inner freedom, and transparency; all of which encourage clients to develop a sense of self. This development helps us identify who we are and what we believe in and also what we have to offer to the world. These concepts help us define our goals and purposes, and also help identify with confidence our place in this world. If we can help our clients come to terms with these thoughts, their worlds would open up in ways they have never even considered.
I find that clients sometimes struggle with the commitment to the changes and goals they have set. I, too, am guilty of this. So in recognition of these struggles, I encourage myself and my clients towards true self-development because we are confident when we know what we are worth, our strengths and weaknesses, our values, and our purposes. The permission to be different is an ongoing struggle but with real rewards. Rewards that include bravery and courage, conquering of fears, fulfillment of life and all that it has to offer, important lessons to be learned, and a contentment that can only be achieved by recognizing our own value to this world we live in. Silken Laumann, a keynote speaker at the American Counseling Association (ACA) 2016 conference, mentioned that the journey of one’s self is the most incredible journey to experience, as noted in Bethany Bray’s April 2016 article, Laumann: Finding the courage to be authentic.
To summarize, sometimes the person we need permission from the most, is ourselves. We sometimes feel tied to the people we were or the circumstances we experienced and we struggle to shed those experiences in order to move towards the people we want to be. Additionally, sometimes it is the ecosystem that we operate in that keeps us tethered. We fear that the people around us will view us differently or even reject the new versions of ourselves. This is the time that we have to be committed to the goals and changes that we set for ourselves. This is the time when we have to push forth and recognize that change is not easy but what is the alternative? To be stuck in the situations that is causing us pain and making us unhappy? Do we not want to be the best versions of ourselves? Do we not want to lead a fulfilling life pursuing the things we love and spending time with the ones that mean the most to us? These are questions that can be posed to ourselves as clinicians and to the clients we serve as we all work to maintain a healthy well-being. Change is hard but that should not be a deterrent. It should be a challenge that we welcome to experience growth. Because when we are challenged, we learn more about ourselves.
Charmaine Perry is a counselor who works mostly with adults and couples in central New Jersey. Her passion is mental health and writing and finding ways to incorporate these two fields to advocate for mental health services for African and Caribbean Americans.