I stumbled upon this poem the other day and it’s made me think a lot about our individual and collective situations – especially at the moment with social distancing and some lock-down measures still in place.
Not only am I fond of the aesthetics of the poem, but the message resonates deeply with me, and I see it all the time in the counselling room. We are prone to feel that we are suffering alone or, more often, we think others are happier and more successful. This is not a new idea, but the words of the poem put it so succinctly and beautifully. I wanted to look at a couple lines in particular:
“Though we act strong” — this speaks to the part of us that is drawn to putting on a front, a face, that says that we are doing just fine. We do not feel ready or vulnerable enough to share our innermost struggles and feelings. We fear that, if shared, we would be telling everyone that we are not not good enough, that we are failing. But the truth is quite different – if we were to share with others how we are feeling, we would normalise it so that others can share; we would be creating a space to receive guidance and help; we would be creating a more honest and useful dynamic between us and others. It is being vulnerable that people struggle with, and there is an art in learning how to do just that so that it does not feel too damaging, too scary. Bit by bit, we can learn to not act at all, but to bring our authentic self to the conversation. In being authentic, we also feel more at ease with ourselves and others; others, too, can begin to share their authentic selves, rather than trying to reach a certain ideal.
“If we were to turn to each other” — although this speaks more of turning our attention to others and seeing their fragility, too, I like to think of it in the sense of connection with others. If we can learn to reach out to others, learn to be vulnerable and share how we are feeling then we can also experience a deeper connection with others. Often, people speak in the counselling room about a superficial connection with others that they are desperate to change; or they share experiences of relationships that don’t satisfy them, that don’t give them that satisfaction. One of the reasons for this is that we sometimes learn to relate to others in a way that keeps our authentic self hidden, and we do not risk connecting to others in meaningful ways. It is too risky, and requires us to be vulnerable. But the truth is that, once learned, it is a powerful way of being – to connect to others in authentic and meaningful ways allows for our needs to be met because we are able to communicate with others. We can recognise how we are feeling and we can tell others. In doing so, we enrich our relationships and the lives of others.
Counselling is a place to do both of these things. It is a place to recognise how we are feeling and find the courage to express those thoughts and feelings to others, so that we are living in alignment.
When our inner thoughts match our external voice, we tend to find less conflict and more harmony. It feels terrifying but it can be learned bit by bit. In being more authentic we also allow others to be more authentic.
We are social beings, and it is important that we recognise the importance of connection with others. We need to cultivate meaningful connections through authenticity and being vulnerable in those moments that don’t feel too overwhelming.