I synthesize, condense, and paraphrase a session with my clinical counsellor and coach, who has been integral and amongst several things I do to work on my mental health.
Key Takeaway: As a performance driven individual, I have used my performances as a disordered coping mechanism towards conflict in my relationships. An unconscious thought pattern was that loved ones pointing out my flaws through criticism & feedback meant that I had lost their respect and needed to redeem myself.
Oh, yes. How convoluted, juicy and messed up 😈 Keep reading for all the tea.
If you don’t know me or if this is the first piece of mine that you are reading, welcome! I’m on a journey to be the best athlete and content creator I can be while learning to embrace my darkness.
“I got really anxious about my performance as a content creator and for my upcoming fight, to the point where I was burnt out for 2 days. I had immediately put a lot of pressure on myself to win. I’ve since recovered from the exhaustion, and I’ve also realized that I’m just grateful for the opportunity to fight and the learning experience. This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I want to win, but I also want to enjoy the ride. I don’t want to attach myself to expectations, but I still want to be able to visualize winning, and yet I find myself unable to. I keep imagining the worst.”
She asks me to describe a possible solution.
“I’ve wanted to put up a big stop sign when I come across a negative thought or image, and replace that with a positive thought or image. However, I am worried that I’ll end up attaching myself to that positive thought and hold it up as an expectation. Then, what if reality doesn’t meet that expectation? I’m scared of the disappointment and letting myself down.”
She asks me to describe something that would make a difference.
“I know that I can choose to focus on what I can control, such as my mindset, and let go of what I cannot control, such as outcomes. The thing is, I feel like I’ve been scared of positivity my whole life. I once told a friend that I feel like my anxiety is my crutch – it keeps me on edge as a result of me always looking for what could go wrong in an attempt to prevent that from happening. I’m either looking for negative possibilities because I’m preventative and scared that they’ll happen, or I’m scared that I’ll be let down if my positive thoughts get attached to expectations that don’t live up.”
She points out that it is sounding like a difficult choice between two suboptimal options.
“Yes, and it’s exhausting. I feel like being me is exhausting. It feels burdensome to constantly manage the bombarding thoughts of fear and negativity.”
At this point, she synthesizes what I’ve shared with her and says it back to me. I agree with her, and for some reason, this line of discussion leads me to the pivotal moment where I have a realization that I feel we need to address.
At this point, magic happens. This is what I like to think of as the real and meaningful work that is facilitated through counselling, where the unconscious rises to consciousness. Here, I can finally verbalize, uncover, and process deeply buried mental patterns.
“I know this is going to sound like a tangent but it will tie together. When I think about my performances, there is an accompanying self-consciousness about how I show up in the world. I am insecure about the way I’m perceived. I feel bad. There are three people closest to me that I immediately think of: my father, my ex-boyfriend, and a former best friend I had a falling out with. I think about times that they’ve pointed out flaws in me, and how it relates to my character. I have this icky feeling of disgust, embarrassment, and shame, and I don’t know what to do with that, so I try to redeem character through my performances.”
She asks me to consider what those individuals are trying to achieve in pointing out my flaws. We’re both quite intrigued and delighted that I can’t believe that this is all coming out. This is what makes counselling so worthwhile and pivotal.
“They’ve all pointed out that I can speak abrasively. For example, my ex would point how that I wasn’t aware of how rude I’d come across. Our fights would explode, I’d be lashing out, and at the height of us escalating, he’d sometimes say I was a shitty person. What I know is that what he was trying to achieve is for me to be more self-aware, which could lead to us having more positive interactions, which could lead to us furthering our relationship.”
She points out that people, especially those who love me, want intimacy.
“I get that but what I struggle with is feeling so bad about myself. I think that I’ve lost their respect and they see me as a shitty person. It’s like perhaps the rest of the world might see me as someone who is worthy of respect, but the people who really know me see the ugly truth. Then, panic creeps in: ‘oh shit, oh crap, they’ve really seen me, it’s ugly, and it’s shitty.'”
She drops the mic: “Yeah but people don’t care that you’re a shitty person. We’re all flawed. We all have weaknesses. People who care about you want intimacy; a real connection with you. What you do with your performances are simply what you do for you. Your performances are not the way to resolve issues in your relationships, but they have turned into a disordered coping mechanism of addressing conflict.”
Well damn. As an aside, I mentally bookmark this as a connection to one of Seth Godin’s epic keynotes about marketing.
I express that this is eye-opening: my performances are for me, and those outcomes have nothing to do with my relationships. We both agree that this lifts what I previously described as the burden of expectations versus disappointment.
Most of all, this is relieving and helps me come to terms with my narcissistic tendencies. “Wow, that makes me realize that it’s not all about me,” I say. She gently and excitedly replies, “..right?!”.
She points out: “You don’t need to be winning your fight in Thailand to resolve your relationships. The very moment someone who cares about gives you feedback, that’s the opportunity for you to build intimacy”.
I feel liberated. I mention that I now recall having glimpses of this in the past, but never the realization in such clarity as it had just occurred to me through our session.
“Wow, that makes so much sense. I totally agree. The reason I’d get so self-conscious with my ex is because I placed a high degree of importance on being viewed as attractive and desirable to him through my accomplishments and my appearance, and I didn’t want him to see my ‘ugly truth’. However, I now realize that it doesn’t matter how I look or if I am a shitty person, what matters is that they are willing to take the risk of having an awkward conversation with me in hopes of us deepening our relationship and achieve intimacy. If anything, that’s flattering – I should be honoured that someone loves and respects me that much.”
We wrap up the call. She thanks me for always doing the work and being “right on the edge” at every session. I thank her, with so much gratitude and relief.