Counselling Course Week 3: self discovery in the context of community

This week at the counselling course we thought about non-verbal communication, the holistic nature of listening, and how to develop our self-awareness. We learnt about the Johari Window and different levels of ‘self’ – both the seen and the unseen – and the support that people need when undertaking new challenges or setting off on new journeys. This got me thinking about self discovery in the context of community…

Last year, as my housemates and I hit the ‘storming’ stage of our ‘forming, storming, norming’ community-building, we did a Myers-Briggs personality test which, through a course of questions, bestowed upon each of us 4 defining letters. (I’m an ENFJ which I can only remember as ‘Emily Now Feels Judged’). These combinations of letters were accompanied by a definition page which, uncannily, seemed to sum us up fairly accurately. In spite of the subsequent trap it led us into of setting our characters somewhat in stone, it was a hugely insightful process.

As I saw myself reflected back at me – how I relate to others, my strengths, my weaknesses, my pressure points and my passions – and read the descriptions of my friends, I suddenly realised that some people function in diametrically opposing ways. This was a bit of a shock. I struggled to believe that someone could view my openness to change as fickle and directionless. Or my objections to sameness as erratic and inconsistent. On the other hand, it astounded me that anyone could actually thrive in a routine world of black and white, content with what struck me as a stiflingly small circle of friends all with similar world views. Can people really be that different?

We learnt a lot though that process. It didn’t mean that living together would be easy, but it was eye-opening to say the least.

While being very helpful, it was also uncomfortable. There’s nothing like community to make you aware of your blind spots, of your hidden self, even of the unconscious self that lurks away in the depths. Like it or not, by sharing life closely, vulnerably, and intentionally with other people, we often get glimpses of who we really are. And sometimes that makes me want to run a mile in the other direction. It’d probably hurt less.

Yet I’m also aware that while this kind of challenge can, without support, lead me to fear and a rapid building up of my defences, it can also be hugely liberating if it’s experienced in the context of a community that is committed to my good.

I take photos. It’s both a hobby and a deeper expression of how I view and interact with the world. And because it’s an extension of me, the thought of putting my photos out there for others to enjoy – or to critique – is a scary thing. So, for several years, I’d sort of buried my ‘creative side’ and got on with life. Yet, with the encouragement of my housemates to pursue this and to share it, I find myself planning a little local exhibition.

It may not sound like much, but it’s a high challenge that needed high support. Insurmountable by myself, this mountain would’ve left me vulnerably alone and probably fallen by the wayside. Yet now I feel stretched and excited, stepping out in the knowledge that my friends are cheering me on and coming with me. With them there, I’ll probably reach the summit. And, even if I don’t, it’s kind of nice to know they’ll love me anyway.

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