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Don’t change who you are. Become more of who you are.

A message to my younger self

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I’m 52 year old. I often remember my younger selves. Now I do that fondly. That’s one of the benefits of ageing I’ve encountered. I can look back on the me that was with a great deal more self-compassion than I had for myself at the time.

Today, I want to share a little about a memory I have of being 27 and in-training as a Counselling Psychologist. I was so eager to the best psychologist I could be and I was so desperate to impress those already qualified in the organisation I was working. I thought they were all so competent and amazing. More than wanting to impress, I wanted a job. I was convinced that I needed to be a certain way, a different way to who I was to fulfil my goal. It was such a vulnerable time.

I remember discussing a client with my qualified peers and had shared my work in a first session. I had an intense moment of feeling vulnerable, of feeling shame to be specific. I became tearful. I was so embarrassed. I felt like I’d blown it and exposed myself to be incompetent. I had been found out and I was terrified that I would never work as a psychologist. A dramatic response in retrospect but that’s the benefit of hindsight.

One of the psychologists present was empathic and supportive. She said, “Don’t change, Katrina. Stay you.” I didn’t know what to make of her response. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I do now that I have 25 years experience of work and life behind me. Back then I did not have a clue of how to make sense of what she was saying. My whole way of being in the world was based on the premise that I needed to be different. And that wasn’t new to this period in my late 20s. My self-esteem had been low for as long as I could remember. There was nothing much about me that I thought was worth retaining. I was convinced I needed to change to be the person others needed me to be. I figured that if I could morph into the person that was needed I was safe. Now I imagine that she was feeling warmth towards me. She noticed something in me. She understood I cared a lot. I imagine she knew something about what happens to helping professionals once they’ve been working in the field a few years. I know now that it is the caring nature of helpers that supports healing in others but it also places helpers at risk of stress and burnout. My caring and compassionate self that connects with others and can be along side others in their suffering also needs to be supported and cared for to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout. My colleague saw a spark in me that she felt protective of. She wanted for me to retain that spark. She wanted for me to have more of that spark over time, not less.

I wish I could go back and whisper in my ear, “You are a caring and deeply compassionate person. Those qualities are much needed. You showed your client that you cared. She feels heard, acknowledged and validated. You do not have to change. You do not have to be different. You will go on to work with many people and have a positive impact on individuals, couples and families. What you can do is be more you. Your spark is that you care. People connect to you. People are drawn to you. What you need to do is become who you are; more of who you are. That is your job. Give yourself a break. You are loved. You are enough. You are perfect as you are.”

Image: Photo by David Rotimi on Unsplash

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