I realised that most of us constantly judge and blame ourselves for some things that actually warrant no judgment or blame.
I often go through the following short script when I notice that a client is beating themselves up unnecessarily.
Me: Hold on a second! Do you know I am Italian?
Me: Do you speak or understand Italian?
Me: Ok, I want you to imagine that for the remainder of our session I unilaterally decide to speak Italian. What would you do?
At this stage, I usually get a range of responses, from, “well, I’d probably walk out of here”, to, “I’d probably feel embarrassed”, but the bulk of the responses would be close to, “I’d ask you to move back to English or another language we could both understand, and if you still refuse, I’d likely get frustrated with you”.
And so, we continue.
Me: Ok, thanks for that. And would you beat yourself up for not being able to understand me?
Again, a broad range of answers here, but most typically, “Not at all!”
Client: Because I was not born in Italy, I was never exposed to the Italian language and I never had a chance to learn it.
Bingo!!! “I never had a chance to learn it!”
At this point you may feel that this article is only stating the obvious, but that is exactly the way I want it. I want you and my clients to feel, to KNOW that this is OBVIOUS!!!
But here is the twist.
Me: You know how earlier you were really angry/sad/disappointed upon recognising that at your age you are still unable to deal with conflict?
Me: Why do you think that is the case?
I am amazed by how many clients blindly answer, “Because I should know!”
And bingo again!!!
Me: Why should you know?
Client: Because I am 37 / 42 / 54 and by now I should have learnt to deal with conflict.
By this time, clients usually realise how obvious it is that they cannot expect themselves to be skilled at something if they have never been exposed to positive and constructive role models or if they were never taught. What intrigues me however is this, what makes the fact that you cannot speak Italian OK, but the fact that you do not speak conflict / parenting / intimacy / etc bad even if you never learnt?
The answer is hidden in the ‘should’ that appears in the answer, “Because I should know!”
When I have explored this with clients, one of the most common themes is that of familiarity – or lack thereof.
There is a fallacy in thinking that because we have been exposed to something, we should therefore know it.
You can be involved in all sorts of experiences, but if the large majority of the times you are involved in them, you are being exposed to a negative, damaging or ineffectual way of engaging, what makes you think you would have therefore acquired the skills to do it well?
Be honest and magnanimous with yourself when you measure your expectations.
You would not dream of beating yourself up for not speaking my language, it’s ok to give yourself the space to learn skills that you now need.
And there comes the second most frequent insight.
If you are on an airplane and the engines shut down, your not being a qualified pilot is not a weakness, because the pilot in the cockpit is there to take care of things.
But if you are on an airplane and the only pilot in the cockpit suddenly faints, your not being a pilot suddenly becomes a weakness.
We are often faced with the challenges for the things we are most ready to learn. Maybe the reason why you did not learn from all the previous conflictual experiences, is because your being was not open to them. The teacher was right there, staring you in the face, but you just couldn’t see it.
As Lao Tzu once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”
In conclusion, how can you therefore find a more skillful way to accept that you have so much more to learn and that it is ok to realise that you are falling short on some skills you so desperately desire?
Acquire what I call the Student Mindset.
Approach life, people and situation with a genuine sense of curiosity. Keep open to the possibility that even though you are about to enter a situation you experienced 100 times before, it is going to be different this time, and next, and next.
Accept the idea that we can only see what we are ready to see and it may have taken you 37 / 42 / 54 years to realise you don’t know how to deal with conflict, but it’s never too late to learn something new.
Thank you for reading my article.
I base all my articles on real case studies and research findings that are relevant to my work and my clients.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you would like to explore something together.