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“I’d always been told that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.  I guess I took this to heart and probably took it too far.  I’ve always tried to hide my feelings from others.  I’ve got so good at it that most of my family and friends think I’m happy-go-lucky and that nothing gets me down.  If only they knew! I’ve got so much frustration and hurt bubbling away inside me but I’ve taught myself to conceal it.”

One aspect of counselling that many people find particularly beneficial is having a safe, confidential space where they can open up and give expression to their innermost thoughts and feelings. At first, this can feel unusual or even risky. After all, like the person at the start of this article, many of us have grown accustomed to suppressing our painful, challenging thoughts and feelings.

In time, we begin to use the therapeutic space as a place to experiment, to reach out to those thoughts and feelings that had hitherto felt untouchable. We learn that whilst they might be uncomfortable, they aren’t dangerous to us. With each session that passes, we grow more and more familiar with the very thing that we have spent so much time avoiding. We learn to explore the issue and our underlying beliefs that might have led to us suppressing it in the first place. We discover ways in which we can address the issue and develop strategies to make them part of our day to day lives.

Most importantly, counselling can enable us to find safe, constructive ways of expressing ourselves. This doesn’t just mean the ways in which we communicate to other people, self-expression also includes the ways in which we are in touch with and responsive to the flow of different thoughts and feelings that we all experience on a day-to-day basis. Our emotions are not static things. They are as changeable as the weather. We can be calm one moment, frantic the next. Despondent one day and ecstatic the day after. When we give ourselves permission to articulate and give voice to all these emotions, not just the ‘nice’ ones, we become free from the practice of concealing a vital part of ourselves from other people. 

In Ancient Greece, the entrance to the Temple of the Apollo at Delphi was inscribed with the words: “Know Thyself”. I believe that this simple instruction is a fine piece of wisdom that we often ignore. When we know ourselves, we are in touch with all aspects of our personality, including the parts that we might not be so fond of. Being able to take a step back and look at ourselves objectively, a “warts and all” appraisal of the self, is a challenging but ultimately enlightening experience.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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