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  • samreastwood

New Year, New You?

At the start of a new year we often look back and reflect on what's passed and look forward to what we're hoping for from a new year. It can feel full of hope and promise as we set goals and intentions for the next few months ahead. One thing the last few years has taught me is that plans can go out of the window in the blink of an eye. My new years resolution to take more care of what I'm eating just went out the window with the empty packet of shortbread biscuits I've just demolished thinking about writing this post. Covid showed us all that control over our destiny is not always completely in our hands (the biscuits were in my hands and it was fate that they ended up in my belly - I'm really ok with that). What we can do though, is to practice acceptance. We can accept who we are and what our situation is right now, in this moment.

Carl Rogers - hero of person-centred therapy - said 'the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change'. He meant, I think, that by seeing yourself just as you are, in the whole, unblinded truth, you really can decide who you want to be. To continue to deny parts of ourselves that we dislike or don't understand, we are always fighting against ourselves. As an example, I was a chronic rescuer. It was a painful truth to confront. The things that I thought made me a good person like always being there for others, giving advice, being a listening ear, helping in whatever way I could, ended up making me quite a lonely person. You see, by rescuing others and helping them in their time of need I succeeded in creating this 'strong' persona - I was a person that didn't need help. I couldn't be vulnerable if I was the one holding everyone else up. I ended up feeling resentful that others seemingly 'used' my strength when they needed it but were nowhere to be seen when I needed them. The reality was that I never asked. I couldn't show them I needed help and expected them to anticipate my needs as I felt I had anticipated theirs. I couldn't be the one in need because that would break the strength that other's had leant on for so long. I wanted to get from them what I felt I had given, then got angry when it wasn't forthcoming. The other thing that was hard to admit was that always being the rescuer gave me a sense of power and entitlement. I was a good person. I was better than the people that let others down and weren't there when they were needed. I deserved goodness in return. If I didn't get it then maybe I wasn't good enough - must try harder. Always chasing my tail, trying to be the best person people knew. The rescuer in me simultaneously shored up my ego and sense of self while beating me up for never being good enough.

I had a lot of discussions with my therapist about this side of myself. I fought against the idea that I needed to be vulnerable, that I didn't always have to be the strong one, that I could ask for help when I needed. I was strong! I didn't need anybody! Other people needed me and that was the way I liked it - because I could feel somehow better than them, wiser, not as weak. Until I broke. Under the strain of trying to be something I wasn't, I fell apart. Not even with my therapist. It was in a practice session with a peer, when I was a student. We were supposed to play a character who would be the peer's 'client'. Except I accidently played myself. There was a look of realisation on his face where I - one step removed and in 'character' - told the truth about how lost and lonely I was feeling. He knew I was talking about myself and I knew it too. He was so kind. He didn't push me or ask anything intrusive. He just let me be. I didn't stop crying for a week. I had found this lost and lonely little girl crying out to be cared for. Everything I was giving to others was what I craved for myself. I accepted her. She was me. I was vulnerable and I needed help. I asked, and people came. Except that they came with boundaries, which was something I sorely lacked. I began to understand that I could be there for people without sacrificing my whole self. I was good enough - even on the days I needed to say no. That I was good enough - even when others didn't want to stay in my life. That moment of acceptance and vulnerability was the beginning of a huge shift for me. In knowing exactly who I was and accepting that as a starting point, I was able to be different, because I wasn't fighting against the truth of myself any longer.

I still struggle to ask for help sometimes and I still like to be there for the people around me, and that's ok because I now have real, genuine, mutual connections with the people I have surrounded myself with. Being vulnerable can be painful - but it's also the way we let love in. We're all perfectly imperfect, as the saying goes. So whatever your new years resolutions, even if you've resolved not to change anything at all, the starting point is to know and accept yourself where you are right now. Be curious - who knows where it'll take you?

Sam x


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