Born Good

We are born good. Have you ever really looked at a little baby? Amazing how world-wide babies tend to invoke a common reaction, a sort of “Awe!”. It could be our own goodness recognising and relating to the goodness so visible in a baby. Other beliefs call this goodness our “soul”, our “core” our “essence” our “spirit” our “true self”. So, what happens to this goodness we were born with? Or to put it another way, If I were born so good, why do I feel so bad?

It depends on so many things, too many to list here. But basically, we can look at the circumstances of your birth, was it seamless or traumatic? Was the family you were born into, stable, secure or traumatised themselves? Did you receive good care growing up? Or were you beaten, starved, neglected and abused? Maybe somewhat in between? Were your parents or carers suffering from addiction, clinical depression, acute grief or anything that gave you a message that you didn’t really matter? Were you terrified when you heard parents arguing or fighting, or one assaulting the other? Hard to believe in your own born goodness if you are not getting that message on a regular basis from your main carers or parents.

How was your family? Were you compared negatively to your brothers and sisters? And what about school? Did the teachers use shaming methods to control the class? (“John’s the only one who doesn’t know how to behave!”) Or was school your safe place? What kind of religion did you grow up with? A harsh punitive one as in we are all sinners and will burn in hell or a more compassionate one of doing good because we are good. Was your country at peace when you were born? Did you feel scared or different because you looked different, had a different religion or felt you were born into the wrong gender? Perhaps you had a sexual identity different from most people around you, or even just spoke in a different accent.

The above are only a snippet of what life can throw at us, and gives us some ideas how our life situations can become so tangled up that any sense of this goodness we were born with is smothered over and hard to reach.

So, people come for counselling because they are feeling bad. In the non-judgemental counselling space, we begin an exploration of this “feeling bad”. The counselling hour allows the person time to notice things. They might become aware of their thoughts, their emotions, their internal dialogue, (the voices that go yammer yammer in the head) their images, their memories, their body sensations, and their physical health. Further sessions might go on then to link current behaviours (drinking, drug taking, self-harm, compulsions, overeating, over-analysing, etc) as a way to manage the bad feelings.

Most counsellors accept that the body and brain are connected. One influences the other. Just think how a panic attack is felt in the body. Or how we shriek with fear at a scary movie. Because the brain is at the top of the head, some counsellors may use a “top down” approach to counselling and help you explore your thoughts, and how your mind works. Other counsellors might use a “bottom-up approach” and look at how to calm your body and regulate your nervous system first, it really depends on what best suits your needs.

Regardless of where we start, all parts of the person in front of us are welcome, and the parts within the parts also! We generally follow your lead and go to those parts you wish to explore, and then when our relationship is strong and safe, we might invite you to look at other parts you may not be so aware of or scared to look at. Fortunately, there are hundreds of counselling theories which tend to focus on specific parts or aspects of being human; Cognitive Therapy, for example, looks at how we think, whereas Somatic Therapy looks at our nervous system and how it is affected by life’s experience. A Humanistic Integrative Counsellor (Humanistic-believes we are all born good, Integrative -able to join counselling theories together) will have solid training in at least four theories and good knowledge of lots of others, so our job as counsellors is to untangle our own internal world as best we can first, so our unconditional positive regard (aka love) is felt by you. Then we use the whole of our body, our eyes, ears and gut to pick up cues from you and try to figure out which approach best suits you with these particular issues at this particular time.

The following picture is an image of what a first session may look like.

"I am a mess, I feel bad"

You are sitting there, feeling bad, really low, and not knowing where to start. You feel a “mess”. But slowly we start to unravel the green string together, until you understand some of what is making you feel bad, and the bad feelings begin to ease, and you start to feel better. It is hard to put a time frame on how long this can take. How long is that piece of string. Some people resolve some issues after one or two sessions, others realise as soon as some issues are explored, something else pops up and they like to keep going. But it takes tremendous courage to examine psychic pain and our body/brain duo has cleverly worked out ways to avoid going there. Denial being the most common, “I am fine”. Projection, “It is their fault”. Blocking “I had a wonderful childhood” and of course all addictive behaviour: It is the job of your therapist to travel WITH you on this road, go at a pace comfortable to you. Our time together usually ends when you get in touch with your own goodness!

Gerri O'Kane, Counsellor, VOICES West service.

For more information on VOICES West please click HERE.