Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Returning to work after what has felt like a long weekend has knocked the wind out of me. Tiredness and depression were making me ponder what exactly it is that imprisons the mind from being what I would term happy and free.

A few incidents occured throughout the past week that led to me considering my own attitude towards different things.

My wife had involved me in fixing a computer for the son of one of her work colleagues. Although I was happy to do this it took far longer to complete because of his request that I save his documents, music and movies. In itself this wouldn't have been a problem for me, but, my wife had told me that I couldn't ask for anything more than wine or chocolates as payment - she wouldn't like to be seen as mercenary or making profit from someone she has to work with. I too don't like people thinking ill of me but I don't like being unnecessarily put out for the benefit of someone else I took umbridge against my wife's suggestion. This feeling grew worse of the evening as it became apparant that it was going to take twenty hours and not two. In the meantime I was reduced to watching television as the computer ran its backup, which, when I am in a proactive mood, makes me feel overtly irritable.

I spent the entire evening "fuming" about the waste to my time, the fact I don't drink wine, and that I didn't want chocolate. As it was, the backup was redundant since I could solve the system error without losing any of the data. The amount of time I personally put into the computer became just over an hour and in the end I wouldn't accept payment of any kind for it.

I understand that this had come about because of one very simple thing. In my hurry to accept the job and show the owner that I was both friendly and helpful I had disempowered myself and failed to agree any terms. I do feel that if I can help someone and save them time, money or hassle then I am happy to do it, but I must introduce boundaries. It was the lack of boundaries that made me feel powerless and subsequently irritable and angry. I can avoid this in the future by ensuring those boundaries exist, but that ignores the fact that I have those feelings and when a situation occurs I revert to type. I understand enough that the key is to let go of the concerns that I cannot change, though I am yet to discover the key to truly making this work.

My mum went into hospital on friday and over the weekend whilst she was there, I was upset and worried. This worry began to turn into anger. After my brother's year long suspension and subsequent firing for what was termed as gross miscondunct, my family, having endured that year with him, through conspiracy and misshandling by his and my employer, had been consistently stressed.

My father's health has deteriorated and he now suffers from low blood pressure, lack of energy and in stressful situations: memory loss. My brother has spent the year doing nothing constructive, is constantly depressed and has no morale or inclination to get another job - having been sacked for gross misconduct even the temping agencies are reluctant. Mum has been just as stressed, though none of us thought she would be the one to go to hospital.

In a martyr-like fashion I had something else to blame on my employer, another bit of evidence that what they had done to my family was unforgiveable. Looking back now it is almost as if I wanted it to be true that this was a direct result of the way they had treated us, as if I need someone to focus my blame on, something else to add to our list of damages when we go to industrial tribunal. My brother takes some of that blame also; his stupidity to do something I had told him not to, his lack of taking part in going through the facts and developing our side of the case because of the way he takes himself to his room to sulk in his depression, his lack of drive and his failure to see that if he took responsibility for his own life, even had we had to go through his suspension, it would have been far less stressful.

How, then, would I feel if this had nothing to do with stress? Who would I have to blame then for my mum's illness? Would I honestly twist the outcome so that I could place the blame where I wanted it to go? I think I might, regardless of what the doctors might say. Deep down I'd have my culprits.

Finally, two separate occasions were drawn to my attention in which I had come across as blunt and almost rude. The first, in a packed fish and chip shop, I had placed my order and waited for sometime as the fish was cooked. As the assistants sorted out the backlog of customers one asked me whether I had ordered what she was presently holding up, to which I responded: no.

The second occasion related to my repairing of the computer. I telephoned the owner, explained I had completed the job and wanted to drop it off that morning because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't at my house longer than necessary.

Both times, I was told that I had been stern and direct in my approach, offering no apology or chance for the recipient of my statement to acknowledge, let alone agree. My reasons had been in the interest of preserving time and ensuring I couldn't fall over my words or make a fool of myself in front of people I didn't know, through some misunderstanding or other - had my abruptness been pointed out at the time I would have become embarrassed and then angry because of it.

At this point it would be only a guess that I need to be more aware of my self in public situations, take a deep breath and be prepared for misunderstandings. I need to overcome that sense of being an actor who's forgotten his lines on stage.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The attitude within the group had changed this week and I don't think I had picked up on it straight away - but then, I rarely do. I had noticed that I was being possibly a little too relaxed for one; over familiairity perhaps. Joking around with people is one of my natural states, a feeling I'm most comfortable with. When one of the group made a stand against being categorised by her colour, race and origin -- the question had simply been in the interest of gathering statistical data for analysis by the awards body with whom we would be registerd -- I burst into laughing.

Almost immediately I realised that the outburst had been inappropriate. In my exuberance I had misread the situation, thinking that the 'offended' member had been joking, or at the very least didn't like such questions, would eventually answer it, but just wanted to make her beliefs known. I was wrong, and quickly shut up. Whether I personally agree with the view that no one should be pigeonholed in such away, is irrelevant. Whether or not a class on counselling skills in which 85% of the class answered: White British (or other), and in which there are no minority groups, is the right forum for such a soapbox moment is another thing.

The tension that hadn't been present but one minute earlier, was palpable, uncomfortable and stretched beyond the length of time it should have rightfully taken. I made light of it for those around me, mock scraping my nails across the top of the table in a prolonged fashion until the moment had passed.

As class continued I did take note that the 'offended' student remained silent, often looking at her own work rather than either the teacher of others around her. Had I contributed to this reaction from her, with my initial outburst? Had my making light of her beliefs stayed on her mind? How would I feel if I had made a stand, rightly or wrongly, on something I felt strongly about and someone else had laughed at me?

In Week 2, we had been advised after the exercise on group dynamics that we should try to do something in a group that we otherwise wouldn't do; try to give a different response, play a different role. I decided that I would confront the 'offendee' and apologise. This is something that I have rarely done in my life. Normally I would move on, having made a joke or random comment about someone, or their beliefs. I would be aware of a strain in the relationship for a time after that, but it would be time who would play the healing role and not me.

What would I be worried about? Would she not talk to me, because I had made her feel inferior, or would she withdraw from the group as a whole? Our group agreement from the beginning of term was in my mind. I had to at least make some apology.

I apologised and explained what and why I had reacted in the way I had done during the break and recieved positive feedback - crisis averted. Little had I realised that many others had felt very strongly about why the 'offendee' should have simply answered the question because of how much such information assists educational establishments and equal opportunities and the such like. Shying back from the heated discussion I did wonder whether I should have said anything at all. Certainly, until the involvement of a third person, the stubborness in the two debaters could have escalated.

As the group returned to the classroom I held back with the third person. She explained that the 'offendee' had been on her ten week course and had been difficult then. She told me that she had made the conscious decision this time to make the 'offendee' the subject of her unconditional positive regard. I agreed, having considered as much myself.

Moving onto triad role-playing, when it came to be my turn to play the 'helper' role, I was perhaps a little too driven in my open-questioning to drive the conversation to a specific point rather than dwelling upon the feelings being felt by the 'helpee'. This was a person with learning difficulties coming to a counseller to discuss how they have feelings towards another person but can't tell them these feelings. In the scenario, the 'helpee' was very focused upon how other people at their care home bullied them and made them feel inadequate. In my mind I was trying to find ways of making them focus solely on good feelings with an interest to give them something positive to think about, though it became apparant that this wasn't going to be the case and the conversation turned down a dark corridor, from which I didn't think I'd be able to pull it back.

It was suggested that I should have tried putting more empathy into what I was doing, engage the 'helpee' with paraphrasing and ask them questions such as: 'When you are feeling like this, which one do you feel more: lonely, sad, angry?' In a way my attempts to focus on positive things wouldn't help the 'helpee' deal with their problems, and until I realised that I would never be able to help them face their own feelings.

I'm finding this position of a counseller/helper to be slightly frustrating at the moment in that everything that I am is screaming to point out problems, errors and new directions or choices for people. I can't understand why so many people delude themselves, build up unnecessary walls or just don't see that they already have the power to make a change. I wonder why people aren't more proactive in their own lives, their own development. I don't consider that these feelings will be a barrier to learning as I am prone to being wrong and am used to forming new beliefs based upon my learning.

However, what I do consider to be a possible problem was that new feeling that whelmed the group quite noticeable, even in the aftermath of the incident with the 'objector'. We were now being told that the course focus was shifting slightly - unsettling? We weren't supposed to refer to the roleplaying or examples as Counseller and client anymore. Instead we were to use the titles helper and helpee. This was a little bamboozling if not slightly disconcerting. I didn't feel as strongly as some of the others, but I instantly didn't like the idea of this change.

Not only did it confuse the roleplay - since a counseller and a helper are two slightly different things and although using the same core skills, may call upon completely different skills and ultimately play a completely different role (in my mind at least). The other members of my group, all I believe had taken part in a ten week counseller-related course at some point over the last year, voiced their concerns about how they felt the course had lost its focus already, how they were repeating a lot of what they had done on the ten week course, and more importantly to them (I felt) this change on definition.

Having spoken briefly to most of the people on the course I understand that they are pursuing a new direction or building up their skills with the interest of counselling, in some form or another. To have it explained to them that the course they are doing is not a path to counselling is quite a blow to morale. Coupled with many having gleaned these skills already, what are they doing covering them again? What else can they learn from this? Was there a more direct course they could have undertaken?

I couldn't share these worries, though I felt their tension and anxiety over it. It led me to speak this question in front of everyone - normally it would not be me making this clarification. Was it just this one thing or was it a combination of things that led to this subtle, group-wide dissension?

What does the course mean to me? I joined knowing the title: 'Counselling Skills', and the content: being that of learning and using counselling skills. I know that this one year-long course will not put me in any position to become a counseller. I will need lots more work in order to get there. So why was I sharing the anxiety of the others? I must admit that now I am not. I realise that the course will assist in putting me towards a counseller's goal. I can only hope that the others come to realise this also.

Perhaps it is not this that is the worry. The ambiguity over this new development, this standardising of counseller to helper, client to helpee is confusing, but is it purely to do with the awards body making that distinction? Does it really matter to us? Clearly, I feel I should. Either this is a course in which we are learning to use counselling skills, in which case we will be doing this in the scenarios of a counseller and therefore be intent to pursue job development to that end, or we are not.

It was highlighted to me in a conversation regarding these difficulties that every group goes through three stages: forming, storming and norming. Presently, it would appear that we are going through our storming stage and as such will soon progress onto the more level field of norming, but how long will the storming stage last and will everyone still be present at the end of it?

Referring back then to three occasions over the past week in which I have been desperately aware of the need for counselling skills, I must ask myself: can I sit out the frustration of a counseller's position or do I want to be more hands on with the advice?

I had a quick skim through one of the counselling books I had procured from the library over the weekend, and thought back to these separate events. I had previously thought, at the time of each occasion, that any use of the brief amount of counselling skills I had learnt in my first three weeks would make me come across as distant, cold and possibly just a little manipulative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I feel even more settled into the group now. Week three, and the temperament has allowed humour to creep in and for people, including myself, to feel happy about speaking up; either in response to questions or to mention that we had a problem, didn't understand, or weren't listening and has missed what had been said. Regarding the drifting off into distraction, I was more aware of it this week: I have a visual mind that seems to activate at the merest hint of something in class that sparks a memory. This takes me off topic spectacularly fast so that I am usually three further thoughts down the line before I rein myself back in. It was good therefore, to be able to discuss this with the group in the feedback session and empowered me, at least once, to let everyone know that I had become distracted and missed some vital information. Regardless of this acceptance by everyone I am mindful that I must at least play a part in maintaining some semblance of selfcontrol and willpower so as to avoid these distractions and ultimately not annoy everyone.

Upon arrival this week I had a choice of where to sit. The people with whom I had sat last week had located themselves again at the rear of the classroom - the benefit of arriving early. They wouldn't have to sit with their heads turned for the entire lesson, they said. I could either sit with them, and be close to my agreed 'buddy', be with a group who I had socialised with previously, save my own neck from being turned to one side, and be next to someone who I have noticed will withdraw from the group and people at certain times - most noticeably when given an entire room she will protect herself in the corner, regardless of whether she has people to sit with. The other option was to sit somewhere I hadn't previously sat and force people to change positions, possibly siting them with others they hadn't yet associated. The downside would be that I could annoy everyone for forcing them to move from places where they felt comfortable. I chose the former, but must remain aware that we either could become clicky, or seen to be - something I was worried of others being in the first week.

In the task on boundaries I was mostly in line with what is considered to be the right setting of boundaries. There were a few hic-cups in my own beliefs - namely those relating to boss/employee boundaries. Having worked for very extreme personalities in my present and last job I have found myself almost lacking in what could be termed as professional integrity. In my present role as IT support for libraries, I have no boundaries and no goals. My boss is so relaxed as to almost be asleep and I have a sense that my IT knowledge so outweighs his that he doesn't feel he can tell me how to do things. This is compounded by the fact that: a) he has never had to manage anyone in this role before me and often doesn't tell me whats going on, or what the problems are; b) all our projects are being put back until next year because of external influences.

In my previous job at a local school, under the same employer to whom I currently work, I was subjected to injustice, bullying and emotional browbeating, so much so that after six months of taking my problems home and making my home-life similarly miserable, like fifty other members of staff, I had only one choice and that was to move on.

The lack of goals in my present job initially worked as a healing period, but that was over two years ago. Now it has become the norm and I am reluctant to find another job in which I would have to employ some intellect. It hasn't helped that an issue with my brother's role at the school meant that his previous year was spent with him suspended and eventually sacked because of vexatious students, a corrupt headteacher and a conspiracy by councillors and department heads to remove him from the school, based upon a poorly managed investigation that as yet remains incomplete. This led to ill-health for my father and the need for me to represent my brother in letters and at hearings, which has strained my current position as employee.

The next task, relating to groups of three in which one person discusses something they feel really interested in, another listens, and a third observes, required me, rather covertly, to play the role of listener and not actually pay one iota of interest. Other people, after the task, talked about how rude they had felt, either having previously done the exercise and knowing about how upsetting it can become for the person doing the talking, or that they had caught a little of what had been said and wanted to listen, or simply that they felt extremely rude. I took to the task without any concern or worry over what I was doing, putting my all into my secret mission without any consideration towards the speaker. Using the same attitude that I have when I'm being bloody-minded was, in the end, enough to elicit the speaker's upset, and certainly by this time I was aware of how I was affecting them, but I carried on regardless.

I do feel empathic towards other people's feelings, but I have a switch inside of my mind which allows me to override that. Most noticeably this comes into play in an argument, usually about nothing, at home. Very quickly it spirals out of the argument itself and into bloody-mindedness, which becomes a barrier against me apologising or coming out of my sulk. It seems to have been in my nature since a child, but never as bad as it can be now. Since the last six months of my previous job, in early 2003, this has become something that controls me and not the other way around. Often I beomce angrier at myself than over the reason for the argument or my disinterest in the first place.

The task on paraphrasing was therefore a task in which I was aware of my responses. Having discussed the attributes of a counsellor and studied the board and the attributes that I can so quickly slip away from I found the task moderately difficult to get down. Though I know this will come with the time, I did find difficulty in getting down the facts without emotionalising it. The fact then that a few people suggested that my statement: 'Your anxiety over the illness has prevented you from accepting it.' was perhaps a little blunt, gave me some pause during the discussion. I have in the past said things to offend simply because of my intonation or choice of words.

I have recently begun reading into the nature/nurture debate and touched upon an article in the Daily Mail regarding how couples grow apart because our 'personalities undergo subtle shifts throughout our adult lives.' and aren't static as soon as one reaches adulthood. It started me thinking upon how blunt I can be now, and whether or not, over time, I will become more or less blunt. I believe it is true to nurture oneself to do anything, think in any specific way or act as thus, but would I be able to override this programming and force a positive change or would these subtle changes override me?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Week two started almost as if there had not been 7 days between lessons. The class had still maintained its open friendliness - from refectory to classroom. I made a conscious decision to move my seat - from the front of the class in week one, to the back - so that I would be next to my "buddy". This enabled me to get to know a further four people better than if I had stayed in my original seat and partook in only group exercises.

The first exercise of the evening, to pair up with an as yet unknown and write down a list of four facts about yourself, at least one of which being false, helped me get to know someone I had in the first week stereotyped. Since the exercise required us to talk to each other about the kinds of preconceptions we had of each other to discern which fact was the falsehood I gleaned not only the truth but also their humanity - any ice on my part was broken. As it was, I ignored my preconceptions and selected an item to be false purely because I felt it was unbelieveable. The two I did get right were a hollow victory.

In the discussion on groups my adopted group were very sharing, allowing each other to speak, never talking over the top of one another and being open with our feelings. All the while we were giving over a piece of ourselves to the rest of the group, a nugget of what makes up our persona. For me that includes a quietness in bigger groups, a more proactive role in smaller groups, feeling happy in either and having a position in my family that is far more equal than most of the others who felt that they have suffered from some kind of older sibling/younger sibling syndrome. We identified that bigger groups would tend towards a single person taking control, a necessity to keep the group focused: the class environment. However, some characters often take up such a position in order to be in control or to get things their own way.

Personal strengths and limitations gave me an opportunity to, in my mind, readdress a couple of my own limitations that I had touched upon in my week one reflective log. Whilst it was put forward that many people find it easy to list their limitations and often struggle with their strengths, I did not; listing almost double the amount of strengths. Though, I took the task to be more about identifying in ourselves points of awareness, reminders that we're all human, and no better than the people we intend to help; that we all have our own hang-ups. This was reinforced by the brief discussion upon Carl Rogers' Core Conditions: empathy; unconditional positive regard; congruence.

I do feel that I am going to reach a plateau at some point in this course where I will feel that my learning and the practise of counselling is tying my hands - I am proactive in everything I do, helping others by showing them first hand (watching someone struggle with something I can do quicker or better gives me an itch). It's something, like the rest of my reflection, to be aware of. I believe that as long as I acknowledge it, I will be prepared to face it and move on from it.