As a counsellor, I’m always fascinated by the choice of words that people use when describing the process of change that is taking place for them. Fascinated, because any new variation I hear enriches my experience of working with people. I’ve always been intensely interested in what motivates people and in learning about the complex human psyche. One thing I’ve grown to appreciate is the availability of language in connecting one’s experience with one’s self-awareness.
In my work, I find that people don’t always have fluency in the emotional language. Nowadays, largely due to the rise in popularity of self-help books, audio tapes, seminars and TV programmes, people are more exposed to emotion-speak.
But when it comes to speaking about one’s own emotions, people still tend to struggle. In fact, the process of struggling to find the right words is very much a part of the therapeutic process. There is, of course, a danger of labelling one’s experience with a general concept that has little to do with what one is actually experiencing, but a skilled therapist would be able to pick up on an inauthentic expression and explore with the client what they are actually experiencing. A skilled therapist listens emotionally and intuitively to what is being expressed by a client – so a lack of emotional connection on the part of the client would seldom go unnoticed.
This week, I’ve heard a client who’d been struggling with connecting to his feelings use the word “strange” to describe how he was feeling. I was interested because it told me that the client had now shifted into change.
Strange isn’t bad – it simply signifies a change taking place. To change, you need to be out of your comfort zone, and that can feel very strange indeed. You’re in new territory, after all. Anything new that you do will take you to a place of feeling strange for a while until you familiarise with your new environment and make some sense out of it.
Strange is good. A child exploring a world of magical fantasy would find that world strange. It implies a level of acceptance of the reality of that world and a certain belief in something positive about it. The strangeness is in the unsure footing the child has in a world that promises great things. The way of the curious child is the way we adults should approach change – with a certain expectancy for our eyes to be opened to something wildly new and exciting.
We tend to view change as uncomfortable, and that we’re stuck in it. It’s worth reminding ourselves that what is, no matter how painful it seems right now, can transition into something more comfortable, if we keep moving along with the fundamental energy that is ever-changing. A shift in your outlook about being in the realm of change can transition you quicker into the new phase where you can now enjoy the change that has taken place.
Being in the realm of change – the place of discomfort, of strangeness – is a powerful phase where creativity is ripe to express itself in any direction. Paradoxically, the more you relax into the strangeness, the more control you have over the outcome of change. When you’re relaxed, you stop fighting the process of change and allow a new truth to be revealed to you. This new truth will enlighten your next move and clarify your actions from here on.
Some days, I wake up feeling strange, and I don’t have many words beyond that to describe how I am feeling. I don’t like it or dislike it, I just know that I’m on the verge of a new experience. It’s like wearing a thin nylon sock on one foot and a woolly sock on the other – something will happen to correct that misalignment and it may involve pushing everything else into misalignment as well. I sometimes use the word “weird” but I will stick to “strange” from now on. I like strange. Strange is good.