Do You Want to be Self-Actualized?

By Tracy Locke

Self-actualization is a scary prospect. Would you actually want that?

If I were to try and control my clients, it would mean I have an agenda, an idea of the way I wanted them to go. I’ll let you into a secret. I do want them all to get better, to feel happy and to get the most out of life but that’s the only agenda I have. The way my clients achieve that is up to them and I’m fully aware that many won’t achieve it and indeed, don’t want to.

Some clients I’ve noticed over the years find comfort in their known misery and anxiety. It is familiar, so feels safe. To get well, feels dangerous, as if to turn against that known misery, would be disloyal to it. It’s as if in some ways, people feel protected by it.

With sadness too, particularly when that sadness is caused by bereavement, it can feel disloyal to the memory of the lost person to be free of the pain. The pain illustrates how much that person loved the lost person.

So to try and free someone from those particular emotional cells, can feel like doing some people a disservice. So as counsellors we have to accept where people are in their healing journey. To be aware of our desire to fix but also aware that in fixing a person in the way we might want to, could strip that person of something very important to them.

And it’s when I’m thinking about that, that I think about Jesus asking the paraplegic at the pool at Bethesda if he wanted to be well, whether this is what Jesus was aware of. (John 2: 5–9) Maybe the man’s identity was tied up in being there to catch the blessing offered by the waters, maybe there was a community feeling to being there that meant he felt belonging to a disabled family, which he may lose if he were healed.

I think about this story, because not only am I a counsellor /Psychotherapist, but I am a paraplegic. My paralysis was caused by spina bifida and therefore it is a condition I have had from birth. If Jesus appeared now, would I want to be healed? The answer is more complex than a simple yes or no.

I’ve had stage 4 bladder cancer too, which has added to my physical difficulties, but would I swap it for a life completely healed? Physically yes I would. Life is more difficult and now in my 51st year of life, it’s more painful. Who likes pain?…OK I know some of you do, let’s not go there. I don’t and I’d get rid of it in a heartbeat if I could.

However, my disability and my cancer have made me who I am. They have given me emotional strength; they have given me a particular type of lens on the world and they have given me empathy and compassion for others. And for me, that’s the bit I wouldn’t swap out for healing, because to me, that is healing.

In recent years the counselling world has realized that empathy is not as useful as compassion in therapy. Empathy is walking in the shoes of another, maybe even getting down in the hole with someone, but sometimes if you do that, you can’t get yourself or the other person out. Compassion gives you a spacious view of a person’s predicament which enables you to hold that person emotionally and help them find their own way out. It is empowering.

And if you can encourage self-compassion in a client, then a client can have a more healing and healthy mindset. You wouldn’t trust a person who was judgmental with your pain and if you were judgmental of yourself, you wouldn’t trust yourself. That’s what leads to addiction, anxiety and depression. It’s disconnection with the self.

So people like Gabor Mate who have developed approaches like Compassionate Inquiry are now very popular. People are beginning to see that helping a person befriend themselves is the beginning of healing.

To believe that the God of the Universe loves you, well that’s a few stages on from that may be. We are good at loving others, but not “as we love ourselves” because more often than not we don’t love ourselves. We carry younger versions of ourselves around, who we judge for getting into trouble or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Friends do not control. They hope for the best for their friend. They support a friend to a better way of life that is chosen by their friend, not them.

The Good Samaritan (Luke 12: 25-37) supported the injured person, put him up in an Inn and paid for his care. He was quite hands-off really and certainly didn’t determine the nature or the outcome of the healing. If he’d said how the chap should heal, what he should believe and what he’d done wrong in getting beaten up, the man would perhaps have switched off and checked out of life and given up.

Being uncontrolling in your love and in your life in general, frees people to be the people they were born to be. Happy, healthy and loving. I guess you might say “self-actualizing.”

So much is said in churches about the importance of telling people where they went wrong. That we are responsible for a person if they’ve made mistakes and we don’t tell them how they’ve gone wrong, to “correct” them. However, I’d say the important thing is to be uncontrolling, which is linked to being non-judgmental. We are told in the Bible many times, not to judge, yet churches are notorious for it.

I was an Adventist and left when my children came out as LGBT. I was told I was being controlled by the devil because I didn’t kick my son out. (My son was 14 when he came out). Would my son have learned love sleeping rough in the UK at 14 or has he learned love from a mother who has loved him and his sibling enough to leave the church behind, because to me uncontrolling love is the answer to just about every question?

Jesus wept. With us, not as judgement. Yes he flipped tables but that was against a system, not an individual. Its right to be angry, when systems are not compassionate. It’s right to metaphorically flip tables. Nothing would change to make the world better if we didn’t, but individuals are better off loved without judgement or control.

It’s the way counsellors all over the globe change lives every day and it’s how God reaches souls every day too. The question is, are we open to that healing/self-actualizing?

Tracy Locke was born with spina bifida in 1970. She qualified as a teacher with an honors degree in Education in 1993 and as a Psychotherapist in 2000. She taught from her wheelchair for 7 years, taught Counselling to adults and now works in the Staff Psychological Wellbeing Service for Hywel Dda Health Board as a Psychotherapist. She lives with her husband and two children who are both neuro divergent and their two dogs in West Wales, UK.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Love Does Not Control: Therapists, Psychologists, and Counselors Explore Uncontrolling Love