One of the very interesting observation I’ve made over the years in working with clients, was how often I could relate to their issues. Especially when I first started to practice, I seemed to attract people who had similar issues to mine and that always puzzled me. Call it coincidence or universal law, I started to take it seriously when a few of my colleagues reported similar events.
I believe actually that we are on a life path, and we all have our nemesis, a few recurrent themes in our lives that we have to conquer. And perhaps somehow, when we work as a therapist or a coach, our clients are part of that path, they are here to remind us to continue to work on ourselves.
As a result, I’ve always told my students when training them in becoming Person-Centred NLP therapists and hypnotherapists, to work on their issues first, as they will also certainly attract clients that will resonate with them: what I call “mirrors”. And for some reasons, it is especially true with issues that we are reluctant to address! As if we were consistently reminded to look at ourselves first before helping others. A little bit like when you’re on a plane, they tell you to put on the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting it on others.
It is therefore important to work on ourselves first when we want to become a coach and/or a therapist, to make sure our deep core issues don’t get triggered in the middle of a session. I had a friend who hadn’t worked through their sexual abuse, and once with a client also presenting that issue, they had a very strong emotional reaction and had to stop the session :-/
It doesn’t mean at all that we have to resolve all our issues before working with clients – nor that we’ll ever resolve all of them – but at least we work on them and continue to grow and develop.
And it is also important to do that step in order to be congruent with our work. In other words, congruence means being authentic and having integrity. If you are a smoker but treat people to stop smoking, despite not having done it yourself, you are absolutely not congruent. And the chances are that the client will pick up on it unconsciously, which is likely to undermine their beliefs that it’s possible to quit and their trust in you. Not a good start, is it?!
For many years I thought of people being “mirrors” in that way. However recently I also discovered that people can be mirrors in a different way. In a more covert way. You may know that quote by Cynthia Occelli “When people undermine your dreams, predict your doom or criticize you, remember they’re telling you their story, not yours“. It’s one of my favourite quote.
What I find interesting is the idea that when we criticise someone, or even respond negatively to their behaviours or words, it means we have stepped into our stories: that a button has been pushed within us, an insecurity, or perhaps a wound. And this is another kind of mirror: Instead of criticising them, or attacking them or even get defensive, what would you learn about yourself if you wondered what is being triggered in you that makes you feel this way? What button has been pushed?
I believe this is a very effective way to learn to know yourself, to develop your self-awareness but also to improve your communication with others: as whilst you engage in that introspection, you also allow the other person to fully express themselves without being castigated, which is bound to encourage understanding and respect. A win-win situation!