How we represent ourselves when not constrained by reality
A few years ago, I attended a workshop on online counselling workshop with online therapy and coaching pioneer, Kate Anthony at BACP’s Private Practice Conference (London, 2017).
She talked about the now well known disinhibition effect often observed with online and telephone therapy and coaching.
Because clients are in their own homes, they would often go deeper far faster than in traditional face to face therapy.
Most of my coaching practice had been online for years and years and I remembered being concerned, when starting my counselling training in 2008, that I wouldn’t be able to do face to face work as telephone work made it easier for me (at the time) to really get an understanding.
I’ve changed my tune completely and love and miss face to face work but I’m very grateful for the online and telephone options that enabled me to move countries and continue to work during a global pandemic.
While in that workshop, Kate Anthony spoke about how some therapists were using Second Life and clients and themselves created avatars and moved in this alternative reality.
I don’t work in this way but remember feeling intrigued as she spoke about the ways in which clients – and therapists – were choosing to represent themselves when not constrained by reality.
Since then of course, technology has come such a long way that many of us non-tech-geniui, non-early-adopters are able to create our own avatars.
How do you feel about your (if you have one) avatar?
When I first saw loads of the Facebook avatars popping up on my feed, I felt my heart sink.
What, on top of everything else, I was ‘supposed’ to be playing with a ridiculous new way to represent myself online?
By the time I reminded myself that it wasn’t compulsory and might be fun, I was already halfway through the creation of it.
First of all, I thought, ‘Right. I want this to be as accurate a representation of myself as possible.’
But, of course, that’s impossible.
I noticed that because it wasn’t me, I wanted it to be more obviously Not Me (just in case anyone got me and my avatar confused) (good grief) (I live with this 24/7).
So I played with the kind of curly hair I’ve always wanted.
And then, because I liked that too much, I gave myself a beard.
But then, vanity won out and I looked for what seemed like the closest options available but better. Except for clothing because there was nothing I’d choose to wear from any of the options.
And it was fun.
I enjoy seeing how other people ‘see’ themselves or which options they’ve chosen to reflect in their own avatars.
I got so carried away, I tried a bald hairstyle and almost convinced myself that I could just shave off my hair irl before remembering that the avatar wears way more makeup than me and doesn’t actually look like me.
Real inner (and outer!) transformation involves mess
With the avatars, there’s none of the messiness that real inner transformation requires.
None of that messy growing out of hair (or beard) stages. It’s like those montage makeover scenes from ’90s movies I adored as a teenager (and adult).
In my own life, most of my transformations have been incredibly painful. At certain times, the only thing that stopped me giving up was the idea of being reincarnated and having to go through what I’d got through in this lifetime again in a new lifetime.
As I trained in complementary therapies and as a psychosynthesis counsellor I became familiar with the term ‘healing crisis’. I spent much of the four years’ of therapy training (which was experiential as well as academic) feeling like I was in an emotional washing machine and if I leaped out before I completed the training, it’d potentially flood the kitchen and also not be done.
I needed to stay in there, spin cycle and all, and trust that it would all come out in the wash.
If 2020 Me had been able to help Trainee Me, I’d have put waaaaay more support in place. Still, the whole thing was transformative and ultimately positive.
Transformations are much much easier when we do the things that help ourselves. Extreme self care.
Welcoming life’s inner transformational growth spurts
Eventually, I learned how to better support myself when having an inner transformational growth spurt.
Instead of resisting so much, grounding myself as much as possible and allowing all the feelings. Giving myself as much time and space for rest and to process, knowing that change can be incredibly painful and I could still attempt to emulate those autumn trees, letting go of the leaves that were no longer needed.
Those same leaves can become fertiliser for the lighter tree’s new growth and healing.
Similarly, our painful pasts, our traumas, our limiting beliefs, self-destructive habits can be harvested to support us as we move into the future.
It’s not about shedding them and running away. We learn to integrate everything and find healing in the whole experience.
The mess is simply part of the creative process we call life
Every so often, butterfly memes do the rounds on social media.
I remember the story about the human who interfered with the butterfly attempting to emerge from the cocoon. When it was released without having built emotional and physical muscle, its wings were too weak to work.
What doesn’t kill us DOES make us stronger and, with support, we can stay or return to a wholehearted way of living rather than allowing the pain to keep us bitter.
Navigating the global transformation occurring with this pandemic
The world will never be the same again. We’ve seen what can be done when world leaders come together to keep populations as safe as possible, putting human lives ahead of economies, valuing the healthcare workers, teachers and other key workers so often taken for granted.
Yes, there are people who want to continue with unsustainable profit before people and the planet models that so obviously need to change.
But many are seeing what can emerge, even though the loss of life and health through Covid19 is devastating.
We can allow ourselves as much time as possible to grieve the loss of what was, miss loved ones, feel the pain and fear.
Avoiding toxic positivity, we can, on certain days during the corona coaster, or even for a moment at a time (or maybe you’re able to do this for more frequent periods of time) be open to what’s going on around us as if it’s all unfolding, somehow, for our highest good. We can choose to use pronoia.
If you’ve ever grown out a haircut or beard and remember that awful in between stage, remind yourself what helped with that. Hair bands? Clips? Pretending to be invisible?
What might be a good hair band or big hat equivalent in terms of the mental and emotional support you might benefit from right now?
If you’re reading this in the UK, you may be aware that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Wherever you are, what supports can you put in place to allow yourself to grow through / survive this global pandemic with as much ease as possible?