By Kelly Wright
Counselors get fired. Sometimes it’s subtle, like when a client doesn’t reschedule, and you never hear from them again. Sometimes it’s not so subtle – a face-to-face, “this isn’t helping me” or even more personally, “you’re not helping me” kind of conversation.
Getting fired, no matter what job you are in, is a shot to the ego. It triggers shame messages that quietly lie in wait, but once triggered, begins to shout, “There’s something wrong with you!”
When a client didn’t reschedule or come back, my unhealthy assumption was that it was about me.
Logically, I understood that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea (is that still a phrase?). Not everyone was going to feel a rapport to work with me. But my heart, that was another story. I felt the very big feeling of rejection.
Those eighteen inches between heart and head can seem like miles.
My heart would say these shame-filled messages:
I’m not a good counselor.
I don’t know what I’m doing.
I’m causing more harm than good.
The emotions I felt, with the primary one being rejection, weren’t right or wrong, but they had to be processed.
Rejection is an incredibly painful emotion. If my heart had been in charge of my life, I probably would have quit within the first two months of being a counselor. Rejection immediately triggers the shame response. And when that switch gets flipped, it can take us down into a dark hole.
Not only do we get triggered by these shame messages, but negativity bias locks in on the negative and dwells there.
Have you noticed that? There may be lots of things going well, but then there is that one thing that’s negative and that’s all you can think about.
As a counselor, for every one client that fired me, there was at least two who didn’t (probably more, but I’m shooting on the low end 😊). It was so much easier to focus on the one than the two.
And because none of us want to feel shame or think negatively about self, we look for ways out.
Quitting because I was fired felt like a way to protect myself from rejection.
Isn’t it eye-opening to see how powerful both emotions and negativity bias are in our lives? Although we may not realize it consciously, both emotions and negativity bias are at the root of many of our decisions.
When I focused on the negative self-talk, quitting seemed like the only way to get relief and protect myself from future pain. But no matter what profession I would have gone into, negative self-talk would have followed me.
Thankfully, there is a way through the darkness, but it takes conscious effort and utilizing this emotional workout.
Answering these three questions is how I fought (and still fight) the feelings and negatives I encounter:
- What am I feeling?
When I got fired, I felt rejected, confused, hurt, frustrated. As I dug a bit deeper into what I was feeling, I also felt vulnerable and shame. I have recognized these two underlying emotions are triggers that fuel negative self-talk and unhealthy and unhelpful responses or actions.
- What am I saying about myself to myself?
When the feelings got triggered, I needed to focus on what specifically I was saying to myself about myself? This is where thoughts like I’m not a good counselor, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m causing more harm than good, come in. It is critical here to really identify what those messages are and to name them. Instead of naming them to dwell on them, we name them to catch and release them.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. So much of what we are saying to self about self is untrue, unkind, and unhelpful (Thanks, Jon Acuff!)
- What is true, kind, and helpful?
Even though our brains are attracted to the negative, we can refocus on what is true, kind, and helpful.
Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Focusing on what is true, kind, and helpful doesn’t mean we are out of touch with reality or live life with our heads stuck in the ground. Instead, once we answer the first two questions, we replace the feelings and the false things we are saying to self, with whatever is true, noble, right.
Whereas my initial feelings would be shame, vulnerability, and rejection and my initial thoughts would be “I’m not a good counselor and I need to quit,” what was true, kind, and helpful were these statements:
Just because someone didn’t reschedule, doesn’t mean I am a horrible counselor.
I can only do my part and can’t work harder than the client.
I can’t be both a people pleaser and a good counselor.
We all get fired. Maybe from a job, maybe from a relationship. How we process those experiences make a huge difference in either moving forward or getting stuck. If you are finding yourself stuck in a present or past situation, I encourage you to answer the three questions and make a conscious effort to work through your feelings and not let your feelings dictate what you do.