How my life has changed since I’ve learned to say: ‘I’

‘I’ has always been a part of me, inhabiting my mind, following me around, yet making me uneasy. ‘I’ wanted out, but was locked up in ‘one’ and ‘you’ and making me ask: ‘Who is this ‘one’, this ‘you’, taking the place of ‘I’?’

However, since I’ve learned to say ‘I’, my life has changed. I’ve come into my own. I own what I say and I am responsible for my words. I cannot speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself and it does wonders for my self-esteem.

I don’t care if others think I am ‘self-centred’, ‘ego-driven’ or ‘narcissistic’, because I know that I have stopped running away from that magical space inside me where I feel genuinely at home.

I’ve been running away for a long time even searched the Himalayas believing I’d find it there but in vain, I wasn’t t there. I listened to my false ‘I’s and put on their faces living in their amorphous lives.

Then something happened. It was in my first counselling class. I used the words ‘you’ and ‘one’ when I meant ‘I’. People turned round and asked: ‘Who is talking?’ Or: ‘Who is ‘you’?’ Or: ‘Who is ‘one’?’

I pointed at myself and said: ‘I am talking.’ They replied: ‘Why don’t you say ‘I’ if you mean ‘I’?’ They weren’t being facetious. It took me some time to get rid of my ersatz ‘I’s. It felt as if I suddenly had a new spine in my back.

With this experience came many insights. Authentic ‘I experience’ is the precondition for integrity and congruence, from which empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard may take their rise. (1)

Often the first step for clients is to connect with their ‘I’ so they can say: ‘If I feel pain, I get worried,’ rather than: ‘If people feel pain, they get worried, don’t they.’ Or: ‘If you feel pain, you get worried, don’t you.’

I realised that the ‘one’ and ‘you’ forms are actually a kind of displacement, in the sense that they make the speaker avoid being open and vulnerable within the frame of their own ‘I experience’.

I’ve been doing just that, running away from my own genuine ‘I’ and I wasn’t aware of it. As a result, everything around me felt random and rendered me powerless, so much so I felt adrift in my own life.

The ‘I-avoidance’ tactics I’ve been talking about here are general labels for much deeper issues. It was in my first counselling class where I realised ‘one’ and ‘you’ were just the tip of the iceberg.

How could I go deeper? I began to write things down. It started as a record of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Keeping a diary was mandatory on my counselling course. But it wasn’t enough for me.

I discovered journaling and took to it like a duck to water. I created Max, my ‘third person’ double. It was like turning the game the other way round, putting my face on another person. That was okay. I was in charge. (2)

Max became my alter ego, I saw myself in him like in a mirror. Over time, I saw patterns emerge from the deep, crystallised structures of the mind reflected in my thinking, suppressing my feelings and dictating my actions. Poor Max!

Yes, I felt empathy for Max. He was a real person, with my face on. It dawned on me that in my giving empathy to Max I was actually receiving him. I had never known that the two belong together.

In my counselling sessions I observed that this approach had a reciprocal effect on how my clients interacted with me. It was as if in receiving me they were giving themselves to me, trusting and allowing.

‘Healing is meaningless until it is shared,’ says Haven Trevino in ‘The Tao of Healing’. Sharing, where giving and receiving, receiving and giving blend together, is like a concentrated essence for healing the soul.

Paul Celan says it even more powerfully: ‘I am most I when I am you.’ Is that perhaps the ideal ‘I-Thou’ relationship between counsellor and client where Roger’s three core conditions fulfil their purest purpose? (3)

(1) Carl Roger’s three core conditions
(2) See Running Away – A Therapeutic Journal in:
(3) Buber M (2000) I AND THOU Scribner Classics