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Change your reactions - not your past

If you have plucked up the courage to go to a counsellor and find yourself revisiting some painful memories from your past, you really don't need to be reminded that you can't change history. Even though it's true, it feels a bit brutal to be reminded of it.

However, in the process of counselling and trying to change yourself as a person, it is something that is likely to come up. As the client you may, quite rightly, question your counsellor as to how you can possibly improve if it's these very things in your history that are troubling you, so if they can't be changed, how can anything ever be different now.

As a counsellor, it's a question I have faced many times myself.

Imagine a person with very low confidence and self esteem. So low, in fact, that they seek counselling to try to make changes. They want to feel more confident and have a greater sense of self belief. During the process of counselling, the person talks about how, in their childhood, they were constantly criticised. Nothing they did was ever right or good enough. Any opportunity for their parents to point out a flaw or error was pounced on mercilessly. But the person telling the story explains how they believe they deserved it and that they should have tried harder or been a better child when they were growing up.

This person is accepting the blame and believes that the criticism was justified. They carry this belief through into adulthood. They now find that if their partner or boss at work merely questions something they have done they almost revert back to that child they were and react in the way they used to. They see the innocent question as a critical statement, react by assuming blame for the supposed wrong deed and internally beat themselves up for, yet again, not being good enough. This destroys their confidence and self esteem further and so the cycle continues.

Firstly, the counselling can show the client, even though it may seem obvious, that the way they were treated as a child is connected to how they are now as the adult. They were treated that way by their parents and it has created this person they are today.

So if it's those things in the past that are the reason for how they are now, knowing you can't change the past, what can you do about it now?

You can change your perception of those events in your past which will change how you react now. Through counselling you can examine how you were treated and highlight the inconsistencies or unjustified nature of how you were treated. Maybe even realise it was wrong or unfair. You could start to perceive that part of your life through a different lens.

When this happens you find that your shifting perception of what that all means can translate into different reactions when now faced with seemingly similar situations.

Think how differently those interactions with partners or bosses at work would go if your first reaction was NOT to assume it is criticism that you deserve. Perhaps it is something designed to help or support you. Maybe it is actually encouragement after all.

The best chance you have of making significant changes to how you are is to change those automatic reactions that have been caused by past treatments.

As said at the start, you cannot change what happened, but you absolutely can change how you feel about it and how you react to it.

For more information about counselling to help self esteem, confidence and anything else hindering your happiness, visit

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