A newborn baby has very limited ability to observe its own behaviour. It can examine its own body, exploring how it feels and moves. But it cannot very easily assess itself as a whole, as a unique human being.
In this sense, when we are very young, our self-awareness is partial. We might see bits of ourselves, but we cannot easily watch ourselves in an emotional or behavioural mirror.
As we grow, our close carers (often our mothers) offer us another pair of eyes. Our mother might say ‘Look at you smiling,’ or ‘Are you sad about that?’ These, and similar, comments help to build up our language of self-awareness.
If our primary caregivers offer us a distorted view of ourselves, we can grow up confused. Our parents may be selfish, and only see us in the light of themselves. They may be bad-tempered, and only offer us reflections when they are inconvenienced.
In these difficult cases, we can turn into adults who can’t really observe our own behaviour clearly. Our map of ourselves is distorted. Sometimes we may only see ourselves through the eyes of inconvenience, and spend our lives trying to avoid other people’s bad tempers.
Counselling gives us an opportunity to observe ourselves afresh. We are in the company of a professional, someone who is expert at being with clients, and allowing space for self-development.
Person-centred counselling specialises in offering a space where we are welcomed unconditionally, empathised with, and shown an example of openness and transparency. This gives us a chance to re-do our growing up in a better way.
If counselling goes well, we may find ourselves able to observe our own behaviour more clearly. Our map becomes less distorted, and we stop living in fear of being judged. Over time, we build up a more sophisticated language of self-description.
Eventually, instead of feeling bad about ourselves, and constantly anxious that someone is going to criticise us or take something away from us, we start to feel good about ourselves, and anticipate that each day has a good chance of going well.
We turn from individuals who shun self-observation, to adults who accept ourselves, and can be understanding and open with ourselves and others.