The poet Shaky Shergill confronts his vulnerability as he rises to the new challenge of becoming a counsellor.
As a trainee counsellor who will soon be seeing clients I’m always on the lookout for tools or theories which I believe will help me support clients who may feel that they are stuck. After having seen one of my tutors using them I recently bought a set of archetype cards to include in my toolbox. As is my way and I think that a lot of other trainees do the same thing I decided to try them out on myself.
Shuffling the deck of cards I expected to draw one, look at it, read the message on it, have some kind of recognition and move on. So imagine my surprise when the archetype card that I pulled at random from the pack was that of ‘the damsel’. As I saw it and read what it represented, the line that read ‘always beautiful, vulnerable and in need of rescue’ struck a nerve. There was a part of me which felt anger at that line. The rest I could discount as not relevant to me, but the words ‘vulnerable and in need of rescue’ grated against something within me.
Over the years I’ve learned to not turn away from those feelings of discomfort and once again I decided to look at the card and the lesson it had for me. What was it about the card, that particular sentence and what it represented that had raised my ire? It wasn’t the ‘beautiful’ bit as I could accept that there are times when I am beautiful in a variety of ways.
It was the ‘vulnerable and in need of rescue’. The more I thought about it the more I realised that it was true, digging deeper I could see that part of what I felt was the indignation that stemmed from the messages I had about being a man; as a man I didn’t need rescuing, as a man I should be able to look after myself, as a man I shouldn’t need or want to feel vulnerable.
The more I looked at the card the more I realised that in so many ways society had done its job very well. I had bought into the belief system that as a man I should be ‘big and tough’ and not need anyone else. However I also began to realise that alongside that big and tough man there was also a little boy who at times did feel vulnerable and wanted rescuing. Sometimes the world can feel like a scary place regardless of how big or tough you or others think you are.
As I sat with those feelings I became aware of the emotions of sadness and anger for both the little boy and the big man (both equally vulnerable) who had wanted to be rescued and how he had stepped back into the shadows by isolating himself or frozen in place ‘waiting for it to all be over’. I realised how over the years that took me from a boy to a man I had slowly frozen into place the image of a strong and confident man. Someone who always had to be ‘on’ as a protector and guardian. I wondered if one of the people I’d been protecting had been the vulnerable part of my self who I believed wouldn’t be accepted by a world that thinks men should be a certain way.
As a father my thoughts then turned to my son, what would I tell him about this experience, what could I share about how as he grew others would see and judge him on his outer appearance or more specifically his size and gender and have certain beliefs about him. Would those beliefs include that it is OK for him to be vulnerable and if not want rescuing then at the least want to be supported as he walked difficult parts of his path. Also, what is my role in my son learning to express and accept his own and others’ vulnerabilities? Is it enough that I tell him it’s OK to be sad? Is it enough that I can acknowledge the times I’m feeling sad, lonely or vulnerable and if not be able to deal with them then show that I am at least trying to accept those feelings rather than hide or suppress them?
Before beginning this article I discussed the card and what it meant to me with a friend who then thought it might mean something else and perhaps it does, but I think that’s for another article.
See other articles from Shaky on insideMAN: