Currently, I’m enrolled in a 10-month counseling training program in San Francisco called Interchange. The sessions are comprised of lectures on therapeutic theories and techniques, as well as a lot of practice as both clients and counselors. This update focuses on asking unanswerable questions and developing new resources.
What are your unanswerable questions? The ones that play on repeat, inaudibly, throughout every day of your life?
For many of us, they’ve become so embedded within our inner dialogue that we hardly recognize them anymore, as they quietly cause us to wonder: Am I enough? Am I too much? Why do I want to hide? What’s the point? How can I be happy? What does happiness even mean? When will my real life start? (Or, insert any number of your own unanswerable questions. We’ve all got one perfectly tailored to ourselves.)
On the surface, it appears that these questions could be easily answered with clever advice and/or reassurances. But, these replies don’t resolve the question, or go deep enough to understand its complexity; these questions have very deep roots.
When asked to share some of my own unanswerable questions with my group, I had decided upon these three:
Why am I so averse to doing things the normal/traditional/easy way?
Will I find a way to make a living that’s invigorating and inspiring to me?
How can I not feel totally taxed by hanging out with people?
But instead of using these questions we were then asked to simplify them into one that we’ve been asking ourselves for as long as we could remember, making the question something that we could imagine our baby self asking.
As my group mates formed simpler questions and shared them around the circle, I got a sense of what mine would be and felt confident when I was chosen to share. But, instead of getting the words out, I was ambushed by a wave of emotion that silenced all logic and had me speaking only the language of tears.
I pulled my beanie over my head and curled into as small of a ball as possible for one seated in a chair until, when the heaving tears dissipated, I shakily shared my question – the question that has persistently plagued almost every situation in my life: Do I belong?
Before this weekend’s sessions, we’d been given the homework to bring in a photo of ourselves as a baby, or from when we were small. After we had met in our smaller home groups, the purpose of having these photos on hand was made apparent. We rejoined the greater group and, in silence, milled around the room with our questions scribbled on a piece of paper that we hung around our necks. These questions were accompanied by photos of ourselves as children. Here’s mine:
Knowing that such a personal question was being made common knowledge to everyone around me, and knowing that they were seeing an image of me in my most innocent state, brought me to tears in front of each person that looked upon me. I sobbed in strangers arms and bumbled around with bleary eyes.
Right now, as I type, it’s hard for me to imagine what you must be thinking about all of this. I am self-conscious that you’re not seeing what the point of all of this emotion was, so let me address your potential curiosity:
We were asking these questions, and exposing them to ourselves and others, so that we might learn to develop new resources, or answers. In other words, we were learning why we felt the need to ask them in the first place and then determine a path to resolve them once and for all. Otherwise, these questions follow us wherever we go.
We also realized that many of the questions we were asking are attached to afrozen need —something that we wished would have happened differently for us in our past, but now requires some time for grieving and healing to find its answer. For example, for some, the question, “Am I loved?” is one that can’t seem to be sufficiently answered even when, in fact, they might receive a great deal of love in their everyday lives. The old question is still being asked even in new contexts – places where there are answers in abundance, but an ongoing inability to accept them. So then, as a counselor, one could work to address that frozen need, so that their present lives aren’t impeded by their past needs.
Uncovering my question is only the beginning of my healing, but now that I’ve located it I see how it shows up in so many areas of my life – not taking the armrest on airplanes, letting others cut in front me in line and acting like they were there first, waiting for someone else to state what options are available instead of presenting my own, etc.
Now the real work begins as even more probing questions are beginning to surface: Do I want to belong? Why do I long for individual freedom more than collective camaraderie?
It’s likely linked to a need that’s somewhere in my past, frozen in time, but still so painfully present.
Peace and good,
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