What to Do When You Don’t Know
“I don’t know.” I’ve had no fewer than three clients today say this to me. It’s such a privilege to be with them in this sacred space at the edge of their awareness and understanding.
“Hold on,” you say. “‘I don’t know’? What does that mean? Don’t know what?”
That’s a great question, because chances are, you’ve experienced a moment in your life when you’ve tried to make changes and haven’t quite known how to get there. There are a few different ways to think about what to do when you don’t know, especially when it comes to counseling. Let’s dive in.
Counseling Can Help with What You Don’t Know How to Do Alone
Clients say “I don’t know” to me all the time. It means, of course, different things to everyone. They may be wrestling with a feeling that they’re unfamiliar with. They may be struggling with how to be in a relationship in different ways. They may be wondering how to get through their next urge to use, drink, or act out.
They’re looking for help from me with what they don’t know how to do themselves. In a sense, we’re working on changing their relationship with a spouse or loved one, on overcoming an addiction, or working through their anger. They don’t know how to make the changes that they want on their own, and they need help. That’s why I love being a therapist.
Sometimes, people need help learning skills that can be taught fairly quickly. A good example is teaching a couple about more effective ways of communicating their needs and feelings.
But teaching people how to do things they don’t know how to do isn’t enough. For me, counseling is all about experiencing emotional transformation. Healing happens as the darker, forgotten parts of ourselves are called into the light, accepted, and become a part of who we are.
How does this happen?
When You Don’t Know or Understand How You Feel
We all have feelings and thoughts that we know about. These thoughts and feelings comprise our conscious minds. But did you know that the overwhelming majority—about 90 to 95%—of our actions are influenced and even determined by our unconscious minds? Crazy, huh?
That’s why it’s so important to be curious, to be genuinely interested, in your thoughts and feelings in the presence of someone that you can feel safe with to look inside yourself. It’s hard work to make the unconscious conscious.
But when you encounter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you don’t fully understand or know about, and you can talk about it with someone that can help you feel understood, you feel it.
That is, when someone really “gets” you, and you know it, change happens.
When someone really “gets” you, and you know it, change happens.
That’s why when we’re at the “edge” of someone’s understanding or self-awareness, when someone says “I don’t know” to me, I try to help us find a way to be in that space together.
Sometimes it’s painful. The edge of our experience is where darker memories, once-banished feelings and unbearable thoughts can live. But for us to become whole again, we need someone to be with us who can help us to bear the unbearable.
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