What you are about to read is my recent talk at my All Pro Toastmasters group. I hope you will also give me helpful comments that encourage me to continue to tell my story. Perhaps you will relate to the lessons I learned from my life experiences and use them for your own learning. I recently saw this phrase: ” Dear Past – thanks for your many lessons; Hello Future — I am ready”!

“You were not sure where you fit in, where you belongs in your family, with friends, in your community, in the world” 

OUCH — my stomach clenches with a jolt and I hold my breath. I look at Dr. James as he finishes this sentence and I wonder if he can see what is happening for me at that moment. I am more worried about what he thinks about me than about what is going on inside my body. My stomach clenching is familiar for me so I can breathe again.

It’s January of 1990 and at 43, I’ve had enough therapy and education about family of origin issues to know my “shame knot” has been tightened around my belief that I’m viewed by others as flawed, defective, unworthy to the core. Dr. James, a professor in my counseling psychology program, sits casually beside me in the classroom. I am finished my course work and my thesis so am ready, I hope, for “practicum” – that is, I’ll be with “live” clients with real problems — not the video version or textbook case study. This will happen only after a lifestyle assessment — questions asked of me in conversation that tells a story about my personality. We students described this as our “stamp of approval” that validated we are sane, competent, and stable to meet the task at hand.

Oh, shucks, I’ve been found out! I wans not sure where I fit in, where I belongs in my family, with friends, in my community, and in the world. I had been sure though that I had covered up this defect and now it was revealed by the person who can affect my career as a counseling therapist.

Now the tears start and I can’t stop them. OH – GREAT! Now he can see I’m definitely ready for the psych ward and any moment now the medics in white coats will enter the room and take me away. The more I try to hold back the tears, the more they flow. How vulnerable and exposed I feel – as if someone has turned the classroom lights on brighter. As I take a Kleenex from the box now beside me, the following verse from the poem The Mask came to mind:

“That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated façade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope and I know it.”

True to my curious nature, I look up to see the glance, his warm smile, as he nods and slowly says: ” I understand, I know, I understand.” His look, his voice, his assuring way feel so good and I am relieved. In the current swords of the psychiatrist, Dan Siegel – I “feel felt”. It’s as if a supportive, encouraging and spirited energy has linked us. I feel connected, I belong, I have a place.

I did do my practicum and have since “glanced” intently with care upon people who I know, like me, have had to create their masks for protection, for a sense of safety and security. Into the darkness behind the mask I shine a light and educate, from the Latin “educare”, that is, I draw out, lead people to the understanding that to have a place, to belong is a prime human need.

As a young person, I was ashamed that I did not fit in, belong in the world. No wonder I began then and continue now my interest in what is not of this physical world — the metaphysical, the transcendent, the spiritual. My conversation with Dr. James in my early midlife encouraged me to the possibility that I was not so flawed. As I get older I remove more masks, let the tears flow, and find the understanding glances that help me feel felt, connected.

I invite you to ask yourself the following: “How, where, with what and with whom do I belong, do I feel felt — understood, accepted, and encouraged?

With this reflection, worthiness replaces shame, light welcomes vulnerability and spirit can be the energy source for belonging.