Early on in a counseling program, you’re taught about the concept of “counter-transference”. In my own words, it happens when a client exhibits an emotion or behavior that elicits a response from you because it triggers your own realizations that you’re dealing with something similar. You might react negatively because of your own guilt or anger towards yourself. You might react over-sympathetically, working above and beyond to help the individual because you feel like you can give this person the help you didn’t get or still need. No one is immune; we all have our buttons that, when hit just right, can trigger a response we didn’t expect, don’t want, or may not be able to control.
I chose the metaphor of “kryptonite” intentionally. Our buttons aren’t weaknesses in themselves. Rather, they are triggers that can lead to a vulnerability or weakening in our usual self-controls. We’re implored to “know our stuff” so that we can prepare for how we will deal with these situations. However, no matter how prepared we might be, the best of us can still be caught off guard. A student’s story of a struggle can evoke tears. Seeing someone exhibit behaviors we dislike in ourselves might lead us to be short or over-critical of them. Our kryptonite moments can come and go before we even realize it, leaving us to lament and wish that we had handled the situation better.
I’ve known for quite a while that my kryptonite is confidence. I have always struggled with my own level of self-confidence, and sometimes seeing others triggers my counter-transference. While age and experience have muted my more destructive responses, I still have moments I’m not necessarily proud of. Where I have faced the most difficulty is in my own reticence to be confident when necessary. My supervisor, who is extremely intuitive, called me out on this early. During our first year-end review, one of the goals he gave me for the following year was that I needed “sell myself” more. I was too comfortable allowing others to take full credit and to slip into the background. Most people just think it’s humility, but he knew it was more about discomfort. I was usually able to pass this off, since generally it only impacted me. But I was now a supervisor, and my actions or inactions had an impact on my entire area. Realizing I had to be an advocate for my entire area has helped a bit.
My lack of confidence, and my reacting to those who exhibit it is probably rooted in a number of things, far too in depth to recount here. But I can think of times where it has impacted my own professional practice. In my previous position, one of my primary responsibilities was the advisement of our fraternities and sororities. I can say now that I was ineffective in my work with the fraternities, keeping them at arms length on a regular basis. Part of it (generalization alert) is that in my mind males are more conditioned to be comfortable with bravado, that we’re usually taught early on to puff out our chests and exude confidence. I carried that assumption chip on my shoulder and tried to avoid it as much as I could. Almost all of our leaders in that community were women, and I did not make the attempts I should have to cultivate the male leadership to compensate. Unfortunately, this reflection came after the fact, but it is something I carry with me as an important lesson.
This kryptonite is something I still struggle with at time. In all likelihood, the vulnerability I carry with this will always be there in some form, it’s my response to it that I can control. I still have moments of weakness, moments I react negatively to someone else’s display of confidence and it’s a moment too late before I realize the issue isn’t with them but with me. Social media has also added another element to this, as it becomes that much easier exude both confidence and lack of it. I was recently telling someone about a webinar I was scheduled to do but that had to be rescheduled because of a lack of registrations. Her response to this was “you were doing a webinar?” She wouldn’t have known…no one would have. And I should have told people I was doing it. Kryptonite struck again. I haven’t found the solution to this one yet…as so many areas, this is a part of my Life in Progress..
So what’s your kryptonite? Do you know your “stuff”?