This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story recounts how a young woman defeats her poisonous parrot and rediscovers her self-confidence.
Sonia is a bubbly, cheerful, positive 20-something woman with an active social life and lots of friends.
Or she was.
During the pandemic, she regularly joined social Zoom meetings and connected digitally with as many friends as she could. She was working from home, living on her own and feeling OK.
Then friends started to comment on a change in her. “You don’t seem your normal self.” “Are you OK? You’re not as upbeat as normal.”
Sonia realised that she wasn’t OK, something was out of kilter. So, she came to counselling, not sure what the problem was but knowing she needed help.
We began counselling over the telephone. Sonia described how something had shifted and she wasn’t herself any more. She felt guilty for not being positive. She was losing motivation for work, for her home, for herself… it just wasn’t like her to feel down, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
We talked about what being positive means to Sonia, and it became clear that much of her self-worth was attached to being happy all the time. If she was negative, people wouldn’t want to spend time with her, so she worked hard at putting on a positive front. Even though, inside, she felt miserable.
She began to recognise that she was being bombarded by negative thoughts about how she felt. She was annoyed with herself for feeling low. What would happen when we came out of lockdown and could see people again? No one would want to be with her if she felt like this.
And those thoughts were spiralling, becoming more and more toxic, more and more unforgiving of herself eroding her confidence and self-esteem.
We agreed that we needed to explore these thoughts and emotions together and unpick what was happening for Sonia.
In our next session, we started by talking about all of these ideas and emotions. Which ones did she feel were acceptable, and which were unacceptable? What feelings did she reject?
We began to reframe those feelings she rejected and look at them a different way.
With anger, for instance, we framed it as a tool that gives drive and focus. It’s how you behave as a result of that anger that brings a reaction in others.
We recognised that she beat herself up about feeling sad. But we reframed sadness as her mind telling her it needed something. What did she need when she was sad? How could she be kinder to herself?
Growing in confidence
As we continued counselling, Sonia quickly noticed the impact reframing her emotions had on her. She found that when she accepted her sadness, it didn’t last as long as it did when she rejected the emotion.
A key moment for Sonia came soon after, as we considered what made her reject those feelings. As a child, Sonia was never allowed to show she was cross, or express herself negatively. She wasn’t allowed to say if she was frightened, upset or angry.
Showing emotions was considered a weakness in her family.
But Sonia found that talking about her emotions actually built resilience in her, not weakness.
With this growth in confidence, Sonia decided to switch to Zoom counselling. It was simpler than she thought, with just a link to click on. She found being in the same ‘room’, seeing one another’s reactions, helped her have courage to open up in a new way.
The Poisonous Parrot
A turning point in counselling for Sonia was discovering her poisonous parrot.
A poisonous parrot is a way of describing the negative feedback we give ourselves. This “parrot” is taught, by us and those around us, to say horrible things to us all day – it is an internalised bully. It is a hollow echo of a long-forgotten lie about who we are.
The problem is this parrot is hidden in our subconscious; we have to discover it, and pull it into our conscious mind before we can deal with it.
When Sonia identified the poisonous parrot in her mind, she became able to tackle the negative thoughts. She learnt to look at each negative thought, and challenge it. She would ask her parrot “where’s your evidence?”.
So when her parrot said “You’re not very good,” she could respond “I am, I did all these good things today. I am a good person.”
Each time she challenged the negative thoughts, she reduced the parrot’s power. She became increasingly adept at spotting the bullying thoughts of her parrot and meeting them head-on.
As we came to the end of our counselling together, Sonia had grown significantly in her understanding of herself. Her self-esteem and self-confidence were coming back.
One particular response to her poisonous parrot had wonderful side effects for Sonia’s friends. When her parrot told her one evening “no-one wants to talk to you”, she decided to pick up the phone and ring someone. It turned out that the person she rang was having similar feelings.
Sonia’s bravery and increasing resilience led to the creation of a support group amongst her friends. Once a week, they spoke to one another and were as real as possible about their poisonous parrots.
Sonia’s advice to you today is reach out to people. Even if you feel trapped, make connections. You are not on your own – plenty of people feel as you do.
Take the time, with the help of others, to notice your poisonous parrot. When you pull it out of your subconscious, you can challenge it and change it.
This story was told by Debbie, a Relate counsellor specialising in mental health.
Many of us face mental health challenges through this extended period of lockdown, whether we live on our own or with others, but we don’t have to wait for the pandemic to be over to tackle these difficulties. Like Sonia, you can strengthen your mental health and build your confidence right now. Get in touch with our support team to arrange counselling today. You can read more about the poisonous parrot on Get Self Help’s website (adapted from “The Malevolent Parrot” by Kristina Ivings).