“It is not that a person makes meaning, as much as that the activity of being a person is the activity of meaning-making. There is thus no feeling, no experience, no thought, no perception independent of a meaning-making context in which it becomes a feeling, an experience, a thought, a perception, because we are the meaning-making context.”
from The Evolving Self : Problem and Process in Human Development by by Robert Kegan
When I am listening to a client, I am listening to understand not just what happened to the client and how she feels about it but what she makes of it. What does it mean to her that this thing happened? How is it impacting her sense of self and the story of her life? On paper, lots of us have similar stories because we live out similar events (we go to high school, we get dumped by a guy, we grow up and move out, we think about getting married and so on and so on) but the meaning we make of those events can be very different. That’s why I never look at a client’s intake and think, “Oh I know what this is about!”
Often we come to counseling because the meaning we make from our stories doesn’t work for us. Bad things happen and maybe we think it’s because we are bad people and deserve to be unhappy. Or we punish ourselves because the autobiography we’re writing as we go is too rigid to contain a crisis we’re experiencing. Counseling gives us the opportunity to write a new, better, more worthy story. It can help us create a meaning that allows us to grow in understanding. Once we become cognizant of the fact that even if we aren’t be able to control what happens to us, we can control how we react, relate and integrate the event into the rest of our lives, we assume our rightful role as authors of our own lives. We can make a sense that serves us and stop being a victim of stories we never meant to tell.