by Bernadette Healy
It is a strange phenomenon in our society that following the receipt of a piece of paper, one becomes entitled to call oneself by a professional title that only the day before, one could not. The world will regard you as a legitimate lawyer from the day you are entitled to call yourself one. However, I think for many it takes some time before this title sits comfortably with the internal psychological experience. Of course some will immediately don a persona associated with the title – perhaps a favourite character from one of the myriad legal soapies – and then set out to become that persona. If lucky, these early adopters of an off-the-legal-type-rack will quickly be given a reality check by a trusted friend before they have had a chance to cause too much damage.
For many others however, the challenge of being new to the law will include doubt about the deservedness of being called a lawyer, or the unreality of suddenly being treated as a ‘real lawyer’ when one doesn’t feel like a real lawyer on the inside. This doubt is exacerbated by internal dialogues around the theme of ‘you are a fraud’. Examples of these nasty little thoughts include: If they only knew how little I know about that subject … what if someone finds out that I didn’t really cover that section in the course… how can they be asking my opinion about … They wouldn’t have asked me to do this if they really knew ...OMG someone will find out that I don’t really know what I am doing…
The challenge is to accept this internal dialogue, rather than trying to force it away or becoming bogged down by it.
Thoughts come and go continually, irrespective of our wishes. They can be like an endless stream, but they are certainly not all useful or even necessarily factual. Thoughts are not uniformly deserving of your attention. That is, just because you think a thought, does not mean that that thought is worthy of serious consideration. It is quite liberating, I think, to remind oneself that thinking a thought does not equate to liking the thought, taking on board the thought and certainly not acting on the thought.
Taking charge of your internal dialogue firstly requires noticing it. This is a matter of practice. It is not possible, or even advisable, to be aware of our internal thought processes all the time. However, when we find ourselves experiencing discomfort in our everyday lives – as is inevitable – one of the things that we can do to help make sense of the experience is consider what kind of thought process was operating.
Once you have identified a set of unhelpful thoughts, try naming them. For example, ‘the fraud tapes’, ‘the undermining gremlins’, ‘the second-guess men’ – anything that makes sense to you. Try and be a little playful with the name, if possible, as this will have the added benefit of lightening your mood as you observe yourself noticing the repetitive unhelpful self-talk. Whenever you become aware that you are having a thought that fits with the named pattern, you then need only remind yourself that this is what is going on. Just the action of noticing that you are thinking in the way that you have previously identified and named, will help neutralise the negative impacts.