A new neighbour moved into a unit a couple of doors from my office a few weeks ago, specialising in aesthetics. A team of clinical-looking staff dressed in white coats soon appeared, and so did a steady stream of clients. I suspect that behind its pristine doors, staff would be labouring over every pore, wrinkle and blemish that dared present itself.
“The aesthetics industry is where the money is,” one doctor told me. Struggling General Practitioners are leaving the Panadol-and-cough syrup trade for the Botox-and-creams business, and it is understandable given that this is where the money is. One estimate of the 2015 trade in cosmetics and toiletries in Singapore puts its worth at US$400 million (about S$572 million).
This obsession we have about image and appearances is present in many areas. At work, one needs to not only be hardworking but also – and perhaps more so – be seen as working hard. It’s all about looking the part; it’s all about the image.
As I was mulling over this, I realised that image is also important in counselling. I am referring not to the counsellor appearing intelligent and professional (although I am sure this helps), but to the client’s self-image. What they think of themselves, rightly or wrongly, affects the way they feel about themselves and how they relate to others.
This became evident with a client who was having trouble managing his anger. He got angry frequently and was easily irritable. After some sessions, we realised that his anger was based on fear. To compound matters, he felt very unhappy with what he perceived as his wife’s lack of understanding and support, making him feel even more alone and vulnerable.
One source of his feelings of insecurity was his belief that he was not good enough. He had grown up in a family of five siblings and felt the least favoured. Although now a man in his mid-forties and with a successful professional career, he constantly struggled with his insecurity and low self-esteem.
In another situation, a client took some pains to tell me of how he went out of his way to be kind to cleaners and security guards in his office. He then apologised for bringing up what he described as something so trivial. When I questioned him on why he bothered to show such kindness, he said after some thought: “Because I am a nice guy.” Now he was not making a flippant statement but a considered one, given that he battles with violent emotions and behaviour. Yet in spite of all his aggression and hateful actions, he was able to acknowledge that there was some goodness in him.
Rather than his story being off-tangent, it was crucial to his recovery. We become better not only because we desire to be so, but also because we believe we can. This belief is grounded on examples of past success and acts of kindness. For people of faith, recovery and rehabilitation comes when we have the hope that we can recover the image of God embedded in each of us.
When we reach our full potential, be it in the humanist expression to “self-actualise” or in the Christian tradition to be more Christ-like, I believe we will be truly beautiful, both inside and out. Only then will we be able to replace our worry and frown lines with a more peaceful demeanour, and replace fractious relationships with being in harmony with others. Only then will our beauty and self-esteem transcend age and human frailties.
Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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