Sunday, September 19, 2010

Will The Real You Please Stand Up?

I used to want and expect someone, a counsellor, a lover, a psychiatrist, a priest to cure me. I thought they owed me the answer to my problems and had it in their power to relieve me of my pain. After all, they were professionals, for the most part, who were qualified or positioned to see my pain. It must have been clear to them that they should use their skills to perform surgery on my mental state and cut out this tumour in my soul. Why didn’t any of them do it?

I recalled that toward the end of another of many sessions in which I had been railing against my parents and their faults and failures that my counsellor told me,

“Now you need new parents, don’t you?” “Yes!” I said, happy that finally someone could see what I wanted.

“Well, you’re never going to get new parents. No-one is ever going to re-parent you.”

“What? You mean that I’ll never get over this and nobody can ever help me?”

“No. Nobody can do that for you.”

“I thought that was what love could do. I thought I just needed to find the right person. Doesn’t everybody have a chance to find their soulmate?”

“That’s not the job of a lover or a spouse. They’re not your parents. Nobody else is.”

“Now what do I do?”

“You have to parent yourself.”


“You have to become your own parent.”

“I can’t.”

I felt like I’d just driven off the road and come to a halt wedged in a ditch.

“I can’t be a parent to me or anybody else! There’s no way I’d want to be a parent. I don’t need that kind of burden. What a pain!”

“You have no choice.” He told me.

“What! Not only do I not want to parent myself, who would want me as a parent?”

“Only you can do that for yourself. You have been looking for your inner child. Why? Why else but to become his parent?”

“I can’t. That’s too hard, and besides, I don’t even know this inner child. I don’t even care enough to do all that work.”

“Nobody said it would be easy.”

I began a quest for the answer to the question “Who am I?”

If you’re like me, you have been hiding in a shell. You have been numb, invisible, silent and fearful for so long that you have stopped growing. Your personality is not yet integrated. It is barely pre-formed. It is quite likely "arrested" at one or more infantile or childish stages of development. This is not to further shame you; I mean to reveal the basis and extent of your vulnerability. Without your shell you would have literally broken down.

Inside your shell you may well host several personas. They are not mature or fully formed and exist in contention with each other. These proto-personas are your split-off selves. You have created these splits to accommodate your responses to the outside world. They each embody different needs and respond to different desires and fears. Imagine them as aspects of yourself that you may encounter in a dream. You are still asleep. Each micro-persona, each split was born of an unfulfilled need or an unresolved pain. They are dreamers. A dream is a two-sided coin that either represents a wish, a desire unfulfilled or a fear unresolved. We all have had both good and bad dreams. Psychologically dreams are neither good nor bad, but necessary; they are all the expression of the unresolved hopes and fears of our unconscious. These are our true motivations in life. To describe motivation another way, it is a form of internal tension. When we dream our brain is attempting to resolve tiny fragments of tension. This is the tension we feel when we fear something we can't avoid. This is also the tension we feel when we long for something we can't have. We are drawn upwards by our hopes and we feel ourselves pulled down by our fears. Do you sometimes feel yourself hanging by a thread?

What happens when we satisfy one of these desires? The thread goes slack and we feel the tension go away, at least for a while. The same release of tension happens when a perceived threat is removed or defeated. We feel triumphant, at ease and the chains pulling us down into the abyss fall away, at least for a little while. The name for this release is Dopamine. We are pulled up and down by the neurotransmitters in our brains that respond to, but do not cause, our hopes and fears. Our hopes and fears are created for us internally in our genetic inheritance before we are born and outside ourselves in the dozen or so years afterwards.

Abusers try to annihilate our hopes and implant fears where there should be none. Imagine what happens inside our little worlds. The motivation and reward system that enables us to grow is damaged. Each infantile and childhood phase of development is incomplete, leaving a proto-persona that remains with us for life, unfinished and undeveloped. This infant or child has infantile or childish hopes and fears that have never been resolved and so he or she contains unresolved tension, which develops into pain. Instead of developing as a whole person, we abandon our immature selves while their hopes and fears are still unresolved before they can grow into mature, fully formed personalities.  At each new stage of life we try to begin again, but as we are defeated in our developmental task we split off this unfinished persona and cover it with shame, moving on again, but each time with more “baggage”.

By the time we reach adulthood we have accumulated several split-off selves like old toys in the attic. The problem is that we have not replaced them with a fully formed adult personality because adults aren't formed overnight. It takes a lifetime of healthy infancy and childhood to form an adult.

Never at a loss for a strategy for self-defence we have created this shell around our split selves. The shell is a fake adult personality constructed to help us pass in the real world. Our real selves were never validated so we have built a fake self to earn the validation we need to get on in life.

The unfinished infantile proto-personas are all still inside the shell. What happens? They are still full of the tensions I mentioned earlier. It becomes hard to contain all of these unresolved needs and so we act out. We give expression to our infantile desires and fears. Adults in the world around us may find this amusing at first, but you can imagine some of the consequences.

One of the consequences might be to satisfy our Dopamine starvation by artificially raising the level. This leads to all sorts of addictions.

Some people live with long-term clinical depression. Others seek medication. Others embark on a life of crime or thrill seeking behaviour.

There is another way.

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