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.

The Sinner

The Sinner has rarely heard a kind word said about her yet she can see the merest hint of goodness in others. She is truly unhappy and lonely, but she puts on an air of carelessness. She knows that to feel truly happy she must cast aside her cares and her shame. She must love herself like she would want others to love her and she must stop longing for fulfillment at the hands of Mr. Right. She’s never met him and she’s never going to.

She would love to take care of someone like a mother does. She is warm and forgiving. She is playful and sensuous. She tells you that you are lov-able and you must only choose companions who will appreciate you for your goodness and who will love you back. You must do it when it is good, not just when it feels good.

Control greed and addictions; avoid splurging on lavish meals. Cook and provide for yourself. Develop friendships instead of anonymous encounters. Work on self-esteem and self discipline. Comfort and care for yourself con-sistently rather than with luxuries. Attend to your health and fitness as part of your routine. Set realistic goals but forgive yourself when you don’t meet them as long as you resolve to try again. Reward yourself once you have achieved a goal. Remind yourself that you deserve to be happy, this will be a new feeling for you.

Alice – The Prisoner

“Alice has been misled and trapped by people who were unaware of a world outside their own. She suffers from cruelty, intolerance and ignorance. She feels overwhelmed, exhausted, isolated, lonely and most of all, confused. This is her curse,” said the Moon.

“That is so unfair!” said Aurora.

“It is more than unfair,” said the Moon, “it is a denial of her identity. She desperately needs validation. If you continue your exploration of the life of The Prisoner you will discover that whenever she comes down from the attic to join the others she manages to start an argument, which leaves her confused and full of regret. While Wonderland has many fascinating creatures, Alice can’t seem to get close to any of them for very long before they scurry away leaving her with nothing more than an enigmatic clue. She would love to meet the person who holds the key to her prison, the one who can unlock the door and release her from her punishment. However she is beginning to doubt that such a person exists in this world. Alice was too young and too badly mistreated to take control of her situation entirely. She tended to self-pity and moping.”

So Aurora asked the Moon, “If Alice cannot find a person with the key to unlock her prison how will she ever escape it?”

“She is surrounded by the bars of her prison, but she can see through them. She knows that she can’t change the world she inherited but she can try to escape it.  Her wisdom and innocence protect her and sustain her. She never loses sight of this, her touchstone. This is the golden nugget that you must not fail to pick up.”

“Alice’s gifts are kindness, patience with fools, intelligence, trustworthiness, clarity, wonder and curiosity. She is also generous. Curiously, in order to release herself she must give her gifts away! To escape the prison of the upside-down world of Wonderland she has to share her gifts with her captors and fellow prisoners, as much as she dislikes them. Then she will be able to make the bars of her prison dissolve before her eyes. Her captors won’t even realise that she has been freed since all their attention will be focused on the gifts she has shared with them. This will not be easy. She risks being shamed and banished all over again, so, to protect herself, she must hold onto the touch-stone of her innocence.”

Aurora thought about this. “Are you saying that I am the one who has the key to the prison? Am I the one who can release Alice?”

“Yes,” the Moon replied.