Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Recovering The Sense of Self

Recovering The Sense of Self
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

Editor's Note: Amy is in the process of writing a book about recovering from eating disorders. Occasionally we have printed excerpts from it. This is the beginning of a chapter about finding the sense of Self. You may want to read some previous excerpts on our website.

"Over the weekend, I went to an office party with my new boyfriend. It was the first time that he was introducing me to his friends and boss. He seemed really nervous and kept going into other rooms, just leaving me sitting there all alone. The critic in my head kept screaming at me, 'You're so fat that he can't stand to be seen with you! You are such a loser that he's embarrassed to be with you.' I could hear it but something different happened this time. Deep inside I felt something, not a voice but just a sense of knowing that the critic was wrong. I felt OK. I knew that he was just nervous and it wasn't because of me."Ann

Describing the Self is like trying to describe a beautiful color. It is difficult to put into words. But like recognizing the beautiful color once you've seen it, when you recover your sense of Self, it will feel familiar. Amanda described it well, "It's like trying to remember a song you've heard only once. But if you hear it again you remember it. And if you hear it again and again, over time you can sing it to yourself whenever you want."

The familiarity is because you were born with a sense of Self, and you were very expressive of your Self from age two or three on. Now, your Self is there hidden away below the surface; it may be covered in layers of defenses and "old trash", but it's there. Remember the analogy from chapter 2 about the President of the US being hidden away if the country were in attack? For whatever reason, in your personal history, it was not safe for you to be in your Self and your Self was hidden away for safekeeping. For some of you it was a constant gradual daily wearing away of your Self. For others it may have felt more like an explosion! 

Some of you remember feeling good about yourself until puberty, and others say they felt bad before they even entered preschool. It doesn't really matter how or when it happened, the effect was the same.

Speaking of puberty, there have been a number of studies and books written about the dramatic change and loss of self-esteem when girls reach early adolescence. As Mary Pipher writes in her book, Reviving Ophelia: "Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves. The crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle." Many of my clients have talked about Junior High School as being the most painful time of their life, like Rachel,"In third or fourth grade, I felt really confident, I liked myself a lot. I was comfortable in my body. I remember having eating contests. Who could eat the most? And standing up on the table and winning the eating contest. And it wasn't a binge! Oh no! I would eat and just forgot about it. I lost her in Junior High School. I wonder where is that person? Where did she go?"

I know what you are thinking, "Yeah, right. Everyone else who reads this book has a Self hidden away, but not me. I'm defective, I'm hopeless." That is just a Bully talking. As you will learn in the next chapter, the Bully is just trying to protect you from being disappointed. For years the parts have organized around a system based on the lack of Self and they are suspicious of any change to this system. They will try to protect the system because they don't trust that the Self will really stay and be there for them. Like the members of an orchestra whose conductor has been absent for a long time, it would take time for them to be assured that she will not leave again. Some of the parts may actually feel relieved that the Self is coming back, but other parts may feel threatened. They may actively try to sabotage this work we are trying to accomplish. (This is another reason to be working with a therapist.)

One of the problems that people encounter when trying to find their sense of Self is that the Self is physically subtle and verbally very quiet - and the parts are physically intense and verbally LOUD! The Self is easily out-shouted by the chattering and clamoring of the parts. As we all know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease - we give our attention to the parts who are the loudest. Often times also, because one or more of the parts are LOUD and very outspoken, they are the ones who you may identify with as being your "self". Because this false-self does not have the qualities of the Self, the mistaken thought of allowing this part to take over and be in charge, may be horrifying.

Sometimes people confuse what I mean by the sense of Self. They think of it as being "in control" or an optimistic cheerleader quality of confidence. While feeling in control and being confident are qualities of your Self, the Self is deeper than that. It is a deep-seated feeling of inner strength and wisdom within. When you are in your Self, you know that no matter what happens you can handle it, you have all the resources you need within you. And from this strength and knowledge, you calmly feel in control and confident.

Almost without exception, when someone doesn't have a sense of Self, they describe an inner emptiness that is very frightening. There is a deep profound sense that something is missing! The emptiness is where your Self is supposed to be. For example if I want to plant a rose bush I have to dig a hole. The hole is where the rose bush will be, the potential for the rose bush. But until the rose bush is planted, it's just a hole. The hole, the emptiness inside us, is the potential where you will experience the Self again. It was there, but now it's concealed and we're going to bring it out of hiding and put it back. One of the best side effects of recovering your sense of Self, is that the inner emptiness disappears! It gets filled, just as the hole disappeared as soon as you put the rose bush into it.

Our goal is to live our life in a state that Dr. Schwartz calls Self Leadership. It would be almost impossible to live our life in our Self perfectly all of the time. When life throws us a zinger, and it will, not because we are weak or defective - but because we are humans living in a human world - a part may react and need help. The Self will compassionately notice, and take the time to attend to her needs. This may mean pulling resources from other parts or from other people who can be trusted. The parts and Self can then return to its healthy new system.

Once you know what it feels like to be in your Self, you will be able to consciously "breathe into" that feeling again and again. It will not come naturally at first. Like learning a new language, at first it will feel foreign, but the more you use it the more comfortable and familiar it will feel. With practice you can become completely fluent. I encourage my clients to practice every day, perhaps starting with a morning ritual that includes intentionally getting in touch with their sense of Self.

1 comment:

  1. I'm 66 and just discovering the Self. This should give me a leg up in my next incarnation... though I'm in no hurry. Thanks for your wisdom.... mmc