Who do you think you are?
When I first heard that question, it didn’t really land as an invitation to consider life’s deeper mysteries. It felt a lot more like a challenge or a threat.
Apparently, I thought I was someone who could get away with whatever sin I had just committed. But with proper doses of shaming I quickly became educated on who I was and who I wasn’t.
Once I began this process, it was relatively easy to continue even without the help of those who I had relied upon in childhood to meet my needs.
It is very natural for a child to assume that they are the cause of all that occurs. If something good happens, in their minds, they caused it. If something bad happens, they believe they caused it.
Children see themselves as the source and center of their experiences, and are at the same time extremely dependent. While a baby horse can run within moments of birth, it takes a human being weeks to crawl, and months to walk. The dependency period for human children takes years.
So, built right into our wiring, we depend on our caretakers and find ourselves feeling painfully and terrifyingly helpless and powerless without their attention and nurturing.
Powerlessness is a difficult state of being to endure for long. Fortunately, children have a built-in mechanism for overcoming this otherwise hopeless state. By assuming that they are the cause of the unbearable conditions of powerlessness, they access hope and power. If they are the cause, children need only to change themselves to find relief.
This survival strategy creates what I refer to as the Shame Self and the False Self. The Shame Self is who, as children, we decided we were that caused the terrible powerlessness. And since we wrongly concluded that we caused the undesirable conditions, we also immediately began to hide, improve, or overcome whatever we decided was wrong with us.
The urgent need to hide, improve, or overcome creates the False Self; who we try or pretend to be for the world, so no one ever finds out the “truth” about us.
This process is subtle but pervasive within the psyche of the child who hones these survival skills into adolescence and young adulthood. By the time we become adults, the hiding and overcoming has become so thoroughly integrated and habituated that many have completely lost the sense of who they really are; True Self.
What is the impact of this process?
I refer to who we really are, who we were before we decided there was something wrong with us, as our True Self. True Self has access to deep wisdom, intuition, inspiration, spirituality and so much more. Even those of us who are deeply oriented in our Shame and False Self identities have momentary access to the qualities and characteristics of True Self. Some of my best thinking happens in the shower or when I’m out on a run. I feel the deepest sense of connection and joy when holding a baby, enjoying a rousing game of backgammon, or playing my guitar.
But for many of us, our default state includes the suffering and struggling which is common to identification with the Shame and False Selves.
Here are some examples of the confusion, struggling, and suffering that these identities create.
- Addiction to substances such as cigarettes, energy drinks, alcohol, heroine or other mood and mind altering chemicals
- Addiction processes such as gambling, cleaning, pornography, or work
- Social anxiety and awkwardness
- Self harm
- Physical ailments
- Abusive language or behavior
- Absence of boundaries
This is far from a comprehensive list of symptoms caused by forgetting who we really are.
What is the solution?
The solution is to remember who you really are and to realize who you are not.
There are many processes and support resources for accomplishing this.
For example, if you have an addiction problem, start there. Find help in 12 Step programs, treatment centers, counselors, therapists, clergy, coaches, and those with successful recovery who are a little further down the path of True Self recovery.
Avoid the temptation to focus only on eliminating the symptoms and problems. Focus on what is behind them.
Some of the methods I have used to help me along my journey include The Work of Byron Katie (https://thework.com), Internal Family Systems (https://IFS-Institute.com), Landmark Education (https://www.landmarkworldwide.com) and various 12 Step Programs including AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), Alanon, CoDA (Codependents Anonymous) and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics / Dysfunctional Families).
I have my own therapist and am trained to use the Internal Family Systems therapy model in my coaching practice.
Know that it is possible to heal to the point that the automatic behaviors and consequences of a confused identity fall away. In their place, a full and rewarding life is possible as True Self emerges.
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