Reclaiming Self

The innocence of children
Children, relatively free of protective patterns of behaviour

When we are born into this world we are innocent (in my belief system) and unfettered by protective patterns of behaviour. As we experience life, encounter pain of varying kinds, we learn to erect protections to keep us safe. These become increasingly complex as layer upon layer of protection is established in response to all that life throws at us. Each protection requires energy from us to support and maintain, and as a consequence robs us of our life force and capacity to freely respond to life. It is often a crisis that makes us aware of how our behaviours interfere with our ability to engage with life in a meaningful way. We may experience ourselves as “too…”, an indication that our internal Critic or Judge (or external, when heard from those around us) considers us as having wandered from appropriate expression. Examples include “too volatile”, “too reserved”, “too pleasing”, “too aggressive” and any number of other judgements, singularly or in combination. These behaviours, when the judgement has some merit, have typically been developed in response to our needs being unmet and us seeking to satisfy them to the point that the behaviours become patterns that are applied without conscious thought, long past their use by date.

In becoming aware of such behaviours, perhaps through the failure of relationships, difficulties fitting in, negative feedback from multiple sources etcetera, the question then arises ‘What should I do about me?’ The process then becomes a matter of reclaiming oneself and finding ways of freeing our life force, returning to a spontaneous, creative and adaptive way of living, being better able to respond positively to the present.

In my own life this process started with a crisis of identity in my early 30s and has subsequently seen me free myself up and how I live and present myself to the world, an ongoing process. Earlier this year the surprise need for life-saving surgery plunged me into a whole new cycle of self-reclamation. The process of recovering from surgery required adapting to the loss of hearing in one ear, and developing physiological strategies to compensate for impairment in my balance processes. The physical recovery, while being a challenge, has been easier in many respects than the process of reclaiming my concept of self. In many respects it is as if the surgery sliced through significant protective mechanisms and unleashed old patterns of thought and feeling that I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and that I found particularly difficult in the first instance. Now, it is difficult seeing poor concepts of Self return, but at least they do so in an environment where I know I can process and work through them in a constructive fashion. In a sense, a very real sense, I’m back to dealing with old issues all over again. The reality however is that I am now working at a much deeper level, as if I have taken the head off and am cleaning out an infectious boil, rather than dealing with a superficial spot. While the issues are similar, feel very familiar, and are, I am better equipped to deal with this new level of emotional healing than I have been previously. The act of staying engaged with what arises within me, riding the wave as it forms rather than trying to escape it, will eventually lead to me being freer than ever before.

Some ways of engaging in the process of reclaiming Self include:

  • develop capacity to identify and observe behaviours in yourself that do not fit well relative to how you would prefer to be and what would work best in your context
  • develop love and acceptance of self that is free of needing to understand why you behave as you do and that opens you up to being able to forgive yourself unconditionally
  • define your core values, life purpose, vision and mission which will provide you with clarity about how you would prefer to live and present yourself to the world, something to aspire to
  • establish goals for moving forward into new, more productive, behaviours
  • find trusted individuals who are able to provide you with love, support, and constructive feedback
  • recognise that life is an ongoing journey and while you may have a preference for where you end up, and how you behave, perfection is out of the question and any vision you hold is a guide rather than an edict that must be obeyed at all costs
  • appreciate the fog that arises when life serves you growth opportunities, and allow that fog to water your life as rain does fertile soil

Through these approaches we can reclaim our lives, incrementally bring ourselves back to a fully free and available space to manifest our full, unfettered potential.

Freedom Through Self-Responsibility

The following are examples of behaviours that may be exhibited by someone acting irresponsibly:

  • displaying “poor me”, self-pity, blame and other behaviours that distance themselves from results they are getting in life;
  • withdrawing, being aloof, failing to disclose their true feelings and thoughts, or habitually seeking to please others and otherwise “protect” others (and themselves) from their authentic expression; and
  • seeking to control or take responsibility for others.

To act responsibly means that as a person you do own your outcomes, do express yourself with authenticity, and encourage others to do the same. I have strongly espoused taking responsibility for self. Recently, in a positive way, I gained greater insight into the life-giving value of taking responsibility for myself.

Happy couple in lasting relationship
Lasting, happy relationship

Juanita, my wife, and I hold dialogue sessions when one or other of us needs to surface and work through concerns, misunderstandings, hurts, or other potential or real barriers to our relationship. She called for a dialogue. I wondered what was concerning her, being starkly oblivious to anything I might have done. Being committed to holding a dialogue when needed does not mean they are easy, however I have found them highly beneficial.

Juanita started to share what was up for her. To my surprise, delight and relief, she was choosing to use the dialogue to express gratitude and appreciation to me. One of her particular points was that she experiences a real sense of freedom with me because I take responsibility for myself, examples including:

  • being open and clear with her about how I think and feel;
  • sharing with her any matters I am struggling with and not making the issue her problem so she is not left guessing; and
  • she feels comfortable sharing herself with me knowing I will receive her, even when she has something difficult to share, knowing I will listen to and receive what she is saying, seek to understand her concerns before responding, and that I don’t get defensive or aggressive in the process.

For Juanita, this means she can more fully be herself, explore and be what seems right and true to her being, and can risk being more fully engaged in relationship with me. If she says something that may challenge me, she feels safe knowing I will take responsibility for my internal reaction to her, that I will own my reaction without putting it on to her. In the same vein I expect her to own her responses and not dump on me because she feels hurt, misunderstood or is otherwise struggling. Juanita chose to voice gratitude, and we were both blesses as a result. As we both remain committed to being responsible for ourselves and to the other, we do open up more, engage more fully, freely and authentically with the other, and enjoy a greater sense of being seen for who we really are.

It is a great moment when the blessing of taking responsibility becomes so clear. Walking the path of responsibility can be difficult and fraught, but it is so worthwhile.

Am I a Leader or a Manager?

A leader introduces vision, change, new ideas, motivation to act, and others choose to follow them. They open and expand the system they are within and increases the flow of energy and life. Leadership requires spontaneity and creativity and is oriented towards love, the fuel for authentic power.

A manager provides containment, tidiness, ensuring the establishment of and conformance to cultural and organisational conserves through process and policy, with efficiencies arising from oft repeated and improved activities. These have the effect of closing the system, regulating the flow of energy and at best, maintaining the status quo and is oriented toward fear. Sometimes the manager may utilise shame, criticism and micromanage your every thought and action. There is never a good reason for that excessive and inappropriate control, and those behaviours are thoroughly fear-based.

In business, both have their place. It is important to know which is needed in a given situation and to not confuse the two. For example, a major cost cutting, people culling process is largely a management action, though successfully bringing the organisation through and out of such an endeavour requires sound leadership.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948)

The orientation toward love or fear can also be used to assess whether the outcomes achieved were the result of leadership or management, or something else. For example, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) inspired a nation and expanded the system the Indian nation was under, ultimately bringing freedom through “nonviolence” from British rule. Mother Teresa (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997) created change in the world one person at a time.

Adolf Hitler is an interesting one. Was he a leader or something else? Certainly he had an amazing capacity to motivate and move the populous and create change. He had a great ability to put actions into motion and marshal people to create the outcomes he sought. Was it leadership or the actions of a strategic manager. Certainly much of his personal motivation and style involved fear, and he built his Third Reich on the people afraid of an alternative.

Similar principles apply to how you work with yourself. Your internal manager tends to work from a place of fear and directedness, and as a result you may find yourself anxious and experiencing contraction, holding on to what is familiar. Your leader within works from a place of love and trust, is open and spontaneous, and you are then able to remain available to opportunities and retain the capacity to create something positive and new. The manager works more in a reactive fashion; the leader with a greater vision of your long-term future. Both do have their place. Have you learned how to balance the two?

Do I Matter?

Diving into darkness
Willing to dive deep

I know I have asked myself the question ‘Do I matter?’ from time to time. I know of other’s who also find themselves struggling with that question. At such times it seems common to look outside for evidence, and when we actively look it seems that often the world conspires to assert that we indeed don’t matter. Hmm! What to do?

The best person, and only person capable of truly affirming your value, is you. Other people may help, may provide support, may be there at times to lift you when down, but no one other than you is always with you. The challenge is finding the truth of your value within yourself when all your learned behaviours and protective patterns support your fear that you do not matter. And when you do negatively judge yourself that is when you seem to draw negativity towards you like a massive, unrelenting magnet. Even more important then, it is crucial that you are able to connect with yourself, with your needs, and dive below the seaweed of fear and muddiness of hurt to the place of unencumbered beauty and light that does exist deep within you. First you must step into the apparent darkness to find it.

What do you identify with as defining your value? Do you refer to external feedback and measures such as popularity, praise from others, financial or other success, possessions, rivalry with and one-upmanship of others? Do you have access to your own inner voice that speaks to you of your value irrespective of the feedback from the outside world? Can you weather the buffeting of an unwelcoming or critical world that rips you down rather than builds you up? When the world does turn on you, how do you find your worth then? How do you remain connected with or reconnect with your worth and that you matter in those dark moments?

One key thing at such times is to truly love and accept yourself as you are. If you have hit a dark patch you may well be working really hard to do the right thing. You may find that lots of energy and activity is undertaken in an effort to save yourself from the abyss you secretly fear will swallow you? You may be using distraction and procrastination to avoid engaging with your fear of your circumstances. You may know you must work hard and then get annoyed as you get distracted by petty diversions you know do not help. You may work really hard to help others at your own expense (because there are things you need to be doing for yourself) so that even if you perish you know you’re a worthy being. Whatever your pattern, however you manifest your inability to apply yourself as effectively and productively as you know you should, love yourself for who you are. Accept yourself as you are. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Show true compassion to yourself. Open your heart to your own inner self, and drop any expectation of any particular performance. Reconnect with yourself, and recognise should, must and other such directive words are from your critic. They lack love, and will not support you as a person who is currently hurting. Own up to your pain, to the emptiness within, and pour the light of your own love into your soul. If you do have a friend who can support you in that moment all the better, but there is not greater gift that you can offer yourself than to love yourself in that moment when you do not feel worthy of it. Then you get to start learning how much you matter to yourself, and actually begin to demonstrate that it is true, attend to yourself and your needs in a gentle and authentic manner.

Master the Inner Critic When it Matters Most

Inner Critic
Inner Critic

Anyone can be positive on a good day, but how do you regain a positive sense of self when you are suffering doubt or have a rampant internal critic, and you need to authentically front up with confidence and belief in self? Perhaps you’ve had a bad performance review, lost your job, messed up in some way, or some other trigger has magnified your inner critical voice that suggests you’re inadequate. Maybe you don’t need external circumstances to trigger negativity and self-doubt. What can be done at such a time to reclaim a positive sense of self?

Some approaches that can help at such times include:

  • Own your [negative] state of mind, that you are beating yourself up, that it is not helpful, and that you are the one who needs to make that different. Awareness, acceptance and self-responsibility are important.
  • Acknowledge that there is a purpose to the negativity. The critic is attempting to keep you safe from further pain, whether based on fear of failure, rejection, disappointment or some other potential hurt. Thank the critic for its efforts to keep you safe, and gently request the protection to cease. Retraining the critic in a loving manner is an important, long-term activity.
  • Take some time to connect with your value as an individual. It helps to have done some work on this prior to a negative state, but it is not essential that you have. Identify and name positive qualities that replace the messages from the critic. Invite people you trust to contribute if you cannot find much to work with. The process asserts your value against the voice of negativity. Each positive quality you identify and claim creates more space for your positive sense of self, asserting your position on this planet as worthwhile, and edges out the critic (for a while at least).
  • Maybe you have done something that did not work as desired or was plainly wrong. Love, accept and forgive yourself. There is no need to understand what you did or why to move into a positive place, though some form of rectification may be necessary at some point to truly move beyond it.
  • Before a negativity outbreak, identify and write a genuine statement of personal purpose that is truly inspiring. When feeling negative recall and connect with the purpose, a way of pulling yourself out of the ditch. I have personal dream, life purpose and contract statements that I recall when I need to return to my centre. I have used them many times over the years.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you find it helpful. In the future I will write more about each point, or you can buy my book and get a fuller concept quickly.

Reminded To Live and Love

relationship bridge building
Rebuilding a connection with another person

A dear friend of mine, Christina, died this week and as I went to her funeral yesterday with my partner several thoughts were foremost in my mind, aside from the loss of her from this mortal sphere. One was a deep reminder of the importance of living in the moment and making the most of what life has to offer, particularly my connection with others.

Avoidance happens all too often when we have conflict or have experienced hurt with others. While not addressed, there is wasted energy that goes towards maintaining the protections we erect against being hurt again, particularly by those we have cared about. Not only do we lose capacity to connect with the other person but we also deny or disown to some extent that part of us that actually cares about and loves that person. We deny that part of us because we don’t want to open our heart and be hurt again. We may even condemn that part for being stupid enough to  expose us to hurt. Have you ever loved someone deeply and had your heart broken?

I have learned there is amazing value in reclaiming that part of me that has loved another by healing through the hurt and opening my heart in love to them again. Then I can fully love and reclaim the part of me that loved them. This does not require that person to be in my life though that can help. There are a number of people who I love deeply that I don’t expect to ever connect with again. However I am freer as a person as a result of the healing process. I have reclaimed those loving parts of me, and don’t have to waste energy protecting myself in those areas.

I have had some fabulous experiences where I have enjoyed the fruits of engaging with my healing process related to someone and then, out of the blue, having them reconnect with me. One such experience was reuniting with my father who I had not had contact with for 40 years, and for much of that time had not known or cared whether he was alive or dead. When I did meet him, having already healed the past as much as possible, I was better able to deal with whatever arose in real time. Healing relationships with those we have loved is more about reclaiming ourselves than any specific outcome with the other person. Whatever we do, they may not wish to reconnect. In doing our work we become freer and better able to live life fully.

I Don’t Want To!

I Don't Want To!
You can’t make me! I don’t want to!

A factor that often influences our ability to achieve goals is the voice from within, perhaps accompanied by a stamping foot of a temper tantrum, “I don’t want to.” Why not? You know you need to, and perhaps want to, reduce weight, give up smoking, be more sociable, or whatever else it happens to be. Yet some voice within you resists. And when you attempt to carry out the goal other forms of resistance occur – procrastination, lapsing back into and bingeing on what you’re wanting to give up, or a strong voice in the head saying “You can’t do that. You’re useless” (or other such messaging). All manner of pressure may arise from within to stop you succeeding.

I have found that when this happens to me the part of me that does not want to do the “thing” is a three or four year old child within me. That is how it is functioning. And the messaging is what I heard from my nearest and dearest when I was growing up, or how I interpreted what I experienced.

Both the age of your internal voice and your nature of your messaging may be different. However many of the ingredients are likely to be similar, and so will the resolution.

With the child, become its loving parent and friend, someone it learns to trust to keep it safe, stay with and who will provide a sound environment to develop in. This includes providing the some firm, clear boundaries around what is acceptable, and some good reasons for those boundaries. Being your own parent is not easy. It takes practice and time.

With the negative messaging, you’ll need to reframe it into something positive, teach that critical part of yourself that what it is saying is neither correct nor acceptable. Be a role model to the critic, loving it as you want it to love you. That may go against years of patterning, but making that change can bring ease to your internal world.

How Do I See Myself?

New Year 2013 has arrived, and some questions worth asking are:

What do I see when I look at myself?
How do I see myself?
  • How do I see myself?
  • Am I comfortable, content, and at peace with myself?
  • Do I have a list of ‘Must Change’ or ‘Should Have Changed Already’ items?
  • Do I accept myself as I am?
  • Do I love myself unconditionally?
  • Do I hear a voice of condemnation ringing in my ears?

I recommend dropping ‘must’ and ‘should’ from your vocabulary, and use words such as ‘could’ and ‘may’. ‘Should’ and ‘Must’ carry a degree of aggression and force against yourself, compulsion to do things, and condemnation when they are not accomplished to the satisfaction of your internal critic. They arise from the Fight Survival Reaction, and is rooted in fear.

A gentler approach identifying what you ‘could’ choose to do, and ‘may’ accomplish does not remove the possible goals. It does reduce the dictator that we so often resist anyway. How many of the past goals you have said you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do have you actually achieved? No one like a bossy boots, even when it is us against ourselves. Developing a warmer, gentler, accepting and loving relationship with yourself could be a fabulous gift you offer yourself in this New Year.