Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC

513.795.2562

Quest For The True Self

I’ve been reading a book called Yoga and the Quest For The True Self, by Stephen Cope, and he talks about this mad, frantic effort to maintain this persona that we’ve developed in our mind — this “False Self” — that he says is initially borne of our adaptation to our parents’ or other caregivers’ expectations when we were little, and then merged with media expectations and other feedback from people or events in our current worlds.  Anyway, we have this Sisyphian drive to preserve this “image ideal” that we think we should be — whether it’s thin, handsome, pretty, sexy, wealthy, cool, powerful, successful, brilliant, witty, etc.  The list goes on, with endless expectations of ourselves, and then life becomes a dizzying cluster of plates on sticks that we have to keep spinning!
On one hand, I think “Well, but that’s a good thing!  We need to have an inner drive, some healthy ambition, and a sense of growth, right?  I mean, aren’t we designed to grow — just like plants?  Becoming one thing, and then the next, and the next, ever-straining toward the sun?  If I didn’t have an “image ideal” for myself, I wouldn’t have a master’s degree, my job, my car, my house, or even my husband!  I’d just be living one day at a time, maybe as a deeper thinker or a more intuitive feeler, but not actively engaging with the world around me.  Many of us would be bored to tears, and probably lonely, feeling guilty and wondering how we would have turned out had we not taken some given path.
On the other hand, there’s a primitive side to our True Selves, protesting like a child, throwing temper tantrums over the tough demands we put upon it.  This could be experienced as drinking or eating too much, being unable to sleep, mind racing, self sabotaging, overt laziness, or any irresponsible, reckless behavior that rebels against the image that we’d like to be.  Because we don’t pay attention to our real, human needs, those needs bully their way through, in order to be heard.  In the book, Stephen writes about learning to relinquish the attempt to dominate the body, when he says:

 “At the core of the false self is the experience of being dominated…in the most primitive way — in our bodies.  We learn how to deny and override the cues and needs of our own organism rather than how to respond to them.  We begin to do to ourselves what was done to us.  A deep level of exhaustion often surfaces, and the obsessive attempt to override the body begins to collapse of its own weight.”

I think of the clients who have told me they are crash-dieting for the approval of their peers (despite how hungry they are), or are working 50-60 hour weeks to maintain a higher standard of living (despite how tired or unfulfilled they are), or are staying in an abusive relationship to keep up appearances (despite how lonely and afraid they are).  These all stem from virtues expected of us as children, then transplanted into our adult lives.
Be attractive
Be successful
Be quiet
Be perfect
…and don’t cry
So be a driven individual with goals, but be true to your inner nature.  At what point does the scale tip?
I remember an old Shirley MacLaine movie called “Out On A Limb” (1987), which was based on one of her books that talked about her spiritual awakening, and there was a quote in it that is forever stamped in my brain: “We are mind, body, and soul — and we have to feed all three”.  She found that if one of those three were “starving”, so to speak, the other two would find a way to let her know.  It’s in that sense that I believe we know when we’ve tipped the scale.  In the 12-step world, they use the acronym HALT as a starting place to tap into what you might be ignoring — are we Hurt, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? 
Freud called this primitive side our Id, and it might take ages to identify all the things we have ignored, suppressed, or otherwise sacrificed, at the behest of our Image Ideal.  Once we recognize and respect it (i.e. “feed” it), however, I believe we consequently nurture our True Self.   If we can find a way to be internally motivated, rather than externally motivated, we can still grow as whole people are meant to, and nurture our true selves at the same time.
Man, what would it be like if we found new messages to strive for, letting the plates fall where they may?
Be gentle
Go slower
Have compassion
Be patient

Find joy!

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