,So who are you?... Who am I?... What make us who we are?
If we are honest with ourselves how much of this question is answered with an idealised version of ourselves? With details airbrushed out, uncomfortable truths, painful experiences and emotions swept under the carpet, in no small part, to enable us to cope with everyday life; a safety cloak if you will. I, and I believe many others have experienced these parts of ourselves in this way, under our cloaks, living in the shadow, lurking, ready for when our defenses drop, at which point the cloak slides back and it is almost as though an interrogation lamp has been blindingly shone onto all those things that we are ashamed of, angry about, vulnerable about. That many of us have felt scared that somebody might see those things, see us stripped bare, shivering and scared.
I guess a question might be, 'but why does a person feel this way about themselves?' For me it was my own past. We all have a past and we are shaped by the things that happen to us, the words that were said to us, the conditions that were placed upon us eventually leading us to place conditions upon ourselves. We edit ourselves for reasons such as denial, safety and issues of acceptance. We create messages that we may feed ourselves, such as, 'if I can be good at this thing, then maybe people will appreciate me, that there will be less possibility that someone will respond negatively, meaning less likelihood of me feeling hurt'. Living in this way certainly means less pain, but also I feel, creates a sort of identity crisis for each of us, a feeling that we are not living honestly with ourselves and the way we feel; therefore narrowing the remit of our experience, leaving us comfortably numb.
How do we get to an understanding of what is meaningful to us if we cannot accept the things that happened to us and accept that things that happen to us do not signify a lack in us. To see that we do not need to feel guilt, embarrassment and shame to the degrees that we do. If we can do this maybe we can disentangle how these experiences have shaped us and our view of what is meaningful to each of us and allow us to make decisions about how we want to chose to live our lives based on all of our experience, not just a slice of it. The Author Andrew Soloman gave a TED talk on these ideas and discussses how we can take these moments in life and understand how they make us who we are:
The other issue this brings up is that of our emotions, especially of those we perceive as negative, such as shame and fear etc. We can feel that somehow these feelings should not be part of our lives. But why not? Feelings are a part of who we are, all feelings, we all experience them. They indicate what is effecting us and in what way, they are in effect, our guides to emotional life. It may also not be negative feelings, but also say a a fear of of loving deeply, knowing we have no control over this and that ultimately this may leave us heartbroken.
If we decide to walk this path we are lead to a position where we are asking ourselves to accept who we are, accept how we feel and to also have the courage to take action and to live according to our heart and soul, to have the vulnerability to allow others to see us for who we are and to be ok with that. Not a small ask! But if we can make inroads in this way we may find that by accepting that we are vulnerable but acting anyway can bring a happier and more fulfilled life, which will include love but also loss, happiness and sadness, joy and grief. The researcher Brene Brown gave quite an inspired talk on this:
So I guess a question you may be asking is how and when? I guess the only answer I can give is that you will probably know when the time is right for you to take action, even if this starts with reading blogs like these, reading books, seeing a therapists, going on a journey etc. It is not always an easy undertaking, it takes work to undo a lifetime of automatic responses and to sooth that fearful part and I am still working on it all the time, trying to accept and get to know myself better. I challenge myself to act with as much courage and honesty as as I am able to muster, such as telling people how I feel, living in line with my heart even though I don't know how it will be received and giving myself some space when I start wanting to close down, knowing that I am ok. We won't ever not feel hurt, shame, anger, distress, loss or love in our lives, but it seems that this should be seen as something valuable in its own right as this gives us meaning. Maybe if we could all live more authentically, vulnerably etc. then potentially we might all feel a little bit more reassured that we are not the only ones feeling this way and we wouldn't feel the need to put that cloak on so much. The poet Derek Walcot wrote:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.