Reflections on the Self

Seeking the refuge of the Self resonates with attachment theory. Our parents/caregivers create a secure bond with us that allows us to feel safe enough to explore the world. Whatever happens, we know we have a safety net to return to in our parents’ love. Psychologically, this creates a belief that the world and its people are essentially safe, despite the bumps and bruises we experience along the way. So we are more likely to take risks, be vulnerable, and be decisive in our lives. We internalize a secure attachment as a whole, grounded Self that we can return to throughout our lives. As we age, our Self provides a safe haven that travels with us no matter where we go. We become our own safety net.

On a pre-verbal, pre-intellectual level, the Self as it refers to the more essential quality of life, the divine spark if you will, begs to be uncovered and used as this refuge. It has been and always will be extant within us. Our early childhood experiences either cultivate or bury this innate knowledge. We are born to honor ourselves as we honor others. To love ourselves as we love others. In practice, we are either taught that we are loved and loving or we are taught that love is conditional. Sometimes we are taught both and enter the world confused about the true essence of the Self’s worthiness. My parent/friend/God loves me always… long as I fulfill a certain set of conditions to earn that love. That certain set of conditions tends to be unspoken but is a prerequisite to deserving love.

On some level, this condition makes sense. It’s hard for us to love someone who is hurtful to us; the condition says that if you don’t treat us well, you are not worthy of love. I would question, however, how connected this person is to his true Self. Hurting others tends to arise from a place of insecurity as a way to disown our own pain. The perpetrator of hurt isn’t connected to a secure base or a strong sense of Self. Imagine being so connected to your own sense of Self that you can offer him loving kindness instead of scorn, that you can recognize his innate sense of worth, even if he does not! In doing so, the condition of worthiness breaks down.

For those of us who developed out of an insecure bond, the world is unsafe and not to be trusted. More than that, our Self cannot be trusted to provide a safe foundation in which to seek refuge. An insecure bond creates the idea of conditional love. My Self must perform in certain ways to earn love or to be deemed worthy of love. I internalize this insecurity and attempt to forge a life built on a broken foundation. Or – I should correct myself – a seemingly broken foundation. That’s what my clients tell me – that they are broken.

In truth, their foundation is unbreakable. It is the beliefs or lessons they were taught about themselves that create the illusion that they are broken. It amounts to the same thing though, doesn’t it? If I am taught that I am unworthy of love unless I fulfill a certain set of conditions, that I am inherently incomplete or not enough as I am, then I will form relationships and make decisions based on this need to find completion or goodness.

I will seek out relationships, activities, careers, and religions to define myself, assuming that I need something or someone to tell me who I am. We all want to find a purpose, even those of us who are connected to our deepest Self. But for those of us who feel broken, who are disconnected from our true Self, we want to merge with the action or the belief system or the person to become whole again. Ultimately, I need my partner or my work to validate my existence. No partner can do this consistently enough to fill in the cracks of a broken foundation. No endeavors in my work or creative life will ever allow me to define the darkest corners of my Self, because the Self is not a physical structure that can be reinforced with material things. Because material things are always imperfect, subject to others’ criticism, and finite. Eventually, we’ll have to keep working or keep creating or keep finding someone to love us to keep filling in the cracks. There is no end in sight to the revolving door of external validation.

If we only knew that the Self is and always has been everything it needs to be. Right now. Already. That I can seek knowledge, improve in my creative and work-life, and develop loving relationships, but know at the same time that what I am at each step of my evolution is already enough. There is no condition or finish line I have to reach. I am both continually changing and continually good enough all at the same time. Most of us see this in black and white terms. If I’m enough, I’m done changing; or if I’m still changing, I’m not good enough yet. No, it’s both/and not either/or! This way of looking at the Self is rife with opportunity and self-compassion, while the other feels static and unforgiving.

I will end here for the time being. No monumental conclusions, just an ongoing study of the Self. My Therapist Self might use this as a jumping off point to write a therapy blog entry. And I will probably engage in further musing, especially when I think about dropping in to those moments when you feel most connected to the Self. If you’ve read this far, thank you for your companionship.

I also want to note that many of my reflections arose from my reading of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope and The Mindful Way to Self-Compassion by Christopher K. Germer, PhD.



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