“I know I should make up my own mind. It’s not easy though when your husband wants you to visit his family even though they’re not that receptive to me. I don’t know what to do.”
“I feel so torn. I know my mother worries about me…she says I should be settled down by now…I’m just not ready for that.”
You know what it’s like when your mind is plagued by competing ideas…it’s as if two parts of yourself are being pulled in opposite directions. And even if there’s no one whom you’re trying to please, it feels this way when you’re at odds with yourself.
When these conflicts arise frequently, you may find that you’re prone to drifting off course in your life. For example, you may find it hard to say “no” to others. In fact, you may push yourself beyond your limits rather than disappoint others.
It’s important to understand that no one knows what to do in every situation. No one can possibly give you all the answers to these dilemmas. Ultimately, you are the one living your life. You are the expert on how you want to live your life.
You might ask though how does one do this if the answers don’t come easily to you?
It may surprise you to know that the degree to which you are disconnected from your true self, will be the degree to which you will feel torn when the needs of others conflict with yours. This feeling will occur even if it appears that you’re not in conflict with anyone else’s needs.
You see, what you may have come to perceive as yourself may be in fact, a compilation of the wishes of others. Indeed, you might say to me that helping others makes you feel good about yourself.
I will tell you that’s admirable to help others – I encourage it – however, you should know yourself apart from what you give others. You should feel good about yourself and know yourself apart from who you are to others.
There will always be conflicts in life
Conflicts are a given in life – it’s how you approach and work through them that helps define who you are.
In fact, conflicts can often be opportunities for growth. You may discover a side of you that’s been denied too long…a part that’s blocking the true joy and fulfillment you could experience in the world.
If truth be known it is actually two aspects of yourself you’re wrestling with. That’s because we don’t have one self in the brain. Our brain is made up of many ‘selves’ which can be at odds with each other.
And that sense of who you are is actually made up of past experiences with others. So much of how you come to see yourself was mirrored in the eyes of your parents. These early experiences form the strongest sense of you because they happened at a time when your personality was being formed.
And even though these memories can seem as if they are who you are, they are actually just the reflected perceptions of others.
If you get into a tug of war with yourself too often it’s usually because too much of who you’ve come to know as yourself was in fact the result of adaptations to your early life experiences…an early life where some of your needs were not met.
Rather than feel the loss of these unmet moments, it was easier to adapt and assume that it was your fault that those needs were not met.
When you’re able to get beneath these conditioned responses and finally connect with the true you, you’ll find that decisions made from this place are far easier. It’s like having a roadmap from which to navigate your life.
What’s a good way to find your true self?
Well, I guess it’s no surprise that I would say ‘being in therapy’. It’s not just my experiences as a therapist though, it’s also my own therapy work that tells me this.
It’s been my experience as a practicing therapist, and as a client, that an ongoing relationship with a therapist is a golden opportunity to discover who you really are.
“Talking with another person, communicating with a mind outside of your own mind, puts you in touch with the part of your Self that is bigger than your mind, larger than your thoughts. That’s because the act of connecting with another pulls you out of your ongoing internal dialogue and into an external one.
“In an external dialogue, another person can bring you fresh energy, provide a different perspective. They can come to the subject with a clear head, free of the self-judgment through which you are looking at everything. They see you as you really are, proving the irony that sometimes you have to get out of yourself to get into yourself. Sometimes you have to stop looking at yourself to see yourself.”
I don’t think Neal Donald Walsh (“When Everything Changes, Change Everything.”) was thinking of therapy when he wrote those words – but they capture the essence of what therapy means to me and the value I feel therapy holds for us all.