The Blog

Who Are We Really?

As I navigate the straights and narrows of intimate connections, I am struck by the difference between being righteous and defensive and my willingness to look at my behavior from the reactions I get from others.

As I fall into my day a familiar mood invades my body, seeping into my cells like an odorless tasteless gas. My gut churns a pervasive metallic liquid that stirs my system. This translucent toxin finally reaches my brain causing it to slow down. I know what it is, it's old relative that won't die. It's my childhood revisiting me. This accustomed ache of abandonment, the sense that I've done something wrong and now I'm being punished by banishment from the tribe, left on the Serengeti to fend for myself. It seems fitting somehow, like this is my fate and why not just accept it. I fight back as I always have. Nowadays I try to understand, I make efforts to see it for what it is, in its truest sense. I'm not so bad after all. I feel a momentary rush as my depression eases but my body snaps me back into submission. Seems like a life sentence of pain with no antidote in sight. I'm not deterred, I make efforts to climb out of the hole and at last vanquish the spirit of Christmas past, the lost boy, the boy who walked the dirt roads of his youth blinded by shame. Why did my father and brother refuse to recognize me? Why was I invisible and when I made myself noticeable I was then summarily chastised and once again ignored?

Through the years these feelings have come up in every significant relationship. I have tried to ignore them, fight them and vanquish them. Yet I have withdrawn from loved ones and I have swung my weight around with colleagues and friends. I have been a critical parent. This has been my challenge, to not become the product of how I was treated but to forge a different life and become a loving and accepting person. I have discovered through years of doing and being in my own psychotherapy that I have brethren in the cosmos of dysfunctional families and we struggle mightily to overcome the destructive patterns of our internal life. I must say that I have made significant gains in ending the internal war.

Here's what I know.

• All early trauma is housed in the unconscious. This means that we react automatically to stimulus that mirrors our family relationships.

• It is possible to become conscious of our early trauma and how it expresses itself in intimate or similar relationships.

• It is possible to know ourselves in a different way than we knew ourselves in our early years. We can develop a new true self, we can become a loving person.

• All self-knowledge is the product of interacting with trusted others who can provide a truthful perspective that enables us to know ourselves in a different way.

• If we are to create healthy relationships we have to look under all the rocks and crevices to find the most negative parts of ourselves and work them through if we are to move into another way of being.

• There is no quick road to enlightenment. There is no easy fix.

• If we are to create loving connections we have to risk something, we have to open our hearts even when it scares us to death.

• No one is born bad or is bad, we become bad because of what we learn and how we are treated by those people who care for us. We can see through that process if we want to. The key here is wanting to.

As I navigate the straights and narrows of intimate connections, I am struck by the difference between being righteous and defensive and my willingness to look at my behavior from the reactions I get from others. When someone is angry with me I have to ask myself what I did to make them angry. What part of that is mine and also what part is theirs? It is remarkable what we can see if we ask that question.

The road toward knowing who we really are originates from the interplay between insight and empathic resonance. How we reverberate from within our internal world and between that world and others is where our true self lies. It's the fluid that contains not only our entire history but how we come to know ourselves from our interactions with others. Our intuitive response is to experience feelings as coming from "out there." What we can't see is that our feelings could have everything to do with our history and bear only a small resemblance to a current situation. Conversely it can totally be about something that is happening in the moment and have nothing to do with us at all. Therein lies the rub. It's all about knowing the difference.

What I have learned from my long journey into the netherworld of my own unconscious is that whatever remains hidden controls us. When we can see the monster we can tame it and learn to live in harmony with all our demons instead of letting our internal inmates run the asylum. Knowing the truth can set us free, the hard part is looking at it.

Before You Go