On Losing A Sense Of Ourselves
More and more, I've come to realize that a lot of emotional problems (we can call them our hedgehogs) such as:
1) being easily stressed out,
2) struggles with relating to people assertively and confidently,
4) and even some physical issues with no medical causes (such as IBS, sleep problems, fatigue, headaches, etc.);
have at their soft underbelly a quiet core of anxiety. This is not your dramatic panic attacks or even your conscious worrying.
Instead, this is really an overall sense of...unquiet.
It can feel like being restless, or always on edge, or having the engine always running, or even just a general discomfort in your own skin.
If we look even deeper into the core of this type of deep anxiety, we can often find another subtler sense. The best way I know how to describe it (thanks to one of my very creative clients), is to call it a "Loss of a sense of self" or "Losing Myself" for short.
It can be experienced as a sense of not having a solid center (sometimes physically - like the emptiness I wrote about in my previous post), or constantly feeling wobbly inside, or a chronic feeling of uncertainty.
In short, there is a sense that there is no sturdy foundation inside. Losing a sense of self does not mean that you don't have a self. It just means that it doesn't feel solid enough or complete in some way.
What happens then is that people would try to buffer this lack of foundation with external things. More skills, more certificates, more money, more achievements, more material things, more spirituality, more people and in my case, more books. Little do they know that no matter how much they pile on, it doesn't actually add to the foundation.
How does this loss of sense (and foundation) happen? Many ways. For some people, it can happen after an emotionally charged big life shake-up. A shocker like being retrenched, losing a loved one, losing an identity, getting a HIV diagnosis or a body part. Technically, these are called "Crises".
For others, their growing up experiences had been really tough and painful, and they never really did form a solid sense of self. Kids who had been in abusive environments, or who have been neglected or left to fend of themselves, or who have had to grow up very quickly never had a chance to grow themselves.
And yet for others, they might have fallen into a relationship or environment where their sense of self is constantly worn down at the roots. If you think of a domestic violent co-dependency type relationship, you'll get an idea.
So you see, some of our hedgehogs are curled around a crumbling foundation, trying to preserve whatever is there or that is left.
ADDRESSING THE HEART OF THE MATTER
From what my clients taught me, the key to building a sense of self, or establishing a solid internal foundation lies in 2 kinds of relationships that have to happen together.
1) An inner relationship - where you form a compassionate, curious, gentle bond with your hedgehog(s) so that it can reveal its soft underbelly, and show us what experiences need to be created to truly build up the foundation.
2) An outer relationship - where you establish the inner relationship in the safe, protected and appreciative environment of a relationship with someone you can trust deeply. This kind of outer relationship is both guiding yet respectful, empathetic and nurturing, engaged yet not overwhelmed by the sometimes deep terror of facing one's crumbling self.
In sum, a trusted guide takes care of you as you take care of your hedgehog(s).
With repeated inner relating with our hedgehog(s), in the space of this kind of safe outer relationship, we pick up new and needed experiences that fit more accurately into our foundation.
For instance, one such experience is when you can get angry with your trusted guide and learn that they will still stick by you, instead of abandoning you.
SO HOW DO WE GET THESE CONDITIONS?
If you practice Focusing regularly, you are already engaged in the type of inner relationship that would take care of your hedgehog(s).
To get an outer relationship, you can find a trusted friend to provide that kind of space you need to Focus without fear. You might know someone in your life who is suitable.
If not, a second option is to form a Focusing partnership with someone - where two experienced Focusers take turns to provide the relationship space for each other. This is very popular in the USA and the UK.
A third option is to look for a relationship focused psychotherapist who can also guide you to take care of your hedgehog(s).