Who am I – peering behind the mask

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The Search for the True Self – a word of caution

Yes, as Rumi says, your face is absolutely glorious, but I suggest that you proceed with extreme caution – perhaps rather than tearing off the mask, you need to lift it carefully at one corner and peer gently underneath, in private (at first), although I do know one young man who adopted the ‘tearing off’ approach, despite my advising against it – if you’re reading this now, I think you might recognise yourself – and he managed to survive and ultimately, to thrive, so it’s a decision that you have to make for yourself, when you have carefully reviewed the resources that you have around you. What matters is that you keep your balance – that however wobbly you feel, you are still able to function. Change always tends to cause destabilisation, but it’s a question of degree, and you must keep yourself safe – a little bit of change, followed by rest and recuperation (and constant kindness to yourself), while you consolidate what you have gained.

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Many years ago, when I was training to be a psychotherapist, I did a visualisation about ‘change’, and I saw myself on one of those mats sliding down a helter-skelter – I had gone about half way down, and had pulled my mat off to ‘the side’ (amazing what the mind will invent to meet its needs), and was lying on it, taking a rest – I can still see it in my mind’s eye to this day. Afterwards, I realised that I had to rest – things had been changing too fast, and my psyche knew exactly what I needed.

Practise, practise, practise

Thus far, I have suggested two things that you can do for yourself (self-compassion [see post], and three good things [see post]), that if done regularly, will begin to change the way you feel – if you can find another person to do them with you, so much the better, as doing things with others is usually more successful. Even if you find someone else who is willing do the practices, but can’t be physically with you, it will help, because you will both have a commitment to doing them, and can compare notes, and you will be less ready to let each other down than you would to let yourselves down.

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Thinking about it, comparing notes, especially when it comes to ‘three good things’ would add something to the exercise, because you have the possibility of sharing your joy in the three little pieces of goodness that you have stumbled across, and thus increasing your enthusiasm for the project – I hadn’t thought of it like that before. You could send each other pictures of your ‘three good things’ if they’re actual ‘things’, or clips of music or video – there’s always a way to share stuff these days, although maybe a smile on the street would be a challenge!

Another word of caution:

Which brings me back to ‘shame buddies’………..Someone saw my idea about ‘shame buddies’, and reminded me that cyberspace is a very dangerous place – is it safe to encourage people (especially young, and potentially vulnerable people), to befriend others over the internet? She makes a very valid point, and I urge everyone to be vigilant – super vigilant – but having said that, the internet is now part of most peoples’ lives, and can bring great benefits if used wisely. Like a kitchen knife that can be used to cut vegetables, or kill someone, the internet is a double-edged sword, but I don’t want to overlook its good edge, because as I’ve already discovered from doing this blog, many positive and exciting things can come from using it wisely.

Therefore, if you do contact other readers of this blog in some way, I urge you to do everything you can to make sure that they are who they say they are, especially if you are a teenager – after all, the reason for starting the blog was to offer help and support to those of you who are vulnerable due to core shame, the very people who might be targets for online predators. So be careful, be careful, be careful, and never give out any personal information unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe, and NEVER agree to meet someone on your own.

Peering under the mask 

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So how do you set about finding out who you truly are? Where do you look for the seed of yourself (your Self) that was sown all those years ago?

Think about the path that your life has taken thus far – are you where you would like to be at this moment? You may be in your teens – are you doing the subjects that you wanted to do? Do you like your school or college? Are you happy with your friends – are they real ‘friends’, or just people that you have found yourself hanging out with? Are they kind to you? If you have a partner – is he/she good for you? Does he/she make you happy at least 70% of the time (my somewhat random benchmark for whether a relationship works well enough or not)? Most importantly, how is your relationship with your closest adult – do they know who you really are, or do you feel that you have to put on an act for them? Can you be yourself around them? Do you have a ‘close adult’ – many young people don’t?

Or perhaps you have just completed a degree: was it the degree that YOU wanted to do? Did you enjoy it? Did you get the qualification that you wanted? Did it enable you to get the job/further qualification that you imagined? Are you enjoying the placement/job you now have? Do you like the people that work in the world in which you have found yourself? Do you have real good friends – do they give you help and support when you need it, or are they only interested in themselves, and when you need them, they’re nowhere to be seen?

Or you may be an adult, with a partner, a family, a mortgage and a job – do these things all work for you? We all have things that we would like to change about our lives, but overall, are you happy with the path you have taken? Or do you hate your job, or the people that you have to work with? Are you struggling to carry the responsibility of your mortgage, and resenting every minute that you spend at work to pay it? Are you bored with the friends you’ve had for years? Would you like to give up your job, and go and live in the Caribbean and become a diving instructor – that may sound fanciful, but anything is possible if you really want it!

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 Another baby step – the search for the centre of your being

One of the things that interests me about people is what they liked doing when they were very young – before they went to school. What was their favourite toy? How did they like to spend their time? Did they like indoor pastimes or playing outside? Did they play with others, or alone – did they have a choice? Did they like physical play – ball games, riding a bicycle, swimming? Did they enjoy imaginative play – dolls, soft toys, little figures like animals or characters from films? Did they have the opportunity to make things – to draw and paint, or mess about with clay or mud or sand? What did they like to wear? Did they pull out everything in the kitchen cupboards? Did they have a pet that was important to them?

These are questions that many people find difficult to answer – they cannot remember a time when they did what they wanted to do, as opposed to what someone else demanded that they did, a time when they were able to follow the natural impulses coming from their core. Furthermore, many children nowadays will have grown up spending most of their time on iPads, or playing computer games, or watching TV – a phenomenon that is gong to wreak havoc in the future (a conversation for another time!)

Perhaps you might like to spend some time thinking about what you liked to do as a small child – if you find it hard to remember, ask a member of your family perhaps, or look at old photos of yourself to jog your memory, but bear in mind that you may be reminded of the things that you were encouraged to do by others, rather than what you chose to do yourself, and it is the things that really meant something to you that are important here. You might like to write them down – in a journal if you keep one, or make a list in your phone – or draw, or make a collection of images that you cut out of a magazine, so as to begin to get in touch with the person you truly are deep inside.

A boy looks around an artwork made out of unwanted toys at the solo exhibition of Japan artist Hiroshi Fuji, known for his creations in the theme of recycled unwanted toys and waste materials in Tokyo

A photograph from an article by Kim Kyung-hoon – an artwork made out of unwanted toys by Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji

As you think about these things, you might also begin to recall the relationships you had as a small child – the most important part of reconnecting with your True Self. Who were you closest to? What was your relationship with that person like – can you remember playing with them, sitting on their lap? Did they listen to you? Do you feel that they understood you? Did they encourage and support you to do the things that you wanted to do? Do you feel that they really know who you are? How do you feel as you think about the people in your childhood? Who gives you a warm, relaxed, positive feeling? Who makes you feel drawn towards them? Who do you feel the need to keep away from? Maybe some people make you feel both of those things – you feel ambivalent towards them? Perhaps your closest living thing was not a person but an animal?

It may be that the person who feels most important was someone who you rarely saw, but when you did see them, you felt close to them, whereas you didn’t feel so close to those around you – it is the QUALITY of the relationship that matters, more than the quantity.

It may also be that you didn’t feel close to anyone in your childhood, but when you went to school, you found a teacher who you were drawn to – I always use the example of Miss Honey in Matilda, by Roald Dahl, who transformed Matilda’s life from one of misery, to one of great joy and fulfilment (every school should have one!)

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Mulling over your early childhood in this way can put you in touch with what was important to you then, but it can also bring pain, as for many of us, early childhood was lonely, bleak and even frightening. As I’ve said before, go slowly, be kind to yourself, keep yourself safe, and only go where you feel able to go – there is no rush, and these things must be taken at a speed that feels ok for you. If you come across a painful memory, use one of the resources that you identified (see post) to bring you back to a better state of mind – a person would be my first choice, but failing that, it may be a special object, photo, film, a bar of chocolate, music, or a cup of tea and a piece of toast – whatever works for you.

If you observe your mind carefully, you will be able to watch as you bring yourself back from the painful place to a more comfortable and manageable place – that was then…..this is now. Remember, feelings do not stay for ever – they shift and change – so rather than pushing away any bad feelings you may have, try to sit with them and observe them, until they morph into a different kind of feeling, as they slowly will if you watch and wait.

And finally, a short video about love to make you feel good that my friend Sophie sent me tonight.

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