One of my stated goals of this vacation was to delve deeper into my own personality, and gain greater insight into who I am and what uniquely characterizes me. There have been a number of topics rising toward the top of the priority list, and I made some good progress on one today. Because I've spent time in, and benefitted greatly from, Internal Family Systems therapy, my journaling and self-knowledge work often involve talking with different "parts" of myself, or different aspects of my personality. These include young childhood parts, protectors and defenses that developed in response to childhood trauma, and others that reflect my interests and passions. So it's highly likely that I will refer to "a part who said X" or "part that feels X" at certain points while writing on this blog.
For what it's worth, I have found IFS therapy to be incredibly rewarding, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in doing self-work.
Earlier today, I had a six and a half hour bus ride through the Borneo countryside to ponder the mysteries of me. This was glorious, and quite fruitful.
Between bouts of deep contemplation, I began reading the late Harry Browne's book "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World." The book had come highly recommended, so I expected it to be quality, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself almost giddy reading through the first chapters. Browne talked quite a bit about recognizing yourself as a unique individual, and abandoning the notion that you can or should try to change someone else. Everyone is unique, he said, and only each individual can know what is right for him or herself.
Of course, consciously, I knew this already. Obviously each person is unique and obviously only each individual can and should decide what's right for themselves, I thought.
In truth, it's not that obvious. Whenever I find myself slipping into old patterns or roles around people, it doesn't take long before alternating thrums of anxiety and resentment, and eventually frustration and anger, kick in. The anxiety happens when I begin trying to either manage or conform to other people's expectations, whether real or perceived. The resentment kicks in when I begin wanting those around me to conform to certain standards in order to allay my fears; I want them to behave in a way that is not so anxiety-provoking for me.
I don't relish feeling either of these emotions under these circumstances. I accept them as what I am feeling in the moment, and feel curiosity about my emotional experience and what is causing this upset. But I don't want to spend my time managing other people, or passive aggressively trying to manipulate other people into managing me.
That last line may sound harsh toward myself, but I fully embrace that those tendencies are within me, as I suspect they are within many people. They are there for a reason, a defense that built up a long time ago, and while I feel the urge rise from time to time, I don't act on it (at least not consciously, and not, I hope, frequently).
Nonetheless, I feel the competing urges rise when I'm not fully aware of my emotional state, and the confusion and disorientation that come with them. They're also often strongly accompanied by a fear of how those closest to me, my best friends, are perceiving me. In the past, the slightest disagreement would reduce me to tears, and a sickened feeling would grow in my gut, knowing that "the friendship is over," and I was going to be alone forever, unloved because I'm such a mess and too unreliable and too bad of a friend for anyone to bother with.
Things aren't that extreme anymore, but the fear is still there. I discovered several months ago a deep, deep fear of being abandoned and alone, and that manifests itself in many ways. One is constantly seeking the approval of others, and hingeing my emotional successes and well-being on their attitudes toward me and their behaviors.
It's kind of like when people say that you won't be happy until you love yourself; no external factors (i.e. good job, boyfriend, etc.) can ever make you truly happy until that happens. Well, I will never know my true self-worth, never truly experience that until I am confident and strong regardless of the opinions of others.
I have moments of that, and the beauty of the unconscious is that I suddenly experience warm memories of times when I felt utterly strong, fearless and blissfully independent, often at times when I need them most.
But that state of mind takes work to cultivate and maintain and when I'm not paying attention, sometimes the old insecurities come back, and with good reason. Those parts are trying to keep me from ending up alone or becoming entangled in constant disagreements with friends. I don't wish to be alone and I value the respect of those I love and care about.
Before that, however, I have to own who I am. I have to be able to stand confidently, even if that means with no else at my side, and embrace my interests, my passions, my desires and my own path, and do it for myself, not in order to secure the approval or promises of friendship from other people.
This crystallized for me today when I read a quote Browne included in his book, from Walt Whitman:
"Freedom — to walk free and own no superior."
It reinvigorated my commitment to knowing myself intimately and becoming whole on my own before asking others to love me. And it reminded me of the freedom that comes from living for oneself and no one else.