I think about this a lot. Ever since I experienced a wonderful therapist who helped me to see that part of my work had to include a shift from looking outward for what I needed to looking inward instead.
In grad school, one of my clients shared in session the realization that she was so focused on other people and their perceptions of her that she didn’t even KNOW what she felt, thought, or cared about.
For both of us, this was a terrifying and freeing realization.
Terrifying because we opened the door to the truth: the extreme depths of our needs to be accepted by, approved of, and seen as worthy by others. Freeing because on the other side of that truth was this: in that empty space was the power to search and find what we were looking for. And it was inside each of us.
But what to DO with that? How do you get from a place of seeing yourself only through other people’s eyes and instead seeing yourself through yours? Well, that’s the work, right?
For now I offer the beginning point. My “why” for living this way.
I shared with my client – and I share with you here – that our Self, our deepest truest personhood, is always part of our experience, even when we don’t give it our attention or even know what it IS exactly. And our Self will NOT EVER STOP trying to be seen, heard, and allowed to be.
Think of when someone really needs to get in touch with a friend. Maybe they send a text, but for some reason there is no response. What to do? Send another text! And if that goes unanswered, make a phone call and leave a voice mail. If it’s really urgent, and that person hasn’t heard back, they might just keep calling until someone picks up. Maybe they would go to the house, knock on the door… ?
You get the idea. When a message is important enough, it must be delivered and received.
Take this back to the Self. When we ignore or abandon or simply pay no attention to what we truly feel, think, or know deep down inside, we are unhappy, incomplete, lost.
Here’s the thing: if you keep ignoring the message, THE MESSENGER WILL GO TO GREATER AND GREATER LENGTHS TO BE HEARD. This can translate into insomnia … stress … inflammation … anxiety … depression … substance abuse … and many other adaptive ways we humans try to cope with our disconnection from Self.
Our bodies keep the score (see the work by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk for more on that)!
I truly know what this is like. I spent years and years and YEARS (!!!) living from the outside in, and while on the surface I looked like I was doing okay, and I had moments of true happiness and fulfillment, underneath it all I was struggling because I did not know how to take the time to tune into ME. This presented in anxiety, depression, overeating, over sleeping, and over drinking (all understandable coping mechanisms).
As I’ve focused on listening to my Self, I’ve begun to understand how deeply my denial of and disconnection from Her has lead to so many of my moments of feeling lost and like I don’t fit in or I’m not enough.
I’m not “cured” … I’m not sure I will ever be done with this work. I still take medication for anxiety and depression; I still manage my disconnect in less than ideal ways. But I feel better because I KNOW myself now.
I listen to my feelings, rely on my understandings, and allow for my inner compass to steer my choices and behaviors. I’m living inside out and I’m happy to say I much prefer it.