Identifying with the Self: Part Two 

 I had a counseling session with one of my clients.  She is a cutter and was questioning whether or not she would be getting any better in her life.  She was comparing herself with others who also receive therapy and who seem to be getting better faster. My client thought she was not improving like she should and asked about the concept of PTSD and resistance to treatment.

I try to explain to her that PTSD involves living in the past after a traumatic experience… versus learning from the past without necessarily reliving the past.  When we experience PTSD , we tend get stuck in the past and not move forward.  When the pain is avoided then we continue to experience PTSD and continue to relive the past and experience an emotional cycle which is nourished by substance-abuse, self harming behavior, and depression.

On the other hand, when we learn about the past, we develop new skills and we develop new ways to cope with the upsetting memories.  One of the ways is to talk about it, process feelings, write about it, and accept the fact that the pain was done.   When we choose to develop new skills and process feelings by accepting the pain, then we begging to acknowledge that it was a difficult time in our life and be able to move forward with new skills.

And then there was the question of why she is still cutting when she’s in her 50s now, when most of the cutters are either teenagers or young adults.

Then a lightbulb turned on in my head. I asked my client who she would identify as and she could not answer the question.  She first said “I’m already in my 50s why am I asking this question now? ” Then I asked her to not think about her current age but to focus on the question itself : who am I?

The observation that most cutters are teenagers or young adults gave me the idea that, since she has always been dependent on others to tolerate her who she is and what to do with my life, that sounds almost like what teenagers and young adults do in the early lives.

Basically my client is experiencing what most teenagers and young adults experience : finding their identities in life, facing the unknown after depending on the parents.  My client said she always depended on her parents and she was taking care of and nourished as a child even during her adulthood.  This can explain why she has difficulty identifying who she is now in her 50s. I explained that most of us experience the same identity crisis in different times of our lives. Most of us identify with what we have been assigned to be, for example our names, our ethnicity, our gender, and our religion. But we ultimately face a time in life, usually during young adulthood, where we start questioning  our assigned entities and find our own identities. And maybe that’s what my client is experiencing at the present moment.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, we mostly live inside our heads. Inside our thoughts and perceptions. We rarely get out of our thoughts and face reality. We don’t usually live in the present moment.  But we rather stay living inside our heads.  Inside our minds. But we rarely step aside and start perceiving ourselves as we really are.

Have the rest of us done the same thing in our lives?  Have we taken the bold step of “peeling the onion” all the way until we find our true selves?

In my own experience , that “true self” remains a mystery.  It remains a great part of the unknown, which is why I tend to ignore it and replace it with all the entities I have been taught to identify with.

I have learned to identify with being a Hispanic middle age male, an American, a mental health professional, a  Florida resident, a parent, a husband, a son, and many other entities.  All of these I can question and deny if I choose to.  What I have not identified with as much is what can never question or deny.

My true self.

But what is the true self?  Is it simply being human? Being a person? After all, isn’t that what we all have in common? Identifying with being Human beings ? Anything else could be used to separate and segregate us.  But being humans could only keep us united.

My Bucket List… and more.

I was thinking about the things I would like to do before I die last night while half asleep.   And I thought I could share it with my blog readers.  So here are the things I would like to do before my last breath, and if I do not accomplish these for some reason, that would be fine too.

1. See my father again.  I have not seen him in more than two years and seeing him for at least a day would give me satisfaction.  I don’t know him as well as my other family members, so learning more about him and from him would be nice.

2. Travel and visit Rome and China. These two places intrigue me. I learned about Rome’s famous paintings, sculptures, and architecture in college. I would love to see it personally. China is another country that also has famous structures, like the China Wall and Buddhist temples, that I wish I can see. I would also like to learn how to read and speak Chinese.

3. Learn how to play guitar.

4. Skydiving.  Although I am petrified by the idea of jumping off a flying plane. I would need to be drugged or something. I guess I am dreaming of doing something similar to flying like a bird.

5. Ride a horse.

6. Witness the cure for cancer.  I have known too many people who died because of this disease.  It is time to know about its cure.

7. Have a tattoo of a palm tree and a coconut, representing my daughter and my son, respectively.

8. Write and publish a book. (or many books) Or a comic book (I like to draw comics).

9. Own a house by a tropical beach.

10. Experience total peace and balance in my life.

Although I have the above things I wish I can accomplish before I die, I would also like to share the things I have already accomplished in my 39 years of existence.  Here they are:

1. I have two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. And I witnessed both of their births. My daughter is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and my son is a great chess player.

2. I have been married to the most wonderful woman; it will be 15 years this summer.

3. I have owned two houses.

4. I have traveled and visited Washington D.C. and have seen most of its historical monuments.  My favorites were the Lincoln Memorial, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and Mount Vermont in Virginia.

5. I have also traveled and visited California, and saw L.A. from a distance.  I have also lived in the Caribbeans.

6. I have spent plenty of quality time with the person who loves me unconditionally: my mom.

7. I have drawn and have had several political cartoons published in the local newspaper. I have also painted more than 20 paintings.

8. One of my cars are totally paid off and the second one is almost paid off.

9. I went to Kennedy Space Center with my daughter during a field trip. I have also gone to every Disney World theme park (both in Florida and California), Universal Studios, and Lego Land.

10. I have not lost faith in family and the beauty of life.

Do you have a bucket list as well…?  What have you accomplished so far in life?

Why do we mourn?

When we mourn a  lost loved one, is it because we feel bad for the person that is gone?  Or is it because we feel bad forourselves for losing someone?  And if thisis the case, aren’t we being selfish and self centered for crying when someone has “left us” ?  How can we stop being this way?  Can we not be this way?  Maybe we can stop thinking about our own personal “misery” when someone happens to leave this world.

Is it our purpose in life to grieve those who leave us?  Or should we be happy that they have left this world of suffering and confusion, with hopes that they have transferred into a better state of existence? And if we  believe in the afterlife, why still mourn?  And if we don’t believe in the afterlife, do we mourn because there is no hope of ever seeing the loved one who left when it is time for us to depart also?  The simple answer is that we mourn and suffer because of our loss.  In other words, we feel sorry for ourselves.

We don’t like to think about death.  It petrifies most of us. It is the ultimate experience that seemingly puts an end to our current existence.  We don’t know for sure what awaits us on the other side, so we rather ignore the fact that it will happen at all.  But deep down, we know it will. And we temporarily escape this reality by living superficial lives that continuously feed our egos.  We live as if there is no death waiting for us.  We live concerned about superficial and artificial affairs.  We worry about our looks, our possessions, our relationships, our jobs, our unachieved personal goals.  We try very hard to hold on to traits and characteristics that help to fabricate a false sense of security and immortality.  We like to pretend that we are not vulnerable.  Or we try to hide  and distant ourselves from others so that we are not vulnerable.  Either way, we are avoiding and ignoring the fact that we are eventually going to cease to exist on this earth.

We tend to fill our emptiness with the presence of others in our lives.  Do we prefer others to be on our side so that they can fulfill our needs?  If this sounds cold and inconsiderate, maybe it is.  But please bare with me for a moment and think about this.  We tend to try to make ourselves complete through others’ contributions, successes, and accomplishments.  There is nothing wrong when we feel happy when our children succeed in school, sports, and other special events.  But we cross the line when we become obsessed and angry when the children that we raise don’t meet our expectations.  Almost as if they have not represented us good enough to the rest of the world. We demand them to do this and do that, wanting to create little duplicates of ourselves.  Eager to see them meet our demands so that we can use them as trophies.    How self centered can we be?

We also become depressed when our significant others decide to leave us.  We are upset when our favorite political candidate loses the election.  We become upset when our favorite sports team loses a game.  We just don’t like to lose.  We simply don’t want to experience the emptiness that we perceive after we have tried to fill it up with others’ success.  And when this happens, we tend to try to fill up the emptiness again with another sports game, or another political candidate, or another boyfriend or girlfriend.  We keep trying to keep ourselves full.  Full of artificial fulfillment.

But there is nothing wrong with emptiness.  Really.  We are scared of emptiness, because it reminds us of death.  But emptiness is actually liberation.  It is a refreshing experience.  It can hurt, but it always heals.  It heals us from the pain that we have caused ourselves by trying to fill ourselves with artificial happiness, to simply find ourselves back to the reality of our emptiness. We try to pretend we have it all together.  We like to live the fantasy of owning our lives.

But the reality is that, nothing is really ours.  Nothing belongs to us.  Not even our bodies, the children we raise, the houses we live in, or the land we grow up in.  Nothing is ours.  On the contrary, we belong to each other, we belong to this earth, we belong to the greater universe.  We belong to God.

Should we ever mourn?  Sure.  We should mourn when others who are still among us suffer.  We should mourn when the next door neighbor has nothing to eat.  When the children of this world suffer from hunger, abuse, wars, and famine. We should mourn for each other, while we all still live.

Unbelief

 There are many things we often take for granted that I stopped believing. For instance, I doubt we ever went to the moon. I don’t think we can rely on the government to help the poor.  I don’t believe the US is the world power anymore, or a Christian nation. I don’t believe anymore that God is up there in a distant heavenly place and punishes us with eternal hell. I don’t think we are alone in the universe. I don’t think sodas and fast food are safe to consume. I don’t believe time exists, or that history books can be trusted. Pyramids were probably not built by humans, neither were the recent crop circles.  I don’t think we will ever reach complete world peace, or that nations can ever unite. I don’t even believe everything we call reality is actually real, most of what we experience is an illusion.

What DO I still believe, you may ask??   Well, I still believe in the afterlife, and that ghosts or angels remain among us after the physical death.   I still believe that we can teach our children better how to have more peace, by emphasizing on communication, cooperation, and mercy.  I believe that we can help the poor by reaching out to our next door’s neighbor.  I believe we can improve our technology to help us unite more, rather than emphasizing on individualism and competition. I believe that here and today are the places and time to start thinking differently about the human race.

I am still learning and growing, keeping some beliefs, getting rid of some old assumptions, and having new beliefs.