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.

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Identifying with the self

What makes us who we are? How do we determine our personalities ? Does the self even exist ?

Identifying with the “self” is what determines our feelings and perceptions. If I identify with the concept of being a “husband” , and my wife leaves me, then I would feel distraught..   If I identify with the concept of being a “professional” -and somehow I lose my professional license , I would feel ashamed and sad.  If I identify with the idea of being an “American citizen” and a terrorist attach occurs in my country, I would feel anger and rebellious.  But only if I choose to identify myself with these entities.  But do these entities really exist ?

It’s like living a comic strip where the bubbles above our heads are our thoughts and perceptions which we believe to be true … and which we choose to identify with.  

I read a quote the other day that said:

“As soon as we are born, we are assigned a name , a nationality, a religion, a race , a sports team. We will spend the rest of our lives defending a false identity.”

This is so true.  We are given several identities , simply because we feel that we need to belong to a certain organization or group so that we don’t feel vulnerable .  We need to think that we are part of a whole so that we are not alone. So that we can distract ourselves from the inevitable destiny we call “death.” We decide to continue to live an illusion that keeps us in a dream like state and prevents us from experiencing confusion and chaos.

But we can’t escape it forever. We will eventually realize and accept the fact that our various identities ; our numerous fictitious entities that we desperately try to defend and justify, are meaningless and useless when we are facing our final days.

It bothers us when things end because  we don’t like to admit our mortality.  We feel  sad  when a vacation ends … We feel disappointed  when our favorite sport team loses.  We often experience sadness when a loved one moves away or decides not to be our friend anymore.  We rather want  the pleasurable experience to go on.  It is like going to the theatre and enjoying a movie even if it’s fictitious, and we don’t want the movie to end because that would mean exiting  the theatre and facing reality again.  We rather stay inside and continue to enjoy the fictitious movie. We prefer  to pretend to be immortal and prevent having to face the reality of our existence.

We prefer to stay inside the “womb” which keeps us warm and comfortable.

But the closer we get to our inevitable death, the more meaningless all the fictitious fabricated identities become.  And the more we are forced to accept our true identities.

Going back to the “bubbles” above our heads, which represents our thoughts, can illustrate how we live our lives. 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 need to, if we want to live this life more fully.

And the question remains : what is outside of our heads? What is this so called “reality”? What would we be facing when we live in the present moment ?

Peace.  Serenity.   Freedom.  Acceptance.

I will continue on this topic at a later post .