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.

The bell 

Have you ever noticed that we become weak but wiser when we get older? Everyone’s life can be illustrated with a bell shaped line (like in statistics’ bell curve).  We all are born being weak, frail, naked, cold, and confused.  We are also dependent on others’ total care and protection.  If we are not well taken care of, we can fall and injure ourselves easily.

We are also under the same condition when we’re are close to death in our advanced age.  During our last days we are also weak, frail, naked, cold, and confused.  But during the rest of our lives, in the middle part of the bell, we learn more, develop, become stronger , more intelligent, and faster.  Our lives become more enthusiastic and adventurous.  We tend to feel more successful and busy.  This can be experienced by reaching the highest point in our professional career, buying a new house or car,  traveling around the world, having the maximum number of friends, and manifesting our artistic or  musical talents to the maximum.

  But after this high point in our lives, we start to get tired, slower, and limited. Our health begins to deteriorate, our strengths are not so great  and our goals are no longer as important. We slowly begin to deteriorate and lose interest in certain parts of our lives that we once were so obsessed with. We also begin to see loved ones deteriorate and die around us.  We may develop other interests that are less ambitious.  We start to get “older.” 

And this is when we reach the point that we once began at.  Our lowest point as far as strengths and abilities .  But at the same time , this return to our “lowest points” is also the return to our selves .  The return to our natural beings.  The return to the real nature of our existence. We are no longer fixated on our ambitions, our dreams, and our goals.  We are no longer lost in our thoughts and fantasies about what we should do and who we should become.  We simply face the stage in life where we have to accept who we really are.

 We begin to be forced to deny our egos and accept our true selves . Some of us receive this stage in life with appreciation and joy.  Others receive it with regrets and desperation. But we all receive it eventually. 

It is almost like returning to dust… 

Returning to nature.