Throughout the majority of my life I had an “indirect” relationship with myself. An indirect relationship is where you experience your Self through achievements, e.g. conditions to fulfill, tasks to complete, or trying to be perfect. I am currently working on having a “direct” relationship with myself.
Recently I had awareness of this while driving to the hair salon. As I noticed that I would be late for the appointment, I was overcome with stress, to the point where I found it difficult to drive. After 25 years of introspection I finally came to realize that this stress, although it had the appearance of being related to the fear of missing the appointment, was actually way out of proportion with the actual circumstances. It had to be about something else, something hitherto unknown to me, at least consciously. I decided to not so much pay attention to the symptoms of the stress, such as heart beats, sweating, dry mouth, tight throat, which was quite a challenge. Instead I forced myself to look as deep as I could into myself as this stress obviously came from a place, where there was more at stake than simply missing an appointment. What I found was that I once again, was dependent on the outcome of an action for my Sense of Self (SoS), to feel-good-about-myself. There they were again, the thoughts and feelings of failure: “I screwed it up, I’m late again. It’s the same old story. I’ve done this for so many years. I can never be on time”…
In that very moment, I decided to just simply stop being dependent on the outcome of actions for feeling-good-about-myself. As I had I recognized that I seemed to have an obligation towards myself to always feel-good-about-myself, I should stop let that depend on conditions outside myself and not jeopardize the quality of my life anymore with extraneous stress. Wasn’t it ridiculous that I was blaming myself for something that in reality is not even a big deal while punishing myself by feeling-bad-about-myself but in a way that went all the way to my core? Furthermore I realized that there will always be a multitude of circumstances that I cannot control. It is sheer madness to let myself be dependent for my Sense of Self (SoS) upon the outcome of my actions. And it’s not a real SoS but it’s more like a substitute Sense of Self (SSoS). I definitely have to stop using the outcome of my activities, as a mirror in which I can look at myself to determine whether I have a right of existence or not. I need to administer to myself here and now and for ever what I so desperately seem to need: to feel-good-about-myself!
As I, personally, lack a sense of self, overtime I have filled this hole with substitutes, in the search for structure in my life. Where else do you base your decisions on, in what else do you anchor your criteria? There are so many conditions that I have to live up to. Being on time to an appointment or class is one of them. The condition of arriving on time to an appointment fulfills then the function of structure-in-my-life and as such is responsible for how I feel-about-my-self. How I-feel-about-myself- in its turn is then a substitute for the lacking SoS as there is no other SoS. That’s why I call it a Substitute SoS. When I fulfill the requirements (that are all self-imposed, but also there is more to that one, but not for discussion within the scope of this article*) at least I have a positive- sense-of-myself by feeling-good that I arrived on time. That is how it used to be for me.
A “direct” relationship with yourself, as opposed to an “indirect” one, as described above, is not dependent on these outside circumstances. In a “direct” relationship with yourself you experience, feel, sense yourself from within. You stand completely behind yourself at all times, knowing that you are alive and have the right to exist. This, as opposed to perceiving yourself as a bodily ghost, which although being physically alive, isn’t acknowledged as a living being by others. Having a “direct” connection with yourself is living in the present, and doing an action for the sake of the action, rather than because of a dependency on the outcome.
An example: a music-fan can recognize when a musician has trained for years, but places his or her sense of self dependent on playing. If the musician uses the performance as a “task” for himself, a compulsive need to find out over and over again whether his performance allows him to feel-good-about himself, the fan knows. It comes across in the music and is picked up on by the listener. The music, in spite of being technically OK, sounds as if something is “missing,” a passion maybe, and a sense of the musician being present in the actual action of making music itself, rather than being preoccupied with flattering/comforting the substitute Self.
Essentially, living with an “indirect” relationship with yourself is using activities as “vehicles” to sense yourself and to feel alive. It is comparable to a person cutting herself in order to experience herself through the pain…
Needless to say here that it’s not the real thing. We must work on strengthening our actual Sense of Selves (SoS) to replace this substitute sense of Self (SSoS). As I am sharing with you my findings in this article I am in the process of trying to cut out using activities as a vehicle to feel-good-about-myself. This is trickier than you think, because this very article is highly prone to be one as well and therefore writing it is quite a challenge. It helps me though to stay aware and to find back my real SoS within, over and over again, until it becomes a habit; one could say that I am “reconditioning my unconscious mind” towards having an unconditional support within myself, rather than a conditional self-acceptance that depends on every “task” I create for myself.
With thanks to Audrey for her contributions in the editing.