We wake up in the morning, get up, go to the bathroom and meet ourselves in the mirror. Morning! We have to spend the whole day together, make a lot of decisions. Do we live this unique today ourselves, or does something live in us and plays us like a puppet?
Most often it is the second. And we often prefer to be a puppet, because it is safer. Doing everything yourself is a big responsibility. And life also takes not a small fee for this reliability: every day is like the other; numbness gradually sets in and if it doesn’t become “painfully embarrassing for purposelessly lived years,” then at least it’s very boring and lonely.
Once, in childhood, we met every day as a new, full of possibilities, adventure. What changed? We are born with a built-in role model. And we create ourselves by constantly checking, as in a mirror, in the reactions of loved ones is it acceptable how we feel and behave?
If a child is really loved, then the reactions of loved ones teach him that his desires, feelings and emotions are important, and that he can rely on these internal resources. But, in most cases, moms and dads teach babies that internal resources are not important, that they are dangerous, and that in order to be loved you must stop paying attention to them. “Stop crying!”, “Eat it all up!” etc. Gradually, we no longer feel and realize our inner essence and begin to live according to the patterns taught to us. In professional language this is called neurosis.
Child psychologists talk about the individualization and socialization of children as interrelated processes. And therapists know from experience that these processes continue in an adult: partly because kid’s emotional injuries slowed down the natural processes in his childhood, partly because as we mature, we are faced with more and more complicated tasks.
Let’s make an experiment. Imagine that you are talking to a person who understands and accepts you fully. He (or she) sits opposite you in a chair and listens to you carefully. Tell this person about yourself. How do you feel? What is your facial expression? What word constructions do you use? Now imagine that a casual acquaintance is sitting in a chair. How has your posture and facial expression changed? What details did you drop off in the story? Now imagine that in front of you is your boss, whom you do not like, but you depend on him/her. How have you and your story changed? You have tried on different social roles. Subtle understanding of different social roles, the ability to hold onto a role, juggle with them, read the social situation, put yourself in a position not of another person, which is impossible, but in the role that he is playing at this moment, all these is a very complex set of skills we have developed in the process of socialization.
The reverse side of the same process is individualization, the search for one’s “I”. Here is another experiment. Sit down comfortably; close your eyes and concentrate your attention on the solar plexus area. Breathe slowly and deeply. Now say the word “I”. Continue to breathe deeply with eyes closed for a few seconds. Open your eyes. What images and sensations came to you during the process? Were they pleasant or not? Have you experienced calmness or anxiety? Is this state of inner direction familiar to you? Individualization is the process of creating personal boundaries. At birth, “I” and “world” are the same. In the process of individualization, the one is separated from the other.
It can be said that the social “I” and the individual “I” are like inhaling and exhaling. I expand my boundaries, (inhale), and narrow them down to an individual “I” (exhale). Both are absolutely necessary for mental health. But unlike breathing, this process needs to be learned, and it needs to be adjusted during our life. Usually we do it unconsciously, by imitation, by trial and by making painful mistakes.
This learning begins at birth. A newborn child registers stimuli that come from outside, and creates an idea of how the world works and how to behave in it. How often am I alone? If I cry, how fast will my Mom come, and can she calm me down? Do you feed me by the hour or when I am hungry? Does my mom always behave the same way, or is she sometimes attentive and sometimes scattered? All of this initial learning takes place completely unconsciously and finds expression in our unconscious attitude towards the world and people. In professional language, this deep attitude is called the “style of attachment”. For us, if we have not completed a course of therapy and have not learned to recognize our own style, it is transparent. We project it onto the outside world and state that “people are mostly good” or, on the contrary, “no one can be trusted”; that “I am a stupid person, and I will never learn anything,” or, on the contrary, “if you don’t do it yourself, it’ll be all wrong,” and so forth.
If you define your style, you can adjust it, which will lead to a more complete and happy life. That’s why therapists pay so much attention to it. We distinguish several styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, avoidant and disorganized.
At the therapy, we strive to get closer to a secure style. A person with a secure style stands firmly on the ground: “whatever happens, I will cope with it myself, or find help in others. If I experience negative feelings, I can survive them and find support in others.” We can say that a person with a secure style has stable personal boundaries and trusts himself and the world.
If in one of the above you have recognized yourself and want to continue this conversation on a deeper level, call me and I will be very glad to help you.
Irina Petrova, Registred Psychotherapist