Re-connecting to your authentic self
Reading Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” earlier this year, I scribbled down a quote that stood out...
“He felt his body divide itself into a hotness and a coldness, a softness and a hardness, a trembling and a not trembling, the two halves grinding one upon the other.”
The passage refers to the moment the protagonist, Montag, begins to experience a conflict within, and starts to wonder about whether his role in society, fits with his authentic sense of self. He begins to question a previously taken for granted sense of happiness and now hears the voice of his “subconscious idiot” that might offer some words of wisdom.
Carl Rogers, the founder of Person-Centred Therapy, proposed that discontent arises from living in an inauthentic manner. He believed that a life filled with satisfaction and fulfilment would be the result of feeling free to move and grow towards our fullest potential. He argued that this is only possible in an environment that is loving, supportive and nourishing of this natural “actualising tendency”.
What can happen, however, is that social conditioning shapes our way of being and our innate survival responses see us begin to prioritise the needs of others over our own. We experience a massive conflict between a gut feeling about what we need and a desperate compulsion to feel accepted. Our need to avoid abandonment and rejection sees us reject parts of ourselves that are labelled unacceptable by our caregivers.
I wonder whether you can connect with your rejected parts?
The part that wants to cry when upset but remembers being told “stop being a baby!”
The part that feels low but was told to “stop being a misery guts and cheer up!”
The part that feels anger and resentment for feeling mistreated remembers an angrier voice shouting “do not raise your voice to me, show some respect!”
When these kinds of responses come from those we rely on to take care of us, it is understandable that we soon learn to swallow our feelings down, deny the needy parts of ourselves and learn how to behave in a way that keeps us safe. Protector parts ensure our survival, by keeping us in check, shaming us when we feel upset, low in mood or angry. You may know these voices as inner critics or, in the words of Julia Samuels…our “shitty committee”! They can be loud and have the power to make us small and compliant, as we once were as children.
We can feel the conflict between the need to express our authenticity and the need to comply for safety as powerful body sensations, just as Bradbury described Montag’s experience. His yearning to express his authentic self, conflicting with a compulsion to be what others expect and demand.
In therapy, when we notice these body sensations, we can turn towards them with curiosity, sit with them with mindful awareness and gently connect to the emotions.
Internal Family Systems, developed by Richard Schwartz, acknowledges the importance of the protector parts and encourages befriending them and listening to what they have to say. They have a story to tell about why they have taken on the role they have. They are there to protect younger wounded parts that remain unhealed and stuck in the past.
Working with our self-parts with curiosity and compassion offers an opportunity to attend to the need that was originally missed and heal the wound.
Counselling can offer an opportunity to:
Work gently with the anxiety that emerges when our parts are in conflict.
Befriend the parts that want to protect you from further wounding so they can feel calmer.
Connect to the wounded parts that were rejected and offer them what they needed.
Feel a more integrated and authentic sense of self.
Think about what is important to you now and prioritise your needs.
Explore how to offer yourself the love, support and nourishment to achieve your full potential.
In therapy, and in the words of Richard Schwartz: “all parts are welcome”.