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Separate Self Versus Symbiotic Self!

November 10, 2010 2 comments

I’m trying to throw things out – I’ve collected thousands of pages of my writing over the years. Can’t I just junk it?

Well, I’m trying, but a page stared back at me from the garbage pile – over a decade old. I had written it right after my marital partner (best friend, lover, soul mate) of 18 years suddenly, and without warning, up and left me for another woman.

In the midst of emotional torment so intense I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through it, I wrote a prose-poem about the struggle between my symbiotic self and separate self.

I felt as if he had flayed my heart, or at least severed the aorta. While it seemed that I was bleeding to death of heartbreak, I realized, somehow, that I was an adult who could stand on my own two feet even under such dire circumstances.

My symbiotic self was shattered, but my separate self somehow sent out a peace signal.

The separate self was a part of me that hadn’t had a chance (or need) to assert itself in over 18 years (because I was too busy enjoying coupled bliss). Newly emerging, this part of me was a real contrast to my symbiotic self – and a real life savor.

The separate self can survive on its own. It doesn’t need to have someone in its corner, someone to belong to, someone to return to at the end of the day.

In short, the separate self can survive without a background object. It might not like to, but it can, and if it must, it will do so with grace.

Losing your background object (the person from whom you gain a sense of security even when you’re not conscious of it) can lead to an unbelievably strong emotional crisis – something that feels worse than a nervous breakdown! Mine was so ferocious that I couldn’t believe that my lungs continued to suck in oxygen.

But when I got in touch with my separate self, I immediately knew where I had to place my focus. I recognized my separate self as my highest adult self. This was the self which I set out to nurture, build, discover, embrace, and appreciate.

In contrast, my symbiotic self continued searching for the missing piece, looking for daddy, yearning for its other half. My separate self, a whole person by itself, kept asserting itself, keeping me focused, saving the day.

At the time of my abandonment, my symbiotic self had filled up its missing half with the idea, the fantasy, the belief that someone was there—that I was loved and found and kept – a belief that proved to be an illusion. What I learned was that the symbiotic self held many such illusions – just waiting to be shattered.

I realized that my newly discovered separate self had to develop the idea of…I wasn’t sure what.. of its own two feet, its ability to give to itself in the moment.

Both selves operated within me and continue to do so, only now, I have learned a lesson, which is, to continuously and diligently celebrate my separate self.

The separate self (in me, in you) doesn’t desperately seek its other half. It says centered in the moment, looking to bring a full sense of life through its own senses, the sounds of life, the sights, the smells, the feelings, the sensations – all of them under its own power and control.

So, I threw out at least 1000 old papers, but I kept this one – because I’m still working on it.

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Where Did My Self-Doubt Come From?

Abandonment vs. the Self
Some people want to understand why: Why do they doubt themselves? Why is their self-esteem eroded? Why does it hurt so much to be abandoned? To not be accepted? To feel slighted by a friend? How did this vulnerability set in? What caused it? What keeps it going?

The simple answer is “unresolved abandonment,” but to really understand the whys and wherefores, we have to go back – all the way back to the primal fear of abandonment.

When we were babies, we cried in terror when Mommy walked away from the crib, afraid she was never coming back. Our survival instinct was at the heart the scream. She was our survival lifeline. Babies, after all, can’t survive on their own.

Then as we developed from babies to children, we began to ask how we could COMPEL our caretakers to continue loving us, nurturing us, and taking care of us. The issue for us became “control.” We needed to feel that we weren’t just helpless recipients our parents’ aid, but that rather, there were things we could DO to enhance our chances (and to prevent them from leaving us and never coming back).

We played peek-a-boo to prove that we could make them re-appear at our own whim. As we developed a little more, we practiced gaining their attention, getting them to pick us up, getting them to laugh, smile, hold us, administer to our needs and wants.

During childhood we felt the ebb and flow of our relationship with our parents. They might be busy at times. There might be other siblings. There might be illnesses, alcoholism, divorces, neglect, abuse, etc. Rather than leave it up to the whims and proclivities of our parents who had lives of their own, we developed all kinds of behaviors to try to COMPEL them to continue taking care of us and loving us.

So some of us became people-pleasers; others learned to stand up for ourselves; some learned how to “get attention” even if it is negative attention; others learned the art of invisibility; some learned how to intimidate and demand; others learned how to grow numb, not care, self-sooth. These behaviors took us out of the passive role and gave us an active role in mediating the connection with our parents.

So, our sense of self-worth (our ability to compel the love and attention from others) is at the root of the survival instinct, a survival that continued to be dependent upon our caretakers until we were old enough to take care of ourselves.

At the age of independence, we transferred the need to compel others onto our peers (and especially onto our love-connections).

When, as adults, we feel someone’s love or acceptance slipping away, our most primitive self-doubts erupt. Our deepest fear explodes in our faces – that someone could leave us and never come back. And this fear is complicated by the fact that it’s tied to our sense of self-worth. As the person breaks away from us, we feel at loss of our ability to compel him or her to want to be with us.

We fell as if we are living our worst nightmare – that of being left because we are unworthy. Hence, these episodes of being slighted by a friend, ignored by a teacher, overlooked by a boss, and especially rejected by a lover – have the capacity to erode self esteem and implant self-doubt.

Repairing the damaged sense of self-worth from cumulative abandonment wounds which have been festering since childhood, begins with understanding the dynamics of what has happened. But that is only the beginning and there are tools (which are the subject of my books) to rebuild a sense of self which is invincible and which can never again be taken away from you by someone else.

How to Tend Your Own Wound

The biggest turning point of my life came the day I realized that adults cannot be abandoned, they can only abandon themselves.

The love of my life, my best friend, my marital partner of almost 20 years had just abandoned me to be with another woman (out of the blue and without warning) and I was shattered.

I was in pain, terrified of the future, and drowning in self-doubt. But all of this torment was inflicted by self-abandonment. I was an adult, I realized, and I could not be abandoned because I could take care of myself.

Even emotionally? Yes, I had no other choice.

My task was to find a way to nurture this gaping wound that was tearing me apart. This meant that I had to stop my futile effort to “get rid of the pain,” because in doing so, I would be ignoring the wound rather than embracing it. I didn’t want to ignore the sobbing inner child who beheld all of the hurt, fear, and doubt and cried out for love. There was nobody there but me to love this injured child. “Physician, tend thy own wound.”

I learned that once you make the realization that as an adult, you can only abandon yourself, you embark on a whole new journey which begins with connecting to yourself. You finally take responsibility for your life.

You learn to tune into the primal pain of abandonment, rather than defending against it (which is what causes all of the problems). You commence a journey to the center of the self where you discover your connection to the universal core of what it means to be human. You discover your separate self. You adopt yourself. You commit to taking care of that self. As a whole person, you reach out for connection.

Why are we always abandoning one another? Because we are constantly defending against our own abandonment fears. We develop calluses around our wounds to make us numb. We become callused to our own and other people’s pain.

It is not the pain of abandonment, but the fact that we are constantly defending against it that causes us to be destructive to self and others. We constantly ward off abandonment by clinging to partners who aren’t good for us. Or we avoid relationships all together to avoid getting hurt. Or we pursue all the wrong partners and get abandoned over and over again. Or we over-merge with someone, become co-dependent, and lose ourselves. In our constant defense against abandonment, we deny, suppress, and repress our feelings, and what’s more, we displace it onto others.

This is what allows us to hurt one another and grow callused toward the world. This is how our abandonment wound is able to burrow deep within the self where it works insidiously to drain off our self esteem and erode our capacity for connection.

Abandonment brings us to the human condition. It is a humbling experience. Once we learn to have compassion toward ourselves, we stop shaming ourselves for not being able to snap out of the pain and we open up more compassionately to our loved ones and to the world. It is no longer possible to remain aloof, non-committal, numb to the suffering in the world.

When you tune in to administer to your deepest feelings and needs, know that you are moving in the direction, not of self-involvement, but of love and connection. This extends to love for the world and all of its abandoned people.

Journeying to the center of the self is not an end, but a beginning of an increasing compassion and energy output toward the world. If we can slow down global warming, and yet do not come together to take action to prevent it, then we are abandoning ourselves and each other.

We have public examples. Celebrities (i.e. Oprah, Jolie) who reach out to embrace the world are the ones who have journeyed to the center of the self and back. They have stopped defending against their own wounds, and instead have embraced their humanness with humility and self-compassion, and have journeyed back to embrace the world.

They are not Barbie dolls whose feelings and needs were always protected and tended to by doting parents, or who never suffered deprivation, humiliation, shame, betrayal, isolation – abandonment. On the contrary, they had to learn how to rise from the ashes of their own wounds.

The self, if it is to be healthy and thriving, serves as a bridge connecting outward to the world. That is why this process leads to love and a better world.

Rejection Hurts: What to Do?

August 27, 2010 1 comment

When someone rejects you they acquire power in your mind. They acquire power due to their ability to inflict pain. The more they hurt you the harder it is to let go. This is the painful paradox of abandonment.

“Why does it take so long to get over it?” people ask. Those suffering from rejection judge themselves harshly for not being able to feel better sooner. They beat themselves up for feeling so weak and needy. They feel this so called “weakness” is proving their abandoner right for rejecting them.

People going through abandonment lose self-esteem this way. They beat themselves up for losing the person. They conclude that they must be reject able, valueless, unworthy. They shame themselves for pining and yearning and wanting someone who has hurt them so badly.

They turn the rage over being rejected against themselves, beating themselves up, causing themselves to plummet into a painful depression, damaging their self-esteem further. Having disqualified themselves as worthy of love, they are panicked over fearing that they will wind up dieing alone. The anxiety seems unbearable and bottomless.

That’s why abandonment grief feels like a terminal illness. People are afraid they will die of their wounds – that is, die anxious, worthless, and alone. Whew, a painful depression! And it lags on.

What to do:

First and foremost, stop berating yourself for feeling so miserable – and for the length of time it is taking you to get over it. It’s only in the movies that people recover so quickly. It’s only in the movies that people just get mad, burn their ex’s clothes, and walk away triumphant. In real life, people pine away for long periods of time, but they are too ashamed to admit to most people. So when it happens to you, you think you’re taking too long, but this ongoing pain is how men and women alike react to rejection.

Second: Rejection is a painful laceration that takes time and effort to heal. You must replace your ex with a love of your wounded inner child. Treat your hurt feelings not with self-criticism, but as a cherished child that it is your new job to take exquisite care of. Physician, tend thy own wound.

Third: Getting over someone is all about time management. Recognize that this is your full time job. Time management is pain management. Discover what things help you the most and do them more. What parts of the day are the most painful? Plan them differently. Your new priority is time management and it involves creativity and taking initiative.

Fourth: Get into therapy or support groups or both. Abandonment opens you up to the core. It’s like exploratory surgery – but now that your chest cavity has been splayed wide open, why not go in and clean up the wound. Question some of your false assumptions about yourself and your life. Do your emotional spring cleaning.

Fifth: Use your friends. Yes, I know, the heartbreak has dragged on so long, they are sick of listening to you. You can tell because they’re beginning to say things like “You need to let go and move forward,” not taking into account the fact that you are already doing everything in your power to let go and move forward, but you just can’t. You’re miserably stuck, which is the whole POINT they’re missing.

Never mind, just ask them for patience and forbearance. Explain that you need their companionship, you need to talk, you need more support. Explain that you’ll be there for them when they need you. If you’ve been a good friend to them over the years, they owe you one already.

Sixth: Add new things into your life. Enlarge your circle of friends and activities. Explore your alter ego states. Again this involves creativity and taking initiative. You have to join new things, especially activities where you will be around other people.

Seventh: Re-acquaint yourself with old friends and family. This is reunion time. You can tell them all about the breakup and the transitional period this has thrust you into. Tell them you are reconnecting your past with your present and want to meet up with them to reconnect. This has a wonderfully healing impact

Eighth: Go on a self-improvement plan. Some people go to pot. They let themselves go. Do the opposite of that. Become your best self. Join a gym, take up jogging, yoga, philanthropy, journaling, go back to school, move, change jobs, etc.

Ninth: Be determined to turn this painful period into a positive experience. As a result of your efforts you become your higher self.

Tenth: As our higher self emerges, consider making new love connections again. This time, however, look for partners who are more emotionally safe to attach to. And don’t clamp on to anyone at first. Take your time, play the field, lead from your newly acquired wisdom rather than your old patterns.