* THIS IS PART OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES ON THE TRUE SELF, WHICH IS A CENTRAL FOCUS OF NARCISSISTIC ABUSE RECOVERY *
The pond and the ocean: crossing over to the true self
A vast majority of human beings are unaware of their true self. Like fish in water, they stay within the constraints of the human mind. We all have feelings, but for some of us, it’s rare to experience them separate to our mind. The thinking mind is predictable, it compartmentalises and puts things in a box so we can comprehend them. When a feeling such as fear or shame comes up, the mind either turns our focus away or blames it on something outside of us. In both scenarios, the emotion is barely experienced. This ability to compartmentalise is a survival mechanism which gives little regard for emotion. The mind labels that marvellous, flourishing green thing a ‘tree’, and reduces that bubbly, endlessly curious and precious young being to a ‘little bastard’. Beyond the practical advantages of the mind, its ability to suppress and numb psychological pain can lead us to cling to it for a lifetime.
Because childhood can be a frightening time, it’s common for people to turn away from their inner emotional world. Too much fear, shame, anxiety and uncertainty can be difficult to handle, and a point may come when a person turns away from their true self for good. Once mind identification becomes a habit, going back to the true self and reintegrating it can be difficult. The reasons are plenty:
1. When your mind is unstimulated and relaxed, frightening thoughts or pent up trauma can arise, so you cross back to the thinking mind where you are safe from the emotional storm.
2. You’ve spent your whole life identified with your thinking mind, you’ve had minimal practice integrating your emotions.
3. You fear losing yourself. The thinking mind has been ‘you’ since you were born. It’s daunting going away from the familiar.
4. It’s risky to venture past what you know. This makes sense, since the less risk you take, the less you risk experiencing pain and discomfort.
5. Like a fish that’s spent its entire life in a pond, you have no idea the ocean exists.
An ocean. Let that comparison sink in. A pond, compared to an ocean. Many people find it after experiencing a catastrophic event which has destroyed their identity, such as a break-up or a loss of career or loved one. When the mind is unable to compartmentalize the horror which the true self is trying to express, the mind shuts down temporarily and a gap opens up. Some people are tossed into the true self during a psychedelic experience, with the drug flooding out the mind and allowing the person to stand face to face with their true self. Some people come across it through meditation. All of the great people throughout history knew about it, and they dedicated their lives to exploring it. They bravely entered the mist, with difficulty at first, until they eventually identified the line which separated the two. With practice, they were able to integrate both their emotional world and their thinking mind, using them both to grow and mature.
The reason why we abandon the true self
The mind is necessary. But it is only a subset of the human experience. Yes, it is predictable, it can numb the pain, and it can provide you with logical and convenient answers. But it can also limit your experience of life.
The mind usually limits how you experience the world for a good reason. Most commonly, the mind represses your experience to protect you from trauma. In childhood, trauma is more potent than it is in adulthood. For example, as an adult, if you dropped a glass on the floor and your mother screamed at you, you might scratch your head and wonder what was bothering her. You might storm off and go back to your place. Or you might engage her and find out why she reacted that way. That is, as an adult, you have power, and you have options. Other people’s reactions can be uncomfortable, but they rarely feel life threatening.
As a child, the same scenario can have devastating consequences. If you see your mother screaming at you, your immediate reaction is earth-shattering fear. The child’s security is fragile because they have no capacity to look after themselves and no skills to negotiate scenarios. In their mind, abandonment means death. Literally. And if mummy is upset, she might just leave and never come back. The child’s sense of well-being is tightly coupled with the state of their guardian, and even the smallest shift can be felt deeply.
The more of these traumatic experiences the child experiences, the more the mind steps in to protect the true self. It represses your experiences so you forget them, it fantasises and pretends things are better than they are and it reasons and analyses situations so you can make sense of them. In the process, the true self is pushed out of your consciousness, and you identify exclusively with your mind. The spontaneous, creative, life affirming part of you gets left behind. Fear is the reason why we abandon our true selves and is also the reason why we are reluctant to pursue it.
In place of the true self, the thinking mind is rigid and predictable. Once we develop our patterns and beliefs, our behaviour is pretty much a script. We live our lives according to other people’s dogma. Predictability and control take away the fear of the unknown. But the more one embraces the unknown, the more one sees that the true self is infinite in its potential. The more you can connect with the true self, the more your thinking mind will adapt and change. You’ll develop new behaviours, skills and even facial expressions. Everything you say and do will have new life. Things in your life that were once bland and repetitive start evolving and growing. As a result, your mind will grow and incorporate more and more of your true self. The two parts of you will work together as you adapt and evolve.
The border crossing between thought and true self
When it comes down to it, this metaphorical border crossing is your fear. To know which side of the border you are on, focus on your chest area and find the fear. That ominous feeling is the gateway into your true self.
Meditation is the practice of turning your focus inward and becoming aware of the gap between your mind and your true self. This gap is you. By paying attention to your thoughts, you become more aware of what you are thinking. By paying attention to your emotions, you become more aware of what you are feeling. By practising both of these, the path to your true self will open up, and the mind will adapt to this new experience. The more you do it, the deeper you go. Pay no attention to where you are headed, the focus is on going deeper. And what is your destination? Infinity, of course.
True self is infinite, mind is limited
Think about it. Before you allow yourself to experience it, just think about it. Nature has been evolving for millions of years. From dinosaurs to our current modern world. How did this stuff happen? Millions of flora, millions of species of animals, billions of ideas and concepts, all continuously evolving and changing. This is creative potential on a ridiculous scale. And it is inside each of us. It’s something we can never, ever grasp in our minds. It is beyond the mind. Once we connect with it, our job is to slowly explore it and then integrate into our limited minds what it provides us. Even though it is impossible to mentally grasp, just remember one thing: The self is limitless.
We are limited, our mind is limited, but the true self is not. We have good reason to turn away when it gets too intense. Fear, trauma and shame are very real sensations in the body. Maybe at a certain time we weren’t quite skilled enough to withstand its awesome power. But the script can change. Cautiously, we can delve into it, a little at a time, and integrate what it provides, be it creative ideas or negative emotions. Slowly we will begin to evolve. That’s how the true self works. Your mind will do its best to convince you otherwise because that’s what the mind does. It puts everything into a convenient little box and tucks it away. It is your job to unpack that box and on occasion, to throw the box away. It is your job to move away from the pond once in a while and dive into the ocean. The box and the pond have their uses since we all need to live within a manageable structure. But our pond can be enriched in countless ways if we are brave enough to dive into the ocean. By unpacking the box and inspecting the fear, we gain clues about both ourselves and the world around us.
Thought is a tool as well as a distraction. When you find you get caught up in a thought storm and it becomes hard to stop, it’s usually a warning that your emotions have become unmanageable. Excessive thinking is an attempt to protect us from our emotions so that we feel less pain. It’s a bad habit. Knowing the fine line between thought and true self gives us the power to stay more in touch with what matters. The true self is in constant motion and is always telling us something. Treading over this fine line between thought and true self finally gives our true self a chance to have a say. It is a frustrating, rocky journey with many rewards.
To better understand the dynamics of narcissism and to learn about the 7 practices for narcissistic abuse recovery, check out How To Kill A Narcissist