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Ask Maddisen: How to Be Your Self in the Presence of Others

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Dear Maddisen:
I feel secure and connected to myself when I'm alone, but when I get around other people, even my significant other, I seem to lose myself and my own voice. How can I stay connected to myself and express my truth when interacting with others?
Signed, LR

Dear LR,

Thank you for asking such a relevant question, which speaks to a fairly common but often unaddressed human quandary. It is absolutely possible for you to reclaim your connection to yourself and your own unique voice while in the company of others, and I'm here to throw you a lifeline!

Let's start with some useful background information. The research of developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, suggests that our sense of individuality, identity, and values is established during our adolescent years between the ages of 12-20; with internal and external factors influencing our behavioral patterns that result in Identity or Identity Confusion. He describes the balanced and desired outcome of this phase as Fidelity - Being True to One's Self.

Individuals who develop a healthy sense of identity tend to have a committed sense of fidelity or loyalty to themselves, a sense of self acceptance and self respect, and a natural trust in expressing their truths with others. Their behavior is internally referenced from their authentic or core Self.

Individuals with identity confusion may lean toward self rejection, self criticism, a lack of confidence, and a fear of standing out in the presence of others. Their behavior is externally referenced, meaning they may be overly influenced by the behavior of others. From this unsteady position, there may be a need to isolate, to lose oneself or even freeze in the presence of others, or to overcompensate with bravado or even by belittling others.

So the million dollar question is: If we've beating the drum of identity confusion, what can we do to become more consistently true to ourselves in the presence of others? Well, we can fake it by imitating confidence, which can be utterly exhausting, OR we can change genuinely from within, with utterly uplifting and lasting results. I vote for the latter!

To support your new habit of being true to your Self while alone and in the company of others, we're going to learn a game I developed called 1-2-3 Me You We. (say that 3 times fast!) I'll demonstrate with our fictional client Jasmine, famed soap star from my last column. This is an easy 5-step exercise.

1-2-3 Me You We

Jasmine and I stand facing each other. We each hold a lit candle, safely close and level with the solar plexus (the area between the chest and the belly button).

Step 1
Jasmine closes her eyes and takes three deep breaths, 1-2-3 (which she deliberately feels in her solar plexus region).

Step 2
Jasmine opens her eyes and says aloud, "Hello, I AM Jasmine, and this candle represents my unique and wonderful Self. I AM here, I AM fully connected to my Self, I AM sharing this space with you, and I AM expressing my truth with you."

Jasmine takes her time to feel into this, and shares anything else she'd like to say. We engage in honest and loving conversation, while each holding our own candles.

Step 3
Jasmine hands me her lit candle. (This represents the act of losing or giving herself away when she comes in contact with others.)

She says, "I've given my self away. I don't know who I am. And now I need you to tell me who I am, how I am, and what to do."

Jasmine stands here and fully experiences this feeling of giving herself away.

Step 4
I say to her, "Jasmine, I already have my own candle that represents my unique and wonderful self. I know who I am. Please take your unique and wonderful self back where it belongs."

Step 5
Jasmine takes back her lit candle, holds it by her solar plexus, and with eyes open, takes three deep breaths, 1-2-3.

She says again, "Hello, I AM Jasmine, and this candle represents my unique and wonderful Self. I AM here, I AM fully connected to my self, I AM sharing this space with you, and I AM expressing my truth with you."

We engage in conversation together, each holding our own candles.

Repeat as desired
We repeat Steps 1-5 several times until Jasmine feels complete.

Jasmine expresses that this game has clearly shown her how in the past, she was unconsciously losing her self in the presence of others, and how uncomfortable that was. Jasmine loves the feeling of staying connected to her Self, and enthusiastically commits to this new practice. She asks what she should do if she is with others and blanks on what to say. I suggest that it's best for her to speak her truth whenever possible, so for example in this case, she might express honestly that she's at a loss for words! She likes that idea.

I've witnessed profound improvements with my clients who have played this game. And if you're out and about with others but without your candle (!), try this: Center yourself with three deep breaths and visualize a lit candle or a golden ball of light in your solar plexus. Be aware of staying connected to your own center as you interact with others. Be patient with yourself and use self forgiveness as needed.

One last tip about the solar plexus and chakras: the chakras are energy centers that support the flow of our life energy. The seven chakras are: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow (third-eye), and crown. The solar plexus chakra is the energy center that supports our individuality, self esteem, and personal power. It is represented by the color yellow and the element of fire. If you'd like to learn more, I recommend listening to Colette Baron-Reid's audio CD Journey through the Chakras.

And so, dear L.R., it's fine and healthy to enjoy your time alone, but please remember to COME OUT AND PLAY! Share your Self with us! Share your truth and your voice with us! Share your inherent gifts with the world! It's the reason you are here!

In closing, I bid you all adieu with this fitting quote from you-know-who:
This above all, to thine own self be true.

Your Coach, Maddisen

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