It does not have to be a lonely journey
Who are you? What do you want? What are you feeling right now?
Imagine yourself in a place where what others thought of you was of little significance. What mattered most was how you felt about your life. A place where the ‘shoulds’ of your parents and society did not burden you.
A place where you were in touch with your feelings without judging them. Where you related to others deeply without losing view of your needs. Imagine you liked yourself. And your values and life were in alignment.
How do you get to that place? How do you help your children get there? My thinking on this topic has been influenced by Humanistic Psychology. It is based on the belief that people are naturally good, social and creative. So becoming themselves is a good thing for everyone. Let’s get started.
1. Open up to your experience
Most of us have built defenses that do not allow us to experience life as it is. We are not even aware of our feelings or thoughts a lot of the time. Defenses hide what is going on from our awareness, or they distort it. Here are some of the most common of them:
- Numbness: Do you notice when you are tired or hungry? Or you realize your needs only when they become unbearable? Do you numb your emotions with food, nicotine or alcohol? Most of us try to numb the pain. The problem is that numbness does not work only one way. If you do not feel the pain, you will not feel the joy either.
- Avoidance: A coaching client of mine was stressed about money. But, she kept postponing doing a budget to clarify how much she needed. Do you avoid facing the stuff that stresses you? Having that difficult conversation. Hitting publish. Looking for a new job. What else do you avoid?
- ‘Swallowing’ shoulds: Are you acting according to ‘shoulds’ you have adopted without any judgment? A 65-year old lady I know meets her friends to play cards every Monday evening for the last 35 years. Her friends stay until midnight, but she always leaves early to go home to her husband. Her husband did not care. Her mother had told her that this was the right thing to do. Her mother had passed away decades ago. Was this unquestioned ‘should’ determining the lady’s behavior for the last 35 years?
- Projection: Sometimes we project to someone else a part of ourselves we are comfortable with. For example, I had an emotional reaction towards a mom who was not spending much time with her children. I discussed this with my coaching supervisor. We realized that this mom reminded me of myself as I work full time. I was judging her, but in reality, I was judging a part of me. A part I had projected to her because I was uncomfortable to own. Realizing this helped me integrate it back and increase my self-awareness.
- Becoming an observer of your life: Do you keep thinking how what you say or do look from the outside? One of my coaching clients will often stop talking and say ‘That sounds weird.’ Always criticizing yourself like an observer can prevent you from experiencing life.
- Losing your individuality: How do you relate to people without losing yourself? I will give a simple example. When I am with a group of friends and everyone orders a beer I hesitate for a moment. I am tempted to order a beer as well, even though I do not like it. Just to go with the flow of the group. One of my coaching clients kept using ‘we’ when she was describing her individual achievements.
These defenses can be useful at times. You can avoid thinking about what’s going on when you are at the dentist. If you are an athlete, you can numb a pain during a sports game to be able to finish it.
You want to use these defenses by choice. Not subconsciously and uncontrollably. You want to live every new experience as new. Not distorted from your past.
My yoga teacher has helped me over the last few months to become more aware of my sensations or emotions. She will just invite the class to notice what we feel without judgment. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder.
2. Open up to your relationships
We define ourselves in relation to our environment and others. Being aware of your feelings and thoughts is one side of the coin. Expressing them genuinely is the other.
Try to be open about your emotions in your relationships. Do not be afraid. If you do it timely, when the emotions arise, the relationship will become stronger. For example, when you say ‘I love you’ and ‘I am sorry’ whenever you feel them, they become less loaded.
The same goes for negative emotions. The damage happens when you suppress them for too long. Then, you explode with a seemingly irrelevant trigger. This is when you are not understood, and you harm your relationships.
Keeping a facade will create distance between you and your loved ones. The problem is that most of us were discouraged from expressing our emotions or even our thoughts when we grew up.
If you have a hard time being yourself in your relationships, it may be a good idea to train yourself with a helper. Helping relationships are relationships where both parties’ goal is your development. A helper can be a parent, a therapist, a coach, a teacher or anyone else who cares about your growth.
In an effective helping relationship you feel understood and unconditionally accepted. This helps you understand and accept yourself. The helper needs to be self-aware and transparent about their feelings. A good model who will help you increase your own transparency.
If you want to help your children become themselves, you need to be their helper. Show empathy, unconditional acceptance, caring and transparency.
Your children in return will help you in your journey of becoming yourself. Parenting will force you to think about your values. It will make your defenses more evident. It will test your boundaries.
3. Open up to the world
Opening up to your experience is a prerequisite to trusting yourself. You will have more data available when it comes to making decisions. Your feelings and sensations are a fantastic source of information.
That does not mean you will not make mistakes. You will. But since you are in touch with your experience you can course-correct. Marrying the wrong person is not as big an error as staying with them for 20 years.
Opening yourself in relationships, will also help you trust yourself. You will realize that people can get to know you and still love you.
Trusting yourself will make you creative and innovative. Everyone who did something groundbreaking or original did so against popular opinion. You can be creative when your opinion about your work is more important than other people’s beliefs.
When I started writing, there was a voice in my head saying I should be writing about leadership and work. I was an Executive Coach and a Googler after all. But, I felt like writing about parenting, relationships, personal experience, self-care, and psychology.
I went with my guts. In the end, those ‘less corporate’ articles were the ones that opened the most opportunities for me. From getting published in major publications to getting coaching assignments. Note to self: Trust yourself.
By sharing the real you with the world, you change it. As Bernard Saw said:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Or as Mahatma Ghandi said:
‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’
4. Accept that you are a process and not a product
We will never fully get to know ourselves or be completely integrated. It is a process. I am still shocked by how quickly my children change. You are the same. Fluid. With no end state. Every day is different. Learning to enjoy that process and realizing it never ends is a sign of maturity.
The journey of becoming yourself is one of the most worthwhile in your life. You open up to your pain and anger and joy and love. You realize that you can have all these feelings and still be ok. You feel alive and free.
The burden of others’ opinions and ‘shoulds’ gets lighter. You trust yourself to make decisions and be creative. You contribute to the world and you change it.
And you accept the love. Love from yourself. And from others.
As Saint Exupery beautifully said:
‘Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself’
You can download Caterina Kostoula’s free Balance & Self-Care toolkit to assess your self-care needs, identify your energy zappers, and create more space in your life.