Can you rely? What if all your choices had been in response to what others expected? You had always been there for everybody else first, went into the same industry your father and grandfather had pursued, are feeling stuck, frustrated and ready to give up on your life dreams? Do you feel like you are going in circles, repeating same mistakes over, over, and over? Are you exhausted, stressed out and sick of your aches and pains? Do you wish you could feel confident, vibrant, healthy and excited about your life? Are you tired of failed relationships? Do you feel like something is still missing in your life but you are not sure what it is? Now, at the certain age, you are wondering if these choices were really pseudo-choices, given the pressure your family and love ones had put on you? And even more frightening: what other choices do you have at this point in your life?
You increasingly begin to question herself. Where is all of this coming from? Is there a hidden part of yourself you don’t understand – or maybe even know about? You remember how as an adolescent you had always been preoccupied with: “What do people want me to do? And who do they want me to be?” Perhaps, the time had come to revisit these questions—to take an honest look at what you really want to do, not what others expect you to do. Who you really want to be , not what others expect you to be. But what does the “True YOU” really wants?
The idea of a “true self” and a “false” or “shadow” self has long preoccupied psychologists. For example, Carl Jung introduced the notion of the shadow side of our personality. He viewed “the shadow” as our unknown, dark side—made up of the primitive, negative, socially depreciated human emotions such as sexuality, striving for power, selfishness, greed, envy, jealousy, and anger. But although the shadow personifies everything that we fear, and therefore refuse to acknowledge, it remains a part of us. Jung believed that unless we come to terms with our shadow side, we are condemned to become its unwitting victim.
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Similarly, Erik Erikson, another famous psychologist, introduced the idea of the identity crisis. Erikson, like Jung, suggests that identity formation has its dark and negative side. There are parts of us that are attractive but disturbing and therefore tend to be submerged. In the process of becoming an adult, we not only internalize what’s viewed as acceptable, we also internalize (be it only subliminally) parental and societal attitudes about undesirable qualities and characteristics. For many of us, these “undesirables” turn into “forbidden fruits”–things we are attracted to. To feel more authentic, we may have to integrate these forbidden fruits into our sense of identity.
Donald Winnicott elaborated on the idea of the “true self” and “false self.” He explained that beginning in infancy, all of us, in response to perceived threats to our well-being, develop a defensive structure that may evolve into a “false self.” He suggests that if our basic needs are not acknowledged—not mirrored back to us by our parents—we may presume they are unimportant. Complying with our parents’ desires, we may repress our own desires, not actualizing what we really like to do. We may believe that non-compliance endangers our role in the family. In addition, we may internalize our parents’ dreams of self-glorification through our achievements. But this acquiescence to the wishes of others is an emotional lie. It comes at the price of suppressing our own needs. In our efforts to please others, we hide and deny our “true self,” which in turn leads to self-estrangement. If that’s the case, the “false self” will get the upper hand. It becomes a defensive armor to keep the “true self” at bay and hidden.
If there is too great a discrepancy between the “true” and the “false” self, it will make for a vulnerable sense of identity. And if we are unable to acquire a stable sense of identity—we may end up one day unraveled. After a lifetime of complying to others’ expectations, you might be experiencing what Erikson would call a delayed identity crisis. At a certain point in your life, it can become difficult for you to keep up the lie.
The journey of identity exploration that often begins at adolescence doesn’t stop there. The tension between “false self” and “true self” could come to a head, contributing to a renewal of the confusion you had experienced at an earlier stage of your life. Not living a full, complete life—not integrating these other parts of yourself, call it your shadow or negative identity—can turn out to be extremely draining, contributing to life choices that don’t accommodate your real needs. Ignoring your shadow side is taking an enormous amount of energy, depleting you of your inner creativity, and contributes to various stress symptoms, including depressive reactions.
But the “return of the repressed” should not be looked at as a purely negative experience. Although you might view these parts of yourself as a representation of your unlived life, a delayed identity crisis can also contain the seeds of psychological renewal—the motivation to enter new directions in life. Romancing your shadow—accepting these unlived parts of yourself and learning to read the messages that are contained in it—can lead to a deeper level of consciousness, as well as spark your imagination. When a person is ready to accept these parts—and not try to push them aside — she or he may discover all sorts of creative, positive ideas begging for fulfillment. These buried desires will help them to reflect not only on the question of “Who am I?” but also “Who do I want to be?” This can turn a negative spiral of self-pity turned into the opposite.
What needs to happen, is that you have to grip with your previous life experiences. Capture your dreams in a journal, and write about the associations that come to you. Write letters to your past and future self. Tell your love one about your dreams and the emotions they evoke. Together talk about your feelings of frustration and anxiety. Your love one if you are honest, will begin sharing some of his\hers dreams with you, as well. Your conversations eventually will take a more concrete turn, as you will discuss your future together, including your careers, finances, and upcoming life choices. Yourself-exploration will give you greater awareness both of your inner theatre and what your life journey had been up till this moment.
Reassured and invigorated, only then you can take a hard look at your work responsibilities and see ways that you can make changes that would benefit your workplace as well as yourself.
Most of us find this difficult, and confusing work. But learning to sort out our inner demons can be liberating. Questioning, reflecting, and having meaningful conversations with important people in our lives can help us come to terms with our shadow sides and create the rapprochement needed between our “false” and “true” selves. To do this, we have to figure out how to accept what we learn about ourselves without judgment. And to do that, we must approach self-knowledge with curiosity, as if it were a fascinating adventure – an exploration of the riches contained in this previously unknown world inside the self.