I'm All Grown Up, Who Do I Want to Be?

Is There a Conflict Between Who You Think You Should Be and Who You Are?

A few issues ago we discussed healing the relationship between the mind and the body. We explored how we rely heavily on the ‘mind’ to determine our identity – our   ‘idea’ of ourselves. It is usually the mind that ‘calls the shots’ and maintains our identity by dictating our choices, actions and behaviours. But the body and its senses, feelings and intuitions often has very different ideas about who and what we are. This difference of opinion can result in anything from a niggling source of dissatisfaction or discontentment to a full-blown inner conflict about our life purpose and choices.

So, let’s explore the nature of this conflict. The mind is primarily concerned with rules and expectations about who we ‘should’ be. Since the mind has been conditioned by our upbringing, schooling and social environment it comes as no surprise that the mind’s rules about who we are or who we should be are mostly aligned with the expectations of our family, peers, culture and society. The mind has constructed a ‘self’ that is totally based on our   learning and conditioning. Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, refers to this constructed identity as the ‘Social Self.’ The Social Self is literally ‘designed to please others.’ This is because humans are, by nature, socially dependent creatures. From birth, our survival is completely dependent on the adults around us.

As we grow up, still vulnerable and dependent, it remains in our best interests to keep adapting our behavioural responses in ways that will please our adult care-takers to ensure our survival. The Social Self is therefore mostly concerned with conforming, working hard, avoiding punishment or failure and seeking approval from external sources.

This conditioned and programmed Social Self is however only one aspect of who we really are. We also have an inner, true or authentic self. Beck calls this the ‘Essential Self’. This is the self who knows, with clarity and certainty, exactly what brings us joy, peace and fulfilment. It knows our passion and purpose and who we are here to be. You may or may not be familiar with it, depending on how dominant your Social Self is!

Inner conflict arises because the Social Self, in its desperation to please others, fit in, meet expectations and survive in the world, can drive us to make choices which are at odds with our Essential Self. Our Essential Self is spontaneous, fun-loving, unique and interested in what pleases us, not others. The Social Self will easily judge and even dismiss the Essential Self’s dreams, aspirations and inclinations as unrealistic, impractical, unachievable or socially unacceptable. Think back to when you were little – what did you want to be when you grew up?Chances are you answered this question by considering what you loved doing, what made your heart sing and what filled you with joy. While you probably wanted to be a singer, author, astronaut, artist or athlete you definitely did not base your decision on your chosen career’s prospects for employment availability and stability, financial security nor what your parents or Aunt Betty would think of it. You certainly didn’t even stop to question whether you were capable of it. You considered who and what you wanted to be from the perspective of your Essential Self. Then over the years, your Social Self took over, policing your career decisions based on concerns about ‘making enough money,’ ‘being good enough’ or avoiding parental disappointment and not allowing their investment in your education to ‘go to waste.’ On the other hand, your Essential Self knows you are capable of anything, it has no limits and it sees infinite possibilities. The only thing that limits us is a belief that the Social Self has adopted in order to conform or please others.

Some of us are lucky enough to have a Social Self and Essential Self on the ‘same team’ but most of us have come to feel some sense of inner conflict. It is your body that reflects this conflict in the form of fatigue, depression, anxiety, digestive problems and so on. In fact, many symptoms or unwanted emotions are good indicators that the Social Self and Essential Self are in conflict. This is because your Essential Self speaks through your body. How do you know what you enjoy? Through the emotions and feelings of joy and the state of being energised and alert. How do you know when you are bored? Through the feelings of boredom and the state of fatigue, tiredness or lethargy. Your body is quite simply the most amazingly sophisticated tool for guiding you towards peace, joy and happiness. It is your connection to your Essential Self. 

The Social Self will often judge, dismiss or repress the Essential Self’s needs because they conflict with its set of socially acceptable rules and beliefs. When the inner wisdom of our Essential Self is ignored or suppressed, our sense of peace, joy and happiness is effectively quashed and the body responds by sending us a message in the form of an emotion or symptom. Unfortunately we often respond to this message by suppressing it due to yet another belief, mostly about the failure or weakness of the body. This suppression results in a missed opportunity to heed the body’s good advice to make a change that will free us from the limitations of our Social Self and increase our peace or happiness. :-(

Inner harmony results when the Essential Self and Social Self are in synch. This occurs when we are listening to the body and receiving its feedback about what brings us peace and joy and then using the skills of the mind to make decisions and take action to do it. Beck explains it as such: “Your Essential Self yearns for the freedom of nature; your Social Self buys the right backpacking equipment”.

Healing the mind-body relationship can therefore bring so much more than just the reduction or elimination of unwanted symptoms and emotions, it can open you up to all sorts of possibilities in your life. It can guide you to know your purpose, live with courage and optimism and find peace and fulfilment. Pretty cool, huh? So, perhaps it is time to start listening to the body, even though you’re all grown up you have the power to decide – just who and what do you want to be?