Becoming who we really are and living that in the world can be the work of a lifetime for some people, especially if you have been brought up in an atmosphere where you were not validated and loved just for who you were.
Even though each one of us is born perfect and is naturally wired to receive and give love, if we don’t receive unconditional love, touch, attention and validation from parents or caregivers in childhood based on who we are, not what we do or how we behave, over time we can slowly lose touch with our true selves.
Unfortunately, this lack of intrinsic validation and love in childhood is the lived experience of many people, and if the lack of love and validation is extreme – as in the case of Romanian orphan children, children can actually develop into adults with reduced brain function who end up struggling in many areas of life.
Though many people associate child abuse with very clear and obvious things such as physical and sexual abuse, failing to meet a child’s emotional needs is also abuse. This might happen in a variety of ways, but one of the most pervasive is when adults actually use the child to meet their unmet needs for unconditional love from their own parents. So instead of loving and validating the child, they expect the child to love and validate them. The child then grows up and learns that in order to survive and get the basic crumbs of love and affection they need, they have to tune into the needs of others and do their best to meet those needs. This might include becoming highly sensitive to the emotions of their parents and repressing their own self-expression so as not to trigger the unconscious reactivity of their parents and ‘get into trouble’.
The end result of this is that by the time the child is ready to leave such a home environment, their real self has become buried and repressed through the warping of their personality that has happened over the years as they have shrunk themselves so as not to trigger the anger or rage of their parents.
If you don’t have a strong sense of your own intrinsic worth as an adult, you can end up feeling a strange sense of emptiness and anxiety and not really know why.
You feel that something is lacking but you can’t quite put your finger on it. And so you try to get this thing that is lacking (love for yourself) from others. This is a very difficult and painful state to live in, because the approval and validation of others, or ‘people pleasing‘ can never really fill the inner emptiness. Though it may be a temporary relief, you will always need fresh approval. You get a temporary high, but when this wears out, you are back to square one again and need to seek out more supply.
How do Your Know You are Not Living from Your True Self?
For some people who are disconnected from their own feelings, it may be difficult to know that they are not living in an authentic way. Through the pattern of external validation seeking, they may have strayed very far away from their core essence.
How do you know if you are experiencing dissociation (disconnection) from your true self?
- You may have the feeling that you are living someone else’s life because you get up in the morning and don’t experience passion or drive for what you are doing
- You may just feel a low grade anxiety or depression that is a constant in the background of your life
- Subconsciously you may feel that someone or something outside of yourself is keeping you in the cycle of dissatisfaction
- You find it difficult to connect with your feelings and difficult or even impossible to express certain emotions such as anger or rage
- You might find it difficult to know which feelings are yours and which belong to other people because you have poor boundaries
Reasons Why You May Not Be Living From Your True Self
- You experienced childhood trauma and have not yet processed this and healed from it.
- You have experienced a trauma in adulthood such as the loss of someone close to you, trauma from being in conflict zones such as war, from abusive adult relationships or from long term financial struggle.
How can meditation help?
Essentially the underlying problem here is that those affected by this problem do not know who they really are.
On top of the true self, layers and layers of belief systems have been added on based on the experiences of this person’s life. If the person has not received adequate validation and attention in childhood, they will likely have one layer of beliefs over the core that says: ‘I am unworthy’ (of love, affection, money, success etc.)
The next layer of beliefs on top of this might be: ‘in order to feel worthy I need to achieve something, to become someone or to flatter someone enough so that they love me’.
This is how the onion skin of false beliefs starts to build up around the core self that remains in the nucleus but is now hidden under many layers of untruth.
On the outside, this person may feel lonely, anxious or depressed, but be unaware of why because perhaps their external circumstances don’t look too bad. But the layers of false beliefs may go so deep that this person doesn’t even know what they really feel. They may feel like they are living a life that is not their own..
A regular meditation practice can help people start to slowly see the layers of their onion skin of false beliefs and let them go one by one.
It is like being in a laboratory where the subject is yourself. You are not going anywhere, or doing anything, but you can watch the whole experience of the ‘self’ right there from your sitting position.
As your practice deepens you are able to see more and more clearly the beliefs that you hold. These usually come as recurrent thoughts. It may be a thought about something that you would like to do and in reaction to the thought comes another thought (the voice of the inner critic or ego) that says: ‘why bother, it won’t work anyway’. As you notice more of these same thoughts coming in, you can see the pattern.
Oh, interesting, it seems that I don’t believe in my own capacity to do things or effect change in my life.
This is then one layer of the onion that is now transparent. And with the seeing through it, slowly, with practice, over time, it can start to dissolve.
A 40 Minute Meditation Practice To Connect with Your True Self
- Sit in your usual sitting meditation posture and take a few deep breaths. Check in with your body via a body scan. Ask yourself how you are feeling.
- Spend the first ten minutes observing the sensations in your body. Be completely with your bodily sensations and feelings. Observe temperature, feel the air on your skin, feel the floor underneath you and the touch of your clothes.
- Spend the next ten minutes observing your thoughts. Just witness each thought as it crosses your mind and passes out. Be very curious as to the nature of your thoughts and be particularly vigilant with all self judging thoughts such as ‘oh, you are so….’ ‘you are not good enough to….’, ‘who are you to think that ……’, ‘I am afraid that if I do X then Y may happen so better not even try to….’. Note these thoughts as ‘Judging mind, judging mind’.
- Spend the last ten minutes with your feelings. See if you can identify them and label them as you notice them. ‘Feeling happy’, ‘feeling confused’, ‘feeling tense’, ‘feeling fearful’.
- Recognise that all of these states: body sensations, thoughts and emotions, are all temporary. They are not who you are.
- Spend the last ten minutes asking yourself the question: ‘who am I’? ‘Who is the person experiencing all of these states’? Be curious as to what comes up.
- Leave a comment and let me know how this experience was for you. 🙂