Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fragile Starts

What is false and what is true? 

Who am I and what's the point?

I overthink these sorts of questions in the midst of laundry and nature walks with my toddlers and preschool lesson planning and bowtie sales. I think and I read and I so want to learn how to live well. To live whole.

Recently, a book was recommended to me by a friend that focused largely on the idea of false selves. This wasn't a new concept, but one that seemed to require my attention, since it was the fourth or fifth time the topic had been sat upon my lap. The concept of false selves resonates as truth to me: the idea that we learn patterns of coping, ways of fitting in, methods of earning praise and respect, all of which become compulsive, defining, illusory selves. Longing above all else for love and belonging, we become whomever we think will get the most love and belonging. Often, that "whomever" is only a mist of our truest self. 

For me, scholastic achievement - then achievement in general - and being the "good girl" have historically been selves that I've clung to with ferocity. Very early on, I identified worth with accomplishment and love and pleasure with following rules. I became addicted to "doing the right thing" and being an overachiever. I loved the accolades and became increasingly sure in my identity as a "good girl". I wanted to be the best at everything I did, or at least appear that way. Appearance was key.

Through truly praise-worthy accomplishments, several bouts of depression and lots of normal life in between, I remained deeply attached to these identities of doing right and being capable. In and of themselves, these qualities were not and are not harmful. But somewhere along the line, they became consuming, overly-defining and imprisoning. I was not just someone who had a good work ethic, was intelligent and resourceful - I had to do everything well; I had to get straight A's; I had to appear put together. I was controlled by my "Yes", ruled by my need to always show up, take on more and more and more and never let down. 

Or else? 

Or else...

Or else, people wouldn't like me. I'd be found out, not enough. Friends wouldn't call back and nobody would show up at the party and God would be disappointed and my life wouldn't have any meaning and I'd be alone, unloved. 

Doing defined my being. 

It wasn't until recently that I've been able to start seeing through the mist of these identities. It wasn't until tragedy struck my life that these false selves revealed just how strong their grips were. And it wasn't until I found myself still, incapable of doing and accomplishing, totally broken and empty, that these selves finally started fading away, revealing a wholer, freer self, much less attached to "do's" and "rights".  

My battle today is to stay attached enough to those false selves that I am no longer defined by them. To keep my eye on their grip, to stay mindful of my motives and aware of where my worth is coming from. Living a truer me, a me that just is - valued, loved, whole, beautiful, creative - is a process of constant checking-in and readjusting. Perhaps one day my true self will be a strong oak, deeply rooted and firmly planted. But today, it is a precious, fragile start, with tiny green leaves looking heavenward and a delicate stem still bending from the weight of life. 

In light of this fragility and the time and pain it's taken to unravel the false from the true - the be from the do - I am keen to raise my children in a different way, to make this vocabulary part of their lives and to help them find love and belonging in their being. I read about the false self, and after a brief introspection, my mama heart quickly turns to, "Oh, God! How can I keep my children from being overly attached to false identities?" I think and fret and wonder, "Do I praise their accomplishments too much? Do I attach too much pleasure to doing right (or too much pain to doing wrong)? How do I lead them in becoming themselves, unhindered by false attachments and unecessary obsessions? How do I raise whole children?" 

I think of a million ways throughout the day that I'm probably ruining these precious beings; and fear even more the millions more I'm not even aware of. I analyze conversations we've had, replay recent interactions and reevaluate our current routines. And all the while I keep asking, "How do I raise whole children?" 

The task seems nearly impossible - all the known shortcomings, all the unknown imbalances. I strategize, make lists, reserve a few more parenting books and breathe heavily. I so want to protect them from wasted years, from feeling empty or alone or not enough. I want to empower them to be capable and content, responsible and playful, truthful and free - balanced and whole in every way. I want their journey to be a bit lighter.

And then I see the mist clouding my vision, my own false selves tightening their grips - the voices that demand everything be perfect, that life have a plan and rules to stick by. I see the controlling self trying to formulate and the people-pleasing self looking over one should and then the next. I see fear pointing to a bright red sign "Not Enough".

And I see, again - I know with every breath - that the best way to give my children wholeness, fuller and freer life, is to know wholeness myself. To live wholeness before them. To be full and free.

So I breath and return to being. 

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