Self-Image as Story-telling

by Mental Health, Resilience

Once Halloween has come and gone, the princesses put up their tiaras, the super-heroes fold their capes and the monsters scrub off their paint and scabs and scars. Every year we, children and those of us who keep our inner-child alive through more than eating gummy candies participate in this social experiment. We deliberately create a facade, a self-image from, an externalized creation of an inner fantasy. We subject ourselves to the potential questioning, both the ridiculous and the mocking, of our outfits and style. Oddly enough this rarely materializes because it’s socially acceptable, even mandated to be outrageous, silly, and non-conformist to a degree. As a nation, we spend millions upon millions in decorations, candy, and costumes for the sole purpose of selling a deception in a clear and unabashed way. The irony here is that what occurs on this holiday is simply an overtly outrageous form of something we do all the time, albeit by usually spending a lot less money on candy and rarely with the addition of stopping at a local Costume Shop.

Who We Are To Others

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The way we exist in the mind of others is as internalizations of our projected narratives, we tell a story through word and deed which then gets incorporated into the other person’s self-image. Through the mechanisms of unconscious processing of at least one self-narrative, an image of ourselves gets created in the other’s mind and that is the “person” they respond to in interactions. The differences between the two, our own story and the other’s internalized image, is the source for a great majority of the miscommunication, hurt, and uncertainty we find in our relationships, from the platonically banal to the romantically exuberant. These differences are almost entirely about ignorance, either about the social variables providing input or about the internal world of the individual and how they take in that information. As Ken Wilber notes, we cannot create an internalized world without an initial objective external world to build off and there’d be no manipulation of that external world without an internal one placing intent and meaning upon it; it is in other words not nature vs nurture but nurture through nature.

Attempting to get at the “real” person is as hopeless as splitting the atom, was too primitive tribes. Even the process of an attempt merely reinforces the nature of the difficulty, which is that we never get out of our own heads. To help with miscommunication and the hurt that such creates in relationships, we must endeavor to unpack the well-traveled roads of our automatic stories. It means peeling back the paint of our costume and seeing ourselves for what we are, a nest of interconnecting and overlapping narratives, often with thoughts of guilt and/or shame at the center of them, the hallmarks of primary attachments that were anything but secure.

Who We Are To Ourselves

Daniel Siegel notes that the great “I”, the self-image of our lives is really a “We” of our relationships, such that in the creation of what we naively think of as ‘I’ is actually an interconnected array of relationships and the energy and information flow that characterizes them. We cannot help but become or manifest aspects of the relationships that were fundamental to our development through childhood and those we find ourselves in now. The healthy person, Siegel notes, is she or he who endeavors to integrate this flow rather than keeping it differentiated. In other words, when we find ourselves in the sea of life surrounded by pieces of a ship and wish to travel it behooves us to build that ship from the pieces, else we are constantly bombarded by floating debris and other items that come from beneath the water.

Mark this, that debris will not simply harm yourself or those closest but anyone who comes into contact with those who suffer from the detritus of a life unexamined. The costumes we put on in our minds often serve a purpose, even one that at times may in the midst of emotional hurt or fear of becoming what we never wanted to be, seem helpful. These projections inevitably affect those we connect with however and ultimately because of those deceptions we end up exhibiting the very behaviors we were trying so hard not to exhibit anyway.

While the responsibility of everyone else’s actions does not lie solely with us, we should not forget that we still have a role in how others interact with reality, as self-deception does not simply shield us from seeing the world more fully, it also limits the needed information others need to see clearly too. Only in looking at what we are afraid of, what the facades attempt to deflect, can we begin to select what is life-giving in our connections and therefore beneficial to ourselves and others.

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