and the enemy is truly myself. Gerald May, Addictions & Grace
I suggested this statement to a client and she said, oh so wisely, “ I don’t like that, means there’s a war inside me”.
“Yup, you are right, let’s find a way to negotiate some peace”, said I. And I thought, how would we integrate her wisdom, her “wise-ness”, with her distrust of her wisdom, of herself?
Most of us have, as Maslow called it, a “civil war” inside us. Gerald May called it “mixed motivations.” Brene Brown calls it “perfectionism”.
Or, if we move into the positive and our potential, Abraham Maslow calls it “self-actualization and integration”, Gerald May calls it “ grace” and Brene Brown calls it “wholehearted living”.
But HOW do we get from civil war, mixed motivations and perfectionism to self-actualization and integration, grace and wholehearted living?
Wish I had an easy, efficient and effective answer for that question! Ahhh, but wishing is a part of becoming more peaceful with being with myself. Wishes are about yearnings, and yearnings move us toward parts of ourselves that need attention. I digress, more about wishes and yearnings later. (wishes require action –note to self for next blog)
Each of us has the capability to move toward integration and wholeness – making peace with our selves. But we each have different capacities; from tiny to huge, for this capability of integration and wholeness – for this making peace with our selves. Our capacity to become integrated can either be supported and nurtured or diminished and demeaned by family, friends, culture and society. We are not alone.
Let me tell a story to demonstrate. Take the now classic “marshmallow study”. The study where young kids were put in a room with a marshmallow and told they would receive a reward if they waited before eating the marshmallow. The “results” of that study were that the children who exhibited traits of restraint, which is waiting before eating the marshmallow, fared better in life than those children whose impulse was to immediately eat the marshmallow. The tragedy of this study, and its longevity in the media, is the association that restraint is better than impulsive behaviours. For those of us who would have eaten the marshmallow, and absolutely I would have, and probably tried to sneak another one when no one was looking, the message is that impulsivity is bad. If that impulse is inside me, then I must be bad. And if that impulse is controlling me, then I’m really out of luck. So the child’s lack of restraint or impulsivity becomes how she is defined and who she is. It keeps getting worse! Our culture, institutions and generally parents value adjustment to the environment as indicators of successful living. Now I’m really out of luck! I’m supposed to follow the rules, not myself, or I won’t be successful.
What a tragi-comedy! A marshmallow changed the value of my life; the value of me. Ouch. How do I learn to live with myself in this story? I try to control my impulses, separate them off, distract myself, deny I have this..this…demon impulse inside me – and now I am at war with myself. And there were years of my life I tried to pretend I would have been the child who, oh so proudly, did not eat the marshmallow! But that is not I; I would have eaten the marshmallow, and more than just one!
Fortunately I grew up in the country where an independent spirit was valued; with immigrant parents who knew successful living involved adventure and hard work; teachers who valued my impulsive spirit, named it curiosity and fed my curiosity; and friends who loved me, and allowed me to love them, for our craziness and caring. And there was a part of me that held onto “we’re all different and that’s ok”, and I believed.