Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Four Pillars of Self Discovery


Why Four Pillars?

This idea has been a few years in the making, a culmination of research, self inquiry and rich conversation with women (and some men)  in my psychotherapy practice. The question may be: why do I need to discover myself? The answer is because so many of us describe feeling like something is missing, not knowing what 'normal' is and seeking that inner compass and self confidence that seems to come naturally to so many. So many of us learned to hide certain parts of ourselves, to only put our best faces forward; to be and achieve based on a parent(s) ideas of what we should do, their projections of success. But as we live in this false sense of self we feel like something is missing, a core something. We feel alone in a crowd and our accomplishments feel empty at times. We may have difficulty saying no to people or ruminate about how our actions have affected others. We may revisit conversation or scenarios in our minds.   The concept of creating four pillars that hold up our sense of self is inspired by the timeless work of Alice Miller's 'The Drama of the Gifted Child', Nina Brown's 'The Children of the Self Absorbed' and Karyl McBride's 'Will I Ever Be Good Enough'. These books about the challenges of being a child of a narcissistic and/or self absorbed parent have been well read, well recommended and have allowed for watershed moments of healing. Allowing ourselves to focus on the specific task of building our sense of self from the ground up may seem overwhelming at first but is a journey meant to be taken at your own pace. I would recommend that you buy a journal, a scrapbook, a notebook, whatever makes sense for you, to capture these ideas. You may want to cut out pictures, write down quotes, pour your heart out on these pages. You may choose to take this journey with a trusted friend, confidante or therapist - whatever you need. Let's begin, shall we?

The Four Pillars

1. Self Awareness 

This is about getting to the nitty gritty of how you have been affected by your family of origin experiences, notably the 'narcissistic wounds or wounding' that you carry with you. This is where reading any of the above-noted books may come in handy. You may daringly type 'narcissistic parent/mother/father' into a search engine and see what comes up. I recommend Dr. Karyl McBride's website: and "Light's" Page:  This is a form of 'psycho-education' that can help you learn about the dynamics of such a family. All forms of relationship pathology exist on a continuum of severity, based on the nature and extent of pathology with the parent(s) so not every scenario will be the same as yours, of course.  Notice how you feel when you spend time with or speak with said parent. Think about any difficulties you may have with acknowledging your success, enjoying your relationships, (heaven forbid) saying no to people. Do you have relationships with people who give as much to you as you give to them? Do you hold grudges?  Have you ever experienced anxiety or depression? What sorts of situations or dynamics trigger you to feel down about yourself, or anxious about if you have done the right thing? Try writing these questions down and then answering them. Do you feel that it is ok to express your feelings? Your sadness or anger, or fear?  Perhaps get feedback from family, friends, a partner a professional, whatever feels safe for you. Getting familiar with attachment theory can help you learn about your style of understanding yourself, your inherent worth and how you trust others. This site is a good starting point:

2. Self Care

Do you subscribe to the philosophy that if you take care of yourself that you will have more to give to other people? (Think of this as priming the well). Do you take time each day to notice what you need? This is about the basics, food, sleep, medical attention, but also about the pursuits that feed your soul. Many children of self- absorbed parents were denied the basic needs at worst and the 'nice extras' at best, or they were repeatedly reminded of the sacrifices said parents made to provide for them. As a result, it can be difficult to care for yourself. The Canadian poet and psychotherapist Marion Woodman has written about 'giving an hour a day' to your body - does this seem reasonable? This time need not be given all at one, perhaps you could break that into smaller intervals. A walk during your lunch break, a warm bath, a half hour massage, you get the idea. This includes planning, purchasing good food and creating meals that sustain you. This is about surrounding yourself, when you need to, with loving, supportive, funny people - who get you! Tune into your gut. Make choices that are authentic for you. Say yes when it is right for you to do something and no when it is not. (More on this in the next pillar). 

3. Have a Relationship with Your Parent(s) or Others on Your Own Terms

Working on the other two pillars will help to prepare you for this one. Keep a notebook,  or journal handy to capture ideas and insights as they come to you.  Notice what motivates you to speak or spend time with your parent(s). Notice what motivates you speak, spend time with or do things with everyone. Are you fearful of rejection? Are you afraid to let people down? How do you feel after you spend time with people who stress you out? Saying no to people, especially parents, can be a bit daunting. Expressing and advocating for yourself may put you in unfamiliar territory. Start with people you know well and trust, a friend, a partner, a colleague. Repeat after me:"no, thank you." Decide how much time you want to spend with parent(s) and stick to this. Your parent has spent many years honing the ways they get you to do what they want, so be aware of that and CHANGE THE DANCE. Be gracious when declining invitations or requests. "Mom, I don't have time to speak on the phone right now, I need to get dinner ready, but perhaps we could chat later?" If you have a parent who tends to fixate on what is negative in your life, change the subject to something lighter. Choose carefully what information about your life you share with them. 

4. Find Your Own Compass/Chart Your Own Course 

Your values and sense of spirit are what hold this pillar up. What is important to you? What inspires you? What ethics guide your decision making? What types of people do you like to be around. Try creating a personal mission statement that guides you and gives you a reference point. We all have our own spiritual 'true north' that guides us when we feel lost. Thinking about this will help you to get more in touch with this. What celebrations or rituals do you participate in yearly, monthly, even daily? Meditation can be a wonderful way to connect with spirit - could you find a book, a CD, a website a class nearby? Art, music, poetry, crafting, gardening (fill in any blanks you find) are all activities that feed your spirit. Have you put off trying any of these. Write down, tear out, bookmark or list any of these things that you see advertised that speak to you. 

Stacey Sanderson, B.S.W., M.A.,RSW


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