I am a great believer in the art of navel gazing. I’ve had a bit of a rocky relationship with it over the years, but at nearly 50 (sshh!), I think that maybe I am finally getting the hang of it. So much of each of us is buried, either in our past, or in our subconscious, and it’s only when we get to know those hidden parts of us that we can really figure out why. Why certain people just really bring out the worst in us. Why we allow others to walk over us. Why we keep eating, drinking, smoking more than we should. Why we just do not seem to be able to cope with life sometimes.
We are all accustomed to wearing different faces for different places. Or different heads, as I like to picture it (think Kryten from Red Dwarf). There’s the work head, the parent head, the child head, the lover head, the sorting out the bills head – so many heads. That feeling of juggling we get when there is too much going on – that is when we are trying to use too many heads in too short a space of time. There are better ways of dealing with overwhelm, which I’ll get onto another time. But the important thing for now is that we are so busy juggling all those heads, heads that we put on for other people, that is is all too easy to lose sight of ourselves.
Coupled with being busy acting out a role rather than being who we really are much of the time, there is also often a tendency to ignore who we were, where we came from. We push our past into boxes and hide it under a bed or up on a high shelf, whether physically or mentally. Particularly if some aspects of our past have been painful. Juggling heads is a great excuse for not looking at our past – we ‘don’t have time’ to worry about the past as we’re too busy dealing with the next crisis in front of us. We forget all the things we have overcome previously. How past challenges have shaped us. How sometimes they have left us vulnerable or wary in some areas of our lives. How sometimes they have strengthened us in others. But if we ignore our past, we deny or misunderstand what we should have learnt, and similar mistakes, similar crises can can keep re-appearing in front of us.
I believe that everything that we have ever learnt is all safely tucked away inside us in our subconscious. It is our subconscious that looks after all those boxes containing various bits of our past. It knows exactly what is in those boxes and desperately tries to send us warnings and guidance. But often we are far too busy with all those heads to even notice, never mind listen. At best we miss opportunities that might have made life easier; at worst we may ultimately crash and burn. Sometimes more than once.
I have crashed and burned. More than once. I have accrued a complicated past over the course of my near half century. I have been faced at a young age with with my parents splitting up, parental ill health, and time in an abusive care home. I have faced bullying, heartbreak, unemployment, abandonment, emotional and psychological abuse, chronic health issues in myself and life threatening illness and death in close family members. I know that I am not alone in having a complicated past. There have been a number of times over those years where I have collapsed under the weight and fallen into depression. I know that I am also not alone in this. With hindsight, each depressive episode was essentially my subconsious calling time – shouting ENOUGH! You WILL listen to me!
And I did. I stopped juggling heads for other people, I found myself a counsellor, and I paid attention to me as I unpicked some of my past and how it was impacting on my present. Each time I came to understand myself a little better. Became better able to choose how to react to similar situations in the future. Became a little more at peace with myself. In effect, I was taking down some of those boxes from my past and sorting the contents out so that I could take on board the learning from each box consciously.
I did not realise that I still wasn’t seeing the big picture, and there were still lots of boxes sitting there untouched, gathering dust. My real epiphany came about a year ago. After a particularly traumatic couple of years, I found myself talking to a lovely older female counsellor. I had some fairly stressful things going on in my life that I cannot go into detail about in a public forum. Partly because other people involved might not be happy, and partly because I’m not ready to do so yet. But one of my biggest problems was actually constantly second guessing myself. Was I reacting, or even over-reacting, in certain ways because current situations were triggering memories of past events? Or were my reactions to these current events valid? I was convinced that if I could figure that out, I would be able to make a bit more headway with my current problems. This lovely lady introduced me to one of the best books I have ever read, which I am going to un-ashamedly plug. John Bradshaw’s ‘Home coming: reclaiming and championing your inner child’ was, quite simply, a revelation.
I spent a number of weeks reading it, working my way through the writing and meditation excercises on age periods from birth through to the present day, talking the feelings each stage provoked over with my counsellor. That process pulled together all the work I had done on ‘bits’ of my past in previous rounds of counselling, but it also uncovered so much more that I had never really acknowledged or understood before. By the end of the process, I had an answer to my question (it was both). I had a much better understanding of why I am wary of some things that maybe I no longer need to be wary of, and why I sometimes find myself desiring things that are no longer serving me. I was able to be angry at various people and then forgive them, and myself. I was able to let go of a massive sack of guilt that I hadn’t even realised that I was carrying. But more than anything, instead of viewing my various periods of depression as evidence of my weakness, I finally understood how strong I really am.
These are things that we would all benefit from knowing about ourselves. To see and move past mental blocks. To give up (at least some) bad habits. To heal ourselves, grow. Truly understanding and accepting our past helps us to know ourselves, accept ourselves, and ultimately to love ourselves. Learning how to unconditionally love ourselves is difficult, but it is the foundation of everything good. Trusting our own wisdom. Following our own values. Following our own dreams. Truly loving other people rather than being dependent on their approval. Grabbing new opportunities with both hands and owning them, living them.
We all find our own path in life. That particular counsellor and ‘Home Coming’ were just what I needed to help me finally accept my past and who I am and they arrived in my life at a time when I was ready to do so. If you think that this book might help you to come to know yourself a bit better, there is a link to it on Amazon below. If you buy the book through this link I will get a small percentage through the Amazon Associates programme (if I’ve set it up right). If you buy it, I hope that it helps you as much as it helped me.
These days I try not to use boxes so much. I know I have still got one or two to sort through from the last few years, but they are on my to do list, not hidden under the bed. I consciously dump baggage that isn’t mine to carry. I limit the number of heads I juggle. I try to listen more to my subconscious. My navel gazing is more frequent, and, I’m finding, more fruitful. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there.