Where Do You Go When You Run Away From Yourself?

I have just finished reading a fascinating book: “The Examined Life – How We Lose and Find Ourselves” by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. It’s a collection of stories gathered in more than 25 years of practice, patient stories which Grosz turns, with great skill, into life stories that can illuminate any of us. What can you learn from someone’s phobia, depression, panick attacks, self-hatred, obsessions? What can you learn from a wife whose husband has died? Or from an autistic child? How about from a depressed, anorexic young woman? What did Grosz, as a human being, learn from the experiences of patients he was treating as a psychoanalyst? These are the questions this book attempts to answer. Grosz finds enlightening insights in the most gruesome of human dramas. Far from being saddening, the book is engaging and inspiring, both through the pace of the stories – each is no more than a few pages long – and through Grosz’s amazing capacity to extract the universal lesson from a very particular situation. There was a common theme that I discovered reading all these storieone more fascinating than the other. That is the theme of “running away from ourselves“. There seems to be an inherent impulse in all of us to “look out the window” when the going is rough and “in the mirror” when things go well.  Somehow, by some inner mechanism originally meant to protect our self-esteem, we become endlessly creative in the ways in which we self-sabotage, refuse to confront and overcome our inner demons and stubbornly look for the causes of all our misfortunes on the outside. We literally run away from ourselves, rather than facing our deepest truths, especially when these truths hurt.  One story in particular resonated with me. Grosz met this woman on a plane, who had a longstanding problem with her parents, her father in particular, who, for the past 16 years, refused to speak with her or have any contact whatsoever, even if this meant not even getting...

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The Saviour Syndrome

Apparently my life is full of “themes” that seem to haunt me until I’ve understood the message or learned the lesson. Lately, the theme is the “saviour syndrome“. This is a name I invented for it, inspired by one of my favorite models in psychology, the “drama triangle“.  What do I mean when I say I’m “haunted” by a theme? It’s as if life really wants me to get that idea and keeps sending me people and situations that confront me with that particular topic, forcing me to wrap my mind (and heart) around it in as many ways as I need in order to really get the message. Lately, the topic of “saving” others has kept popping up in my life quite a lot. The “saviour syndrome” as I call it, is not about that altruistic impulse of saving someone’s life when they’re in danger, nor is it about helping others in general. When being helpful turns into a “syndrome”, it’s clear that you’ve started falling into a potentially harmful habit. In a world most of us consider full of selfishness and self-centeredness it’s amazing how many people fall under the other extreme – that of obsessing about helping all those close to them, making themselves responsible for everything and everybody and blaming themselves for everybody else’s misfortune or failure. I know a lot of people who have taken it upon themselves to help their children, spouse, friends, to guide them (even against those people’s will), to always do “what’s best” for them – even at the expense of their own happiness and, sometimes, even at the expense of the happiness of the very own people they are so hard trying to help. If you are still not sure of what I’m talking about, just think of yourself and all those close to you. You might just discover that you have at least one person around you who is manifesting symptoms of the “saviour syndrome”. Such symptoms may include: Excessive involvement in other...

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Self-Honesty versus Self-Criticism

I just had a wonderful meeting with a friend I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. We used to be colleagues in high school and it’s been fascinating to share how our lives changed and where they led us. We laughed together at our old high school selves and wondered at all the lessons we’ve learned over the years. One thing led to another and we started discussing how we’ve changed and grown over time and what life led us to discover about ourselves. It’s been amazing to realize that very different life events led us to similar conclusions. One of these has to do with the title of this post. We both acknowledged that we’ve become more honest with ourselves over the years. We both also admitted that we’ve been, quite often, self critical. Amazingly, while self-honesty always led to some leap in our development, self-criticism most often had a reverse effect. While we were speaking about this I realized something extremely important – there are several essential differences between self-honesty and self-criticism and, too often, people confuse the two and end up sabotaging themselves instead of knowing and accepting themselves for who they truly are. Here is my perception of those differences: Self-honesty is an act of courage, requiring you to confront yourself with the WHOLE you – with all the good and the bad. Self-criticism is an act of judgement, meaning you’re blaming yourself whenever you’re not living up to your own standards. Self-honesty implies acknowledging your “shadow”, accepting it is part of you and that it doesn’t, by any means, diminish your inner “light”. Self-criticism means rejecting your “shadow”, thinking of it as bad and unworthy of you and striving to eliminate it in order to live up to some fake, unrealistic ideal self. Self-honesty is accompanied by compassion for yourself, by acceptance, understanding and kindness towards yourself. Self-criticism is self-demeaning, bringing along a lot of negative self-talk and intolerance for your own weaknesses, vulnerabilities and mistakes. Self-honesty...

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The Drama Triangle – Where We Run When We Hide From Ourselves

Why, when and how we hide from ourselves is a theme that has been on my mind for some time now. And, as it happens more and more often recently, just when I needed to understand more about this, synchronicity brought my way several people who gave me the opportunity to look in a “mirror”, confronting my own truths about running away from myself.  These were either people whom I had met recently or old friends who suddenly started a conversation about their fears of confronting themselves, thus prompting me to reflect on the topic. And since the Universe seems to be giving me so many opportunities to learn more about this, I thought I’d better share my thoughts with you all, just in case you too are preoccupied with this or simply have a valuable perspective on the subject. So…what’s going on with this idea of “hiding from yourself”?  Knowing yourself is a journey that might take you to some really dark and potentially threatening places. What we often do in life is that we tend to avoid going to those places. And we do that by hiding from ourselves. Hiding, denial, or running away seem to be strategies people tend to adopt whenever they are confronted with something that undermines their good opinions about themrselves or threatens to reveal some inner aspect that might render them vulnerable. Decisions such as leaving a job that no longer makes you happy, an abusive boss, an unproductive relationship – all these force you to confront your own fears. What I noticed is that, whenever they reach such crossroads in their lives, people tend to blame outside circumstances for their unhappiness, instead of confronting the truths that lie within. Many of you might have heard about a psychological concept called “The Drama Triangle” , which I also mentioned in a different post. It basically states there are three places where we tend to go when we run away and hide from ourselves – the role of the “persecutor“, the role of...

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Gaining Control by Letting Go – The Mind-Shifting Lesson I Learned From My Clients

Jun 03, 11 Gaining Control by Letting Go – The Mind-Shifting Lesson I Learned From My Clients

Posted by in Mindfulness, Thoughts/Ideas

Some of the biggest breakthroughs in my personal development come via my work. And this week was no exception. I had a real revelation about the quest for control in our lives, and the way each of us, unknowingly, self-sabotage, although we are convinced we are acting in our own best interest. Let me start with the context. In the past 2 months I have been involved in several very interesting training projects about managing and controlling emotions in the selling process. The audience? Sales people, of course, coming from several different companies. They all had something in common however – they were smart, hyper-competitive, pragmatic and more or less dissatisfied with the way customers treat them, with the perceived insufficient support they receive from their home company and with the difficult market conditions they have to work under. In other words, they tended to feel that they did most things right, but circumstances were often against them. What were their expectations from the training program they took part in? Well, basically, they wanted to receive some magical recipe for turning every prospect into a customer and every difficult client into a loyal one. The program involved approaching selling from a completely different perspective – an emotional one. We debated the emotional processes that take place in the sales person’s mind, as well as in the client’s mind and we practiced techniques for self-management. The goal was to keep emotions under control, thus keeping our rational minds clear and managing to stay open to the client’s needs. If one manages to do that, there is a good chance of influencing a difficult client for the better. As usual, I learn from my participants much more than I can ever hope to share with them, and these projects were no exception. What did I learn? I realized three things that got me thinking: 1. People would rather look for solutions outside of themselves than within The fact that we have tremendous control over our own...

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