Gut Instinct- The Deconstruction of Self
When we are children all we know is that we want to feel loved and safe. We believe life is simple. Our physical needs are few: clothes, food, shelter. We don’t yet understand that our emotional and spiritual needs are many: The need to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to feel important and to know that we matter. As children we can’t determine if these needs are being met or not, all we know is whether we feel safe and happy or if we do not.
The lengths to which we will go as children, and even as grown-up children, to feel safe, loved and important may sometimes surprise us.
We might be willing to compromise our values to meet these needs.
We might pursue a profession we never felt called to just to please a parent.
We might fall into emotionally co-dependent relationships, because we feel important if we can fix someone else’s problems.
We might use substances or sex to buffer feelings of disillusionment, sadness or worthlessness.
We might keep ourselves within a box of limiting religious beliefs because we were told that was the only path into the light.
We begin these behaviors out of a desire to meet a need or avoid an uncomfortable emotion. We continue these behaviors because we believe that familiarity breeds contentment. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. We spend the first half of our lives building an identity or a sense of who we think we are and then as we enter the second half of life, we run smack up against the reality that “who I think I am” is often a false projection and sometimes an outright lie.
This reality check often takes the shape of disease, which is the physical representation of “you”
crumbling under the weight of your false self.
When I listed my lack of boundaries with others as the 6th cause of my Crohn’s disease, it was rather an oversimplification of a very complex concept. I was unable to have clear boundaries with others and feel empowered to say no, because I put the wants and desires of others before my own. I did not value my voice, my needs and my wants as important. The approval and love of others was a requirement in order for me to feel valuable, and important. Somewhere along the way I had lost my deeply rooted sense of my own worth that shines like a sacred fire lit from within. Without this light, how do we hold integrity of self? How do we speak our truth? How do we command respect for our body, mind and spirit? How do we draw a line in the sand and say "This far, and no farther"?
Carl Jung labels the period of deep reflection on life that we can fall into starting in our late 30s the “middle passage”. Others have referred to it as the “dark night of the soul” or a “mid-life crisis”. I can definitely relate to all of those labels. However, my own personal experience of this phenomenon felt more like a deconstruction of self. Or rather the process of coming out of the dark places I fell into by pulling away all the masks and veils I had wrapped around myself. I started to have serious realizations that the self I had identified with for 30+ years was not actually an authentic expression of who I truly am. The process that follows this is incredibly vulnerable. It is a process of deconstructing piece by piece all the elements of what you feel define you as a person:
· Roles: Daughter, sister, mother, wife
· Profession: Doctor
· Religious belief
· Societal boundaries around what is acceptable, normal, and successful
· Expectations from self or others around your purpose in life
When you remove all those things from around you and start to ask the questions: Who am I? Why do I do what I do? Why do I believe what I believe? What is actually true and real for me?
…you find that you suddenly feel naked, unprotected, exposed and uncertain that you can even actually authentically answer any of those questions at all.
I will not say that this is an easy process to go through. It is overwhelmingly scary, completely un-grounding, discombobulating, and confusing. It is like being lost at sea without a GPS and no knowledge of how to navigate the boat.
What I can tell you is that if you can find the courage to walk naked into the dark, open yourself fully to the raw experience of whatever pain, shame or trauma you may find hidden in that darkness, and be willing to feel whatever it is that needs to be felt or brought into the light, you will come out on the other side re-born.
That is what the dark night of the soul means to me, and for me it was the most important of all the steps I took on my journey back to health. It was by far the hardest and the most painful, but it continues to be worth it, every step of the way.