mental health

What is Self-Connection?

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Self-connection is the process of being in touch with the worthiness and wholeness of your Self regardless of form of experience you are having. These forms could be feelings, thoughts, expectations, beliefs, or attitudes.   The Self can only be experienced when there is both rooting in the inherent worthiness of Self and acknowledgment of the experience that is occurring as distinct though connected to Self. By engaging with what is present in experience while simultaneously rooting in the Self, the Self emerges more fully. When connected to, the Self can then engage in the learning process through whatever experience is occurring and transforms the experience to a higher level of evolution.*

Self-connection is a deeply personal, private and even spiritual activity. In the general pace of life, we get caught up in various roles as a spouse, parent, professional, and friend.  The demands of completing one task after the other can overtake all of our energy that we lose touch with our Self since our energy is constantly projected outwardly. The endless pursuit of achievement, accolades, material gain are all temptations to find oneself in these activities as if the Self was out there.  The temptation is always present to find fulfillment and peace in someone or something external to us. These can become toxic and addictive patterns that steal our energy and alienate us from our true nature.

The practice of Self-connection is a combination of insights, concepts, and skills that help the individual access their resources of awareness, wisdom, choice, and trust to transform their experience.

The healthy expression of Self is not in trying to attain worthiness through a role. Though many of us fall prey to the trap of wanting to make more money, be a better parent/spouse, achieve more, exercise more, eat healthier.  The subtext is “If I accomplish all these things, then I will be ok.” External outcomes or the good opinion of others is temporary, conditional; not a solid basis for the Self. To begin in Self-connection, we first acknowledge the worth of our Self before taking any action or making any judgements.  By forming a foundation of Self-connection, we can live and express that worthiness with our feet firmly rooted in the ground. Having this foundation, we are more capable of being honest with ourselves about our shortcomings and the need for growth. The Self-connection process helps contain and lead the ego in its proper place; that is, it is the servant to the Self and not the other way around.  An individual engaged in their Self-connection process creates greater resilience in their lives because their energy is not invested in maintaining a fixed view of themselves (ego); instead they are focused on their learning and growing process.

Early in my career, I worked with children in a residential treatment home. These children experienced terrible abuse and neglect in their families while others had no connection with their parents.  There was one boy ( I will call Kevin to protect his privacy) who became extremely violent while playing games. Kevin found losing absolutely abhorrent. He would quickly go into a rage if he had not performed well, if he lost or if there was any perceived injustice.  Very often other children would get hurt as he would lose control of himself. The youth workers were never sure when he would slash another kid with a hockey stick, start a fight or runaway. Losing was a great trigger for him.

As I watched this pattern unfold, I could see that Kevin was basing his worth on his performance on the basketball court, the soccer field or whatever game he was playing.

I believe in the worth of all people, a worth that precedes role, function, and behavior.  This worth lives in the Self of every person and the source that animates their life and which moves the person in a positive direction of growth. I see my role in helping people to help remove barriers to that inherent Self that yearns to grow and to encourage whoever I am working with to be in touch and to express their Self honestly and creatively.

As my relationship with Kevin developed and he started to trust me more, I decided to sit down and talk with him about his worth.  At the time, I was still thinking about this as self-worth/self esteem, now I realize I was talking to his Self. I said to him, “Kevin, you are an incredible athlete, you practice really hard and you’re strong and fast. You have all the attributes to have a lot of success in sports, but those things aren’t the things that make me like you. They don’t make me think you’re good or worthy. I know you’ve been through a lot and you miss your family so much. You’re not worthy because of how many goals you can score or how much better you are at sports than others.”

He looked at me puzzled and said, “So what makes me good if I’m not good at sports?”

“Do you have a birthmark or something on you that’s been with you since you were born?”

He pointed at a birthmark on his elbow that was the shape of an almond.

I continued, “Your worth is not based on how well you play sports or whether you win or lose, it’s there inside of you. When I am with you, I enjoy you because of who you are and what’s in your heart. You love people, you love your brothers, you’re funny. All these things are parts of you are. You can’t avoid being the way you are when you’re relaxed and you feel trust with people. Just as you were born with that mark on your elbow, you were born with your worth. You are worthy of my and others attention, respect and love by the very fact of you being here. You don’t have to earn it. In fact you can’t earn it because you’re worth is already inside of you. The point is to live knowing that that is true.”

I knew that Kevin felt unworthy because he internalized his mother’s abuse of him and he took her failure to meet the expectations of child protection to be able to see him as a sign of his unworthiness. Disappointment after disappointment, led Kevin to feeling like his only worth was in his talents and accomplishments.

This meant that he approached situations of sports, learning, connection with an attitude of needing to win, to be the best. He was desperate, closed off and stressed.

After this conversation, Kevin calmed down and stopped becoming violent. He came up with his own mantra that helped him let go of his anger when he felt upset, “My worth isn’t in winning. I can let this go.”

I will never know how much my words had an impact on Kevin. What I believe wholeheartedly, is that because I could see and experience his worth beyond his behaviour and because I could connect with him at the level of his Self through my eyes, our interactions and my voice that this became a model for him of how he could relate and connect to his Self.

Self-connection is different from self-esteem or self-worth. Self-esteem/Self-worth describe a person’s feelings, perceptions, or attitudes of themselves at a moment in time.  In other words, self-esteem and self-worth describe how a person experiences themselves and often this is related to their evaluation of their abilities, successes/failures, and roles. How worthy do I feel or esteemable, right now?

The problem with self-esteem and self-worth is if my esteem or worth of self is in how I experience myself then to feel good about myself I might use food or drugs, I might become a workaholic or a tireless parent who gives endlessly to the point of burnout. Emphasizing having a positive experience of self means the form of my behavior might take on unhealthy patterns that harms myself. It might not, but still the basis of my worthiness is always projected onto something external to me; something else to be done. I think many of us experience this as a never ending to do list. The stem of these thoughts sound like , “I can feel ok when I…”

“I can feel ok when I... lose 20lbs/make a million dollars/help the kids grow up successfully.”

Self-connection is a process of living from within yourself not trying to find yourself externally but always returning home to the life energy inside and making choices that express and manifest your unique Self.

The Self-connection process can be described in three stages which all begin with letter A.

Self-connection: Acknowledgement, Awareness, Action

The first phase is acknowledging your Self, your life and your intrinsic worth. Just by being alive you have worth. You have uniqueness and potentials in you that yearns to come out in the world. Just as Kevin learned that he didn’t need to earn his Self, he was already it. The first phase is the most difficult of the three stages because it requires letting go of old patterns, and the habitual projecting of the worth of Self in role, outcomes or other’s experience of us. It can be scary to let go of the familiar pattern of finding worthiness in roles and instead acknowledging yourself.

The second phase is awareness of your experience. After making a connection to your Self, you will have a base from which to look that is rooted in the Self. Being connected to one’s Self creates a context and a container to hold the experience. The aim here is to look at the challenging or stuck experience and to excavate out of it the parts of the experience that are connected to the Self. For example, what does the sadness tell you about what is really important to you? What you want/need/value? When there is only the impulse to do and no awareness or connection to Self, we act from a place of defensiveness, survival and reactivity.

The third and final phase is taking actions that manifest the Self. After acknowledging the Self and becoming aware of the experience you are having, you can explore the question, “What choices and decisions do I need to make that are congruent with and express best who I am at the level of Self?” This stage can be more interpersonal than the others since it might require us to taking risks, use our courage, and communicate our needs.

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On February 8 to 10, I will be hosting a three day Self-connection workshop that will explore the various ideas and practices in this post. A retreat format will provide a supportive context within which to learn and practice the skills of Self-connection. For more information and to register, please visit: https://www.freedomtomovegroup.com/retreats/

*The forms of consciousness become more complex as they move from reactivity to deeper thoughtfulness. The individual does this takes through the process of awareness, wisdom, choicefulness , past/present future orientation and then ultimately trust. A higher level of evolution means that the initial inner experience of feelings, understanding and actions has been transformed into more complex map and better accounts for the complexity of the situation. The Self-connection process offers individuals an anchor from which to look at experience and to adapt to others and their environment more successfully.


My way of working with people...

When people or families come to see me they are often feeling stuck; stuck in debilitating emotional states, stuck in relationships, stuck in their pattern of coping. In one way or another, they would like to move from their 'stuckness' to a place of choice where they can feel empowered and free. This is why one of the main principles from which I work is the Freedom of MOVEMENT.  In this post, I will explore the Freedom to Move principle and how people might experience this process of freeing the mind and the body to move to new health and growth in therapy. 

Sometimes people come to therapy expecting the therapist to provide the 'right' answers or approach to problem situations.  They want to be told what to do and offered "good" advice.   Sometimes they experience shame with having to ask for help because they expect themselves to know what is ‘right’  even though they may have never encountered such problems before.  They live by rules such as: "I should never make mistakes." or "I should always know the right thing to do."

The need for the one right way is a trap; it is a trap for the client and the therapist. The expectation that one should know what to do, is a common element that contributes to stuckness because it is a barrier to learning. My way, as Bruce Lee said it, is to have no way. This means that I have no preset ideas of what is right and I leave myself open and able to create the solution that I need at a moment in time depending on the situation. The process of therapy is the client and myself joined in this process of discovery. Not with one in front of the other or behind but both of us side by side.

Using no way as a way; having no limitation as limitation

-Bruce Lee

 

No one can be force fed right answers.  Even a baby has to do the work of swallowing and digesting what is given. In other words, every lesson must be earned by being experienced through the whole person and internalized through the body.  A technique or a strategy can not be long lasting if it has no roots inside the person and within relationships. This is why reading books is rarely enough to help people change.  Knowing cognitively is only one level of knowing. To learn experientially means to learn with one's senses, mind, heart, body; any and every resource a person has available.   (Ironically, there is a real limitation occurring right now through this writing as we are not able to see, touch or hear each other.)

I admit candidly and quickly with people that I have no right answers for them and there is no way I could ever be wise to their situation as they could be for themselves. My focus is on creating a safe context of mutual learning, connection, curiosity and exploration. From here, people are able to become aware of themselves and others in new ways, to gain motivation and willingness to change, to create new empowering choices and to decide what they will do and to practice these new ways in their everyday life. 

Unfortunately, a large majority of people are caught in the pressure to do the right thing. This pressure makes it difficult for people to listen, to be present and to use all the information available to them including their senses, their intuition and their wisdom.  All human beings in whatever role (parent, child, teacher, manager) who can acknowledge what they don’t know or their mistakes give themselves the gift and the opportunity to learn and grow from their experience.

Living is a learning process. The notion of an expert acts as a barrier to the learning process.  Relating to therapists as simply the holders of the correct answers does at least three things that take clients off their learning course:

  1. It makes them depend on the so called "expert", which means that they will need to be in therapy forever.

  2. It disconnects them from developing their own wisdom/intelligence and decision making ability for their own life.

  3. Both therapist and client stop looking at their present experience because a conclusion is made about what is happening for that particular client based on what happens to most clients with similar behaviour/symptoms/problems.

How does a therapist avoid the above three pitfalls?

THE FIRST STEP IN THE DANCE OF DISCOVERY IS TO MAKE MEANINGFUL CONTACT

Firstly the therapist must be in connection with himself and his learning process. He must free himself from conclusions about and for the client that the client has not participated in. This is one of the dangers of labels and diagnoses; they offer conclusions about a person that creates expectations for the client of themselves and the therapist of the client that may or may not be true.  I have seen many situations where diagnosis have been helpful and I have seen them be very harmful as well.  What is important is that clients engage in their own narratives and develop a deep understanding of themselves rooted in their experience not just a label and a diagnostic manual.


The therapist can model a way of being that he hopes his client will engage in themselves and that is a learning stance. In Zen Buddhism, this is similiar to the idea of Beginner’s mind. It is the willingness to learn about and from the client their experience which includes what they feel, their feelings about feelings, perceptions, expectations, deep yearnings, their sense of self and their current ways of behaving and coping.  It includes learning about their family of origin and some of the ways of coping, creating intimacy, resolving difference that they may have learned from their earlier life. The act of looking and being with a person with fresh eyes can be healing in and of itself. The therapist offers an accepting, non judgmental, caring, genuine, present centered, hopeful, and respectful space for the client.  This stance positions clients as the expert of their experience and empowers them by communicating constantly that they are capable of learning something new when their old patterns no longer help them.


Secondly, the therapist can be more helpful by providing the space, trust and support to move from status quo to something new. This means the therapist needs to work with where the client is starting, not with the therapist’s good ideas about what is right or correct or what the research says. Instead the therapist can give a message through their behaviour that says, “I trust that you have everything inside you that you need to cope healthfully with your life and I am here as a support to you in the process of discovering that healthy coping for you.”


By trusting the client, the client begins to trust themselves more, again or perhaps for the first time.  The therapist creates what I call a Positive Expectancy, which means he anticipates positively directed growth and change.  In time, the client begins to recognize what is right for themselves, including what is right about them (their worthiness) and their resources.


“I am pointing you towards you, not you towards me”


Thirdly, the therapist must work towards being fully present with the client, the situation, themselves and every resource that is available. The therapist models this resourcefulness by guiding the client to do a similar thing with themselves.  One simple way of doing this is helping clients reframing problems as resources and seeing their hidden strengths in situations.


For example, a mother brought her child in to see me because he had run away from his piano lesson because of a dispute with his teacher who had gotten really angry with him.  His 'running away' caused the mother to be very anxious and she wanted a way to resolve this behaviour so it never happened again. As they shared details about the story, it became clear that the boy was running towards his mother because he felt badly about what happened and did not know what else to do. I asked the mother how she felt that her son knew that when he was trouble he knew to run towards his mom!  She started to cry happily feeling a sense of relief and connection to her son with a new understanding of the situation. “Running away” as a problem was reframed as resource of knowing that the boy trusted his mom to help him. They were then able to work out better ways for him to get help but they first had to build on the resource positively and the strength that was already there. 


By becoming aware and connecting to the clients' intelligence, heart, wisdom, creativity, willpower as well as their weaknesses and limitations, both client and therapist can be fully human; making it more possible to engage in the process of change and growth and to live and experience life in a more fulsome way.

There is a big difference between knowing something cognitively and knowing something experientially.  I have learned that the more I let my clients teach me about their experience (not necessarily about their story) and the more I participate in that conversation with all of me, the more I am joined with them in their present experience.  In this way we are able to move much further because we have made contact and I am able to create a context of safety and nurturance.

The process of change and growth is a forever learning process for all of us no matter what side of the therapy room you are seated.  By remaining humble, curious and compassionate, I hope to help individuals and families move towards a deeper and more joyful connection to themselves and others.