I can’t remember the first time I met my “little self.” She came out unexpectedly and in a flash. She appeared during emotionally stressful circumstances or when one of my triggers was hit head on.
My little self is the culmination of all of my old patterns, bad habits, old wounds, old ways of being, old traumas and old stories that I tell myself or have told to me. My little self has a very low capacity to hold space for others, to love or to forgive. My little self holds the pettiest and deepest grudges; she remembers every detail of what happens and who commits the crime so that the grudge is solid and nearly impossible to move, break or unlock. My little self stands on guard at the edges of gaping emotional wounds. She is always ready to attack, and she doesn’t hesitate to burn people or conversations to the ground if she feels that’s necessary. She doesn’t need food; she’s fine starving herself. She doesn’t need you to see her; she’s always watching you.
My little self is hardened and brutal; she’s quick to jump to conclusions, quick to put words or thoughts in the mouths and minds of others. She’ll accept the pain brought on by others, but she’s resourceful in recycling, and she absolutely will wait until the opportune moment to re-purpose that pain and send it back to someone else.
Through years of therapy, yoga and life coaching work, I have–bit by bit–pulled power away from my little self. I learned what triggers her to take over. I learned to recognize when my little self is making decisions or speaking for me. I know what it feels like when she has taken over my physical body.
In order to release my little self, I needed to imagine what life would be like living as my grander, more expansive, more adaptable and more capable self (Abraham Maslow called this place self-actualization). But self-actualization isn’t as easy as changing from your work clothes to your comfy clothes after a day’s work. I couldn’t feel what life would be like until I shed some seriously ingrained patterns, thoughts and behaviors, some of which I didn’t realize were living within me.
To find my grander self, I had to prepare for battle against the unknown.
I had no idea what would pop up, jump out, feel heavy or attempt to squeeze the breath out of me. I started down the path because I was over my little self. She had taken me as far as she could go, and she was no longer enough.
If you are feeling like you’ve outgrown your little self and you’re ready to begin healing, here are the general directions of the path you’re about to travel. Think of these as little guide posts etched in wood and left along the way by me, for you.
1. Open your eyes, and prepare to see.
On this path you’ll run into older versions of yourself and older versions of other people. You’ll run into rules that you were required to follow. You’ll revisit the stories you’ve been told about yourself and about others. You’ll start to see boundaries that you set – or didn’t set – and you’ll start to see who respected those boundaries and who abused them. You’ll see the people who stepped in and decided for you every time you didn’t make a decision. You’ll see the people who hurt you, abandoned you, uplifted you, celebrated you, betrayed you, manipulated you, supported you, loved you. Open your eyes so that you can see it all and see it all clearly. Try to observe it all without judgment; allow it to be seen.
2. Pace yourself.
There is no designated finish line, and there are no competitors. This is a path that you walk alone with the guidance from your gut and/or a life coach or therapist, whomever you choose to walk with you. If the path starts to feel scary or dangerous, slow down. It is OK to walk inch by inch, processing your surroundings every step of the way. If the path starts to feel cleared and light, keep going. Celebrate the brush you’ve moved away and continue on your journey. The important thing to remember is that you set the pace. This is your healing.
3. Stay persistent.
Continue firmly in your course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. Our bad habits, behaviors and mentalities have served us until now. They are proud and protective of their position in our lives. They aren’t going to give in easily, and certainly they won’t give in without a fight. We aren’t talking about simply “breaking” a bad habit, behavior or mentality. It won’t be as easy as remembering to put the toilet seat down. We are talking about releasing – saying and meaning – “bad habit, behavior and mentality: you are no longer wanted or needed here. You may go. This is goodbye.” Closing the door to anyone or anything that isn’t ready to be dismissed will feel like rejection to them. Honor their past service to you, release them and stand persistent on the safe side of that closed door when they try to knock or call your cell phone begging for a chance to return to your life.
4. Find a safe friend.
You’ll need someone throughout this process to help you debrief. Someone you can take walks with or someone you can call upon knowing that they will hold space for you; someone to who allows you to process the mess or simply feel whatever you’re going through. Find that friend. Share with them their new, very special role. They will be your company on the path reminding you to stay hydrated. They will be the friend who ensures you’re not dropping bread crumbs to make your way back into unhealthy habits.
5. Commit to a life journey of self love and exploration.
Once you have learned the skills you need to travel on this path, and once you have strengthened your resiliency muscles, you have everything you need to continue on the paths less traveled. Commit to a lifelong willingness to place wellness as a priority in your life. Commit to self care. Commit to self exploration. Commit to the pursuit of wellness. Commit to an outward showing of love, kindness, acceptance and joy.
My little self occasionally tries to take over. I’ll feel her creep up in my rising heart beat, the heat in my cheeks, the tension in my body, and the rushed feeling of rage. But I know how to hush her now. I know how to tell her, “Little self: you are no longer wanted or needed here. You may go. This is goodbye.”
She goes, pouting. Then the world opens up blooming with endless potential.