At the core of the work I do here are my beliefs about people. Our beliefs – or our rules – about how the world works are how we make sense of our lives, right? If I believe that people are innately trustworthy and kind, my life will probably look different than if I believe that people are inherently untrustworthy and mean.
Of course, neither of those extremes are accurate – people are not all one way or another. So most of us develop some more nuanced beliefs that try to explain how people are. Which brings me back to what I believe, and why I talk about having a life that lets us shine.
I believe that we all have a deep, unshakeable part of ourselves that is quintessentially who we are. We talk about a “true self.” We can call it “wise mind,” the combination of rational and emotional aspects of ourselves, plus intuition and instinct and a bit of something else. It is the part of us that really knows what we need or what the right thing to do is (for ourselves.) It is the part of us that is most truly who we are.
When we’re babies, that part of us is unclouded. We shine. When we’re unhappy, every one knows it, and when we feel better, our smile lights up the room. There’s no hiding what we’re feeling, and nothing between our inner self and the outer expression of it.
That can’t last, of course. We have to learn to moderate our expression of feelings, resist our impulses and act in ways that will effectively get our needs met. That’s a long, hard process and none of us master it completely.
As we learn those skills, we learn what parts of ourselves aren’t acceptable. We learn what parts of ourselves need to be blocked or shut down. And the more of our Self that we start to consider unacceptable, the more we shut down, the less our inner light can shine.
And this process doesn’t stop when we’re grown. Every relationship we have, every job, everything we read or watch on the Internet is teaching us what parts of ourselves are deemed acceptable and which ones need to be hidden. Over time, we can even hide those parts from ourselves.
Think about the complex relationship we have with food and weight and our bodies. The standards that leave many men believing that anger is the only “manly” emotion. Or women who are taught they’re “too much” – too loud, too big, too demanding.
All of those things can block our light and keep us from shining.
When you work with people who experience trauma, there are lots of opportunities to shine, and there are lots of reasons to shut down. When you feel like you’re losing your self, sinking in other people’s suffering, you aren’t able to let your light shine. You need some solid ground to stand on for yourself.
Does that make sense?
I remember a time, many years ago, which I was just beginning to recognize how my clients’ trauma was impacting me. I was at the park on a beautiful, sunshine-y day, smiling at other people – couples holding hands, a woman with a baby stroller, small children feeding the ducks. As I walked deeper into the park, I saw three teenagers with a dog. And I felt an overwhelming anxiety.
For absolutely no reason, I had a sense that something terrible was going to happen to them. Or maybe they were going to do something terrible. I didn’t know what, maybe something was going to happen to the dog. I had an urge to go yell at them to go home, quickly!
Fortunately, I knew that wasn’t really the thing to do, but I felt so anxious and helpless. All my pleasure in my walk drained away and I ended up leaving quickly.
Once I was able to calm myself, I could see that my experiences at work were changing how I saw the world. I realized that I needed to do something to manage what I was thinking and feeling if I wanted to enjoy my own life. That started me on a fascinating journey that has taken me in all kinds of different directions – but that’s a story for a different day.
One thing I’ve learned is the importance of figuring out what keeps us from being able to show up in the world as our own beautiful, shining selves.
The picture at the top of the page is a painting by my dear friend, Jeanne Tessier, who was a Ky artist. For me, the picture has always represented what it might look like if we were able to unblock our light, take down the barriers to letting our light shine. I invite you to join me in figuring out what that would look like for you.