The Adapted Self
By heatherferreiracole, Oct 9 2016 02:42PM
Our relationship with others is a difficult thing, and we set up our interactions usually from quite a vulnerable and helpless spot as children. We start within the family unit in a powerless position with our parents, who in an ideal world recognise our situation and are attentive, kind, loving and demonstrative of good boundaries with us and others.
We then live together in tight proximity to our siblings, we haven't chosen them but hopefully our personalities complement each other and we are treated with loving kindness and space to be ourselves. With good fortune we make a genuine friendship with another child or two along the way which may grant us some respite, but otherwise we are generally rife for setting up unhealthy behaviours in our relationships with others in order to merely get through our day.
These behaviours may be necessary for our survival in childhood, they may allow us the skills not only to withstand our situation but to come through it and still have enough energy within us to greet the outside world. Phew. So we have arrived. We are finally in a position to choose. We can choose our friends, we can choose our partners, we can choose, to a certain extent, our surroundings.
So what happens? Why when we have the power of choice do we sprint down the same rabbit holes over and over again and how on earth do we stop that?
The adapted self is the self that was altered in order to survive, sadly we ususally have no idea that we have created a mask, a false self - whatever you want to name it.
Let's imagine you have a house with a lovely picket fence outside. It is a sweet house, full of the beauty and variety of life. But somehow along the journey your little house became 'unworthy', 'not good enough'. Maybe some children threw a few stones at it and said it was small and ugly until you started seeing it through their eyes. Maybe your parents felt that you should really be living in a bigger house, more suitable with better views, more like your siblings/neighbours/friends. Wow you really were delivered a rubbish house.....no-one else seems to have such big problems with their houses.
As you wander out into the world you imagine your friend, boss or partner coming round and you are ashamed. You ruminate on what they might think about your normal and boring living space and decide that they would also see the bits of the house that you hate and hate it too.
Thankfully as you look out of your window you see just past your front gate, a lovely piece of grassland. That's it! That would make your house look much bigger, luscious, and generally more appealing. Nobody seems to own it so you claim it as yours, buying into all of your own justifications of why that is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, even though something uneasy floats around in your belly. It is not your land afterall. Ignoring that voice entirely you decide to build a bigger, grander fence a little further out from your original fence with a big gleaming gate. Hmmm that looks better.
Within the new grounds you spend all your money and energy on hiring a mini circus, a fanfare, a running track, waiters and servants, you plant exotic flowers that may be hard to keep alive because of the climate, BUT with lots of effort they seem to stay alive AND they look great! Way better than 'normal and boring' daisies and daffodils that grow naturally there every year.
Phew, you are ready for your guests! They are going to love it and to your utter delight they do love it and they keep coming round all the time because they love it so much. It is so entertaining, so exotic, so easy with all the servants arounds. And as you stand on your uneven steps of your house you shout to your friends “It's lovely to see you! Thanks for coming!”. For reasons beyond your comprehension (and maybe it is because you didn't quite go through the correct channels when claiming the grassland as yours) you can't seem to stand in the grassland that they are standing on because it is not yours, you cannot fully mingle with them because they aren't actually at your house or even in your grounds, they are just outside, somewhere that you have claimed is yours but actually isn't.
You watch as they laugh and enjoy themselves, and you start to feel anxious. Your friends, your work, your partner seem to really like the circus, and the exotic flowers, they would never like the daffodils or the quietness of your real garden, and their laughter feels like proof. You imagine them coming into your real garden and their distaste for its plainness. It is better they stay out there, you decide, even if it is costing me in time, effort, money and health to keep it all going.
But as the exhaustion starts to set in, you find yourself feeling quite low, you feel like they only love you for the circus and the servants and if all that went away you would have nothing left. You feel unseen, invisible. You feel like you are an act, that you are not real in some way and maybe every now and then you find yourself getting cross at them, coming here, enjoying everything you are putting on but not actually caring about you. When was the last time they asked if you needed a servant, a fanfare, to have the time and space to go and watch a circus performance. When was the last time they really cared about you. The weeds of anxiety in your own garden slowly start making space for new weeds of depression.
During this big party occasionally a person would be curious enough to knock on the picket fence gate and ask if they could come in to your inner garden. But the thought of the disappointment on their face is unbearable, so you pretend they are not knocking at all and you tell them that they are inside already and there is nothing more to see because you are too scared, too scared to let them in, to let them see the 'normalness' of you.
You eventually tire of the circus you have created and you go into your house and you sit in the darkness, lost. You've lost your connection, you've lost your purpose, you don't get anxious anymore, you've gone past that amount of caring. Every day seems grey so you sit, getting your breakfast each morning as if in groundhog day.
The fanfare is still going on but you can't even feel it or get any joy from it like you used to and you aren't even sure if you know who is out there anymore. Does it even matter? You have somehow moved into your own personal soundproof prison. Just you. Lonely old you. You have forgotten what it even sounds like to hear a knock on the gate anymore and you don't even care if someone were to knock. You feel nothing. You have become numb.
Then one day a box miraculously falls off the shelf and a golden ball from your childhood rolls out of the box and lands at your feet. You pick up the ball and as you look into it you remember a distant feeling of who you used to be before all this started. And as if by fate you hear a knocking at the gate that very same day, you walk out into your garden noticing your bones creak with your movements, how did you suddenly get so old? How much time have you spent feeling numb? As you look up you notice for the first time that the fanfare is long gone, leaving the ghostly remnants of 'the good old days'. Even they left you tell yourself.
But standing at the gate you notice another human being asking to come in and with the thoughts of childhood curiosity and courage at the forefront of your mind you unlock the latch and let them step inside.
Something feels different with this person, when you talk it feels real. Maybe you've just matured over the years, but something is nagging you saying that it is more than that, they understand you. There is no judgement there are just two human beings talking, being real, speaking from the depths of their soul, accepting. Then one day you laugh, you truly laugh, from the depth of your being. Not a shrill, false or mean laugh, but a full bodied all encompassing laugh, they way you used to. What was that? Joy? Happiness?
But in that moment it doesn't matter what it was, you have found a key and with great courage you let the next person in who knocks at the door and with each visit you find yourself looking at your house differently. You hadn't realised how cute and yet supremely useful the broom cupboard was and how it nestled so neatly under the stairs. You feel fortunate but with a deep sense of gratitude this time, an embodied sense of gratitude for each aspect of your house. You no longer feel too ashamed to let people see your house now and as time passes you feel ready to paint it, to tidy it, to take care of your house. You have somehow arrived home at last, after all these years.
This story is an example of the adapted self. The self that wants to be loved, wants to be accepted but through the belief that they couldn't possibly be, they set up defences around them that make that love impossible. The people at the fanfare had no idea they weren't connecting to the real person, they simply thought that was the truth. The only person who was aware of the disconnect was the same person who built the fences to keep them out.
Being seen takes great courage. I wish you great courage.