Ever feel anxious? Frustrated? A lack of contentment? Angry? Even numb?
It could be that your two selves are conflicted. I am not suggesting that you are two people or have multiple personalities, but viewing yourself as having two sides is incredibly helpful in figuring out the life that is right for you.
Martha Beck names these two sides the essential self and the social self.
The essential self is the personality you were born with. According to Martha, it includes your natural desires, preferences, emotional reactions and involuntary physiological responses. It is what it is no matter where you grew up, how much money you had, or what your family was like. The social self, on the other hand, develops as you grow and incorporates the values, norms and expectations of people around you, particularly your parents, teachers, nuns, friends...It learns the skills (talking, reading, deodorant wearing, sharing, sock matching) required to fit in to society and gain social approval.
The two selves can work very nicely together. The essential self has tools to direct you toward your right life and your social self helps you get there. Your essential self wants to be a loving parent, so your social self reads parenting books and magazines (which may leave your two selves more confused, but that's another post). Your essential self falls in love and your social self tells you when it's ok to call.Your essential self longs to connect with others, so your social self learns to text and e-mail. Your essential self desires to wear sweats to work, so your social self figures out how to become a life coach.
For most people, however, internal conflict is the norm. And I have a suspicion that you are more identified with your social self than your essential self. How do I know this? Well, if you are reading this, you are likely a smart, responsible person who has picked up lots of social skills and likes to do the "right thing." You seek information on how to improve your life and you probably like to please other people. Or you are related to me and just reading this to be nice, which means your social self is running the show.
Since your essential self contains the clues to your best life (and your most financially successful life, especially in this changing economic climate), it is important to re-connect with it.
Coaching is a process of helping people reconnect their essential and social selves. How to do it?
Since our bodies tend to be truth detectors that reflect our psychological processes, The Body Compass exercise is a handy dandy tool to access your essential self.
Martha Beck says that the most basic way to connect the two sides is to teach your social self to notice when your essential self is saying "no" to a person, activity, or situation in your life.
Here are some signs that your essential self is saying "no:"
- Energy crisis: You feel drained, heavy, exhausted.
- You keep getting sick.
- You are forgetful.
- You make stupid mistakes.
- You are socially awkward.
- You feel angry or have an impulse run and hide.
- You develop an addiction (to eating, shopping, drinking...) to numb a feeling of emptiness.
- Your emotions don't seem to match situations. For example, you start screaming at your family for no reason or laugh hysterically in the middle of a PTA meeting or cry during your lunch break.
On the flip side, there are signs that your essential self is saying "yes!" Again, turn to your Body Compass for clues. Here are signs that you are on the right track:
- Your energy increases.
- You enjoy good health.
- Your memory is sharp for the particular person, situation, or topic.
- Time flies.
- You feel relaxation and empathy when with a particular person.
- You feel an intense, perhaps unexplained attraction to a person, place or thing.
- You find yourself smiling and in a wonderful mood, even at seemingly strange times.
Just noticing when your essential self is saying yes or no is a powerful step in getting to know yourself better. Once you know yourself better and let go of some of your social self rules, life decisions are clearer and easier and become steps on the path of your ideal life.
When I first read about the essential and social selves in Finding Your Own North Star years ago, I wrote down in one of the exercises that my essential self loved to read books while sitting in bed, sipping my morning coffee. Well, guess what? People now pay me to share information I learn in part from reading books (in bed with coffee, of course). Martha Beck jokes that people pay her to do nothing (which is how it seems when your essential self gets to come out and play).
"Have you always listened when your essential self said "Yes!" or were you taught to muffle it with cynicism, doubt, fear, and righteous wrath or despair? Even if it's nothing but an alluring tickle, push the objections aside and move into this feeling of "Yes!" Believe it or not, this sensation - not pain, not self-sacrifice, not stoic numbness - is the surest indicator that you're on the path that will lead you to fulfilling relationships, a productive career, and the best possible effect you can have on the world." -Martha Beck in Finding Your Own North Star