* THIS IS PART OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES ON THE TRUE SELF, WHICH IS A CENTRAL FOCUS OF NARCISSISTIC ABUSE RECOVERY *
Have you ever met a person who, at first sight, seemed broody and uptight, even creepy? You felt something visceral telling you to stay away. They seemed mostly expressionless, judgemental and withdrawn. Then you spoke with them, and their entire demeanour changed. It turned out that they were pretty funny and nice to be around. They told random but amusing jokes, and when you expressed yourself to them, they smiled warmly and acknowledged you. You told them about this band you like, and they replied with something interesting about the band which you didn’t know. Something lit up in your mind. You realised that yes, they looked awkward when they stood alone, but when you went from observing them from a distance to interacting with them, you found out it was well worth the effort.
So it is with the true self.
The big, bad true self
Childhood is a pretty chaotic time, where our emotions can seriously shake us up. An adult can remove themselves from a situation, find a solution which alleviates the bad feelings that the situation aroused, or communicate their difficulties to get the support they need. A child has little to no resources without their guardian, and expressing their terror is difficult. A good guardian does their best to reassure the growing child in a way where their frightening emotions don’t reach critical levels. Without an emotionally mature adult, the child might have been regularly overwhelmed by what they felt and were prematurely exposed to the extremes of the true self. Even worse, their guardian might have added to the pressure, lashing out when the child overwhelmed them. Fear became the rule instead of the exception. Every time the child looked inside, bad things came up. The emotional storms were intense, and the child had not yet fully developed their ego functions. They couldn’t comprehend and process these emotional waves. As a result, the child dissociated and fear of the true self was born. The true self was forgotten and sunk into the depths below the child’s conscious awareness. We all have this fear to a varying degree.
When a person turns the conversation toward you and starts digging to find out personal details about you, does fear and anxiety arise in you? Do you fear the blush of shame which overcomes you? When you have a group of people with their eager eyes on you, and you’re trying to share something with some emotional and personal content, do anxiety and fear start to take over? It is not uncommon for us to switch to sarcasm or change the topic to something more fact based as a coping mechanism.
Fear of the true self is normal
Solitude is the ultimate showdown with the true self. It is only natural that when we’re alone and unstimulated that our attention turns inwards, a place where we’ve been conditioned to be afraid of. Shame, anxiety, sadness and fear are emotions which are easy to be scared of. You might be feeling fear as you read this article since it is discussing the very thing you fear!
I shared some drafts for this website with a friend, who I consider to have a pretty solid sense of self. He explained that, even though he liked what he read, sometimes the content took him places where he wasn’t sure he wanted to venture. He’s a man of integrity, courage and love. He’s been through some pretty rough stuff and came up just fine. But he’s reluctant to dive in sometimes. We all are, and that’s normal. This limitless, powerful self which lives inside us can feel like a beast sometimes; a beast which we often struggle to rein in.
Get to know the creepy stranger
By getting to know your true self more, you can discover sides of it which aren’t so scary. Most rewarding of all, you can gain mastery and tolerance of the painful emotions which come from it. It’s a game of trial and error. You may ask: Was it worth being afraid of? Is it as bad as I initially thought? If yes, it is pretty bad, then can I handle it? Can I stay with it? Sometimes, sadly, the answer is no. Sometimes you can’t. You can forgive yourself for that, and try again later. But quite often, the answer is YES. And then magic happens. You come to life, and you get excited to go deeper. Sometimes it’s a no, it is just plain overwhelming and exhausting, and you need to check out by switching your focus elsewhere. The most important thing is to make it a conscious practice, choose your battles and be courageous.
The interesting side effect of being attentive to the true self is that fear transforms and then dissolves when the unknown becomes known. You come to discover that you have nothing to fear but the fear of your self. Most importantly, fear vanishes when we realise that more often than not we can handle what comes. With each battle won, confidence grows. And with that confidence, we become more our true self.
To better understand the dynamics of narcissism and to learn about the 7 practices for narcissistic abuse recovery, check out How To Kill A Narcissist.