To Become Whole, First Let Yourself be Broken
(2 min read)
I often work with clients on the concept of having “two selves” within the context of our personal psychology (see my previous blog post here). In very simplified terms, the idea is that unhelpful and helpful versions of ourselves compete for dominance at any given time, with the “winner” ultimately determining whether our actions are in line with our values or whether they go against the type of person we want to be. As a result, we are oftentimes in a bit of a struggle with ourselves. We try to act in ways that can feel unnatural or forced given our negative emotional states, and we beat ourselves up when we find ourselves falling into the patterns of our unhelpful side over and over again (because, after all, it takes a lot of work to act from a higher place).
One of the reasons this happens is because many people tend to think in dichotomous terms (called black-and-white, or all-or-nothing thinking in cognitive behavioural therapy). When we engage in black-and-white thinking, things are labelled either good or bad, right or wrong, a complete success or a complete failure. When this is the case, there is little room for grey area, or the possibility of having a little bit of one thing along with a bit of something else. The grey area is also known as the “middle path” in Buddhism, which is arguably one of the more helpful paths we can take in life.
In terms of the model of our two selves, it is also important to keep this concept in mind. We are not a complete dichotomy. We don’t have a completely perfect self and a completely imperfect self. We are not isolated parts. We are a whole that is made of up various parts. We are innately prone to experiencing the urges and tendencies of our unhelpful side, but this doesn’t define us altogether. Likewise, we are innately prone to experiencing a wise and basically good side, but we cannot experience this in complete isolation. If we can remember that we are (and always will be) a mixture of both, we can start moving away from the fight to erase our unhelpful self altogether. As we move towards the healthy goal of connecting more and more with our helpful side, we can begin to appreciate that without our unhelpful tendencies, we would not be able to experience or fully appreciate our more ideal self.
In raising our awareness of the ever-present urges of both parts, we can lower our guard and refrain from denying or erasing any of our imperfections or flaws. Acknowledgement and acceptance of our whole self (for better or worse) is what allows the grey area or “middle path” to flourish. This simple realization can allow us to embrace the entirety of who we are, which gives us a greater sense of control over our own minds. And, it is in this frame of awareness that we are more able and willing to act in ways that are in line with how we really want to be.