One of the biggest struggles I’ve had on this journey to mental health has been my constant battle with the limiting loud voices and negative stories sometimes swirling in my head, that I consider to be the ego. As a yoga teacher you hear a lot of instructors or even spiritual guides say, let go of the ego. Quiet your mind, free it. Allow your true self to guide you. (Sigh) True Self? Fuck! Between true self, sense of self, self love, ego, conscious mind, self esteem. How many fucking selves can there be?! I always get confused. Don’t we need the ego to create a base for the self? Can I remove the ego? Just like that. And how do I manage all the selves while trying to figure out my feelings regarding the quasi relationship I was in, on and off for a year?
Well, that answer came crashing through in what I can refer to (thanks to Brenee Brown, author and teacher on shame and vulnerability) as a full on, category 5 shame shit storm. The storm started brewing in Berlin where I met my friend for a weekend rendezvous. The moment we said hello, the story in my head began. Oh, oh. I was feeling more than I was supposed to and it wasn’t reciprocated. It’s ok, I told myself. I’m just having fun. To be fair I already knew. Even before meeting up, that I was possibly setting myself up for another fall. But I made the decision to put myself out there anyways. I’m done with living scared of failure. Fuck. It. All!
That evening I was expecting a wild, sensuous night with plenty of crazy (s)excitement. Nope. I froze. I wasn’t able to express myself fully for fear of showing too much. The limiting voice in my head whispered, he doesn’t feel the same way. He may think you are some kind of sex fiend and it’s not worth it. This was the same story that played in my head almost every night during the time we were together. Waiting for him to take the lead. (Whoopsie. I guess we both messed up in that department). I am still working on speaking up for myself when it comes to sexual pleasure. It is the biggest obstacle for me on the road to complete vulnerability. At this stage the storm was about a category 2. My brain was overthinking almost everything but still from a place of love for myself and my friend. The next afternoon, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. The howling winds in my mind got a bit stronger. I could feel the storm gaining strength. By the end of the following week, I felt confused and my brain needed an answer. The response he gave me was vague so I wrote him an email to close another chapter in our story. I received his reply, a couple of hours later. That’s when it hit.
It was here. The raging, category 5 shame shit storm. He was completely honest about how he felt. I was expecting some of it. But other things took me completely by surprise and I could feel what I thought was a friendship based on trust, slowly fading into the eye of the storm. I started thinking: “ Weren’t we at least friends? I wasn’t attractive enough. Why didn’t I speak up? How did I miss all these things he wrote about!? I knew I should’ve just disappeared and left him behind first. Why did I allow myself to feel so much love!?” My chest was contracting. I could physically feel the shame, the sadness, the love, the regret. All. At. Once. This is where my Jedi training came in. First, I allowed myself the space to feel everything for a full 24 hours. Every time the feeling of sadness came up, I kept repeating the phrase: Breathe, Love, Expand. I reminded myself, I am love and are loved. Unconditional love has no limits. And I love myself and him unconditionally no matter what.
Then the A-HA moment happened. Who was feeling all of this shame? All of this fear and sadness? Was it my ego or my real self? What is the difference? I started digging in and I found two very helpful answers. One by psychotherapist, Marc Epstein. And the other by English psychotherapist and child psychologist, Donald Winnicot. (This is merely my understanding of these two short explanations. I am sure there is a lot more that I need to explore and learn about.) Marc Epstein explained that we develop the ego to identify we are real. Later on the ego gets hold of the type of conditioning we had and keeps repeating itself to reinforce its own vision. Ah! So the negative voices I keep repeating to myself are the ego.
Do I need to get rid of the ego to finally free myself? Not necessarily. I think the ego serves us to identify what is not authentic within ourselves. We just have to pay close attention and control the ego’s need for validation. It’s not easy. What about the real/true self? Donald Winnicot came up with the theory that if we were not allowed to be truly ourselves when we were children, then the true self is never fully explored or developed. And the false self we need to survive in this society will always impede our quest for true happiness and love. Got it. My conditioning was, well not so good. And my true self was never allowed to fully express itself. Therefore the ego and the false self have been in control for most of my life. The result. A shit show I call my twenties with some remainder of that still hindering me today.
Now I understood. It became so much clearer. Maybe the ego will always be there. And because today, as opposed to 10 years ago. I have a better sense of who the actual me is. I understand that when people hurt and direct not so good comments towards me, it has absolutely nothing to do with the real me. The pure love and empathetic, original me. The category 5 shame shit storm was just temporary. I successfully navigated myself out of it through the understanding that, love is really all there is. I don’t want to live small anymore. I loved big and will continue to love big. Shame, ego and the false self will always present themselves to try and knock me down. And sometimes I will fall down (hard!). One day though, like any good Jedi. I will master the force in such a way that the negative thoughts will be but a mere memory of the young padawan I used to be.
PS To my gentle voyager friend. May the force be with you, always. Remember that you are not alone. I am and always will be your friend. No conditions required.
PPS I’ve included some of the resources I used below. I hope they are helpful to anyone who needs a nudge towards a path for better mental health.
Why Your Self-Image Might Be Wrong: Ego, Buddhism, and Freud | Mark Epstein: https://youtu.be/NCBiEkHSy5k
The True and the False Self: https://youtu.be/A02Ucd6monY
Brenee Brown, a call to courage: https://www.netflix.com/title/81010166