Secure attachment is the holy grail of child development and most moms are preprogrammed to pour themselves out so their kids can attain it. Little ones drink us in deeply, and then when ready, they concentrate their energies beyond our homes to the exciting outside world. Our littles are 110 percent worth our depletion, it is right and good to give of ourselves for them – and addressing mama’s depletion is our next valuable opportunity.
It is common for women to mistake this depleted state for a loss of identity, and think they need to somehow get “filled back up” again. I believe identity- work lies not in “discovering” our true self, but in “uncovering” it. Each of our true selves are grounded, authentic, free and unique – living from this true self is our holy grail – and we must pursue it intentionally. This isn’t an article about how to discover new hobbies or whether or not you should go back to work, this is an exploration of the true meaning of identity and having a self.
Our true self has inherent worth that cannot be changed by circumstances, successes or failures, even though our culture equates our worth with productivity and tangible, bullet point “strengths.” Unless we actively resist this message and pursue daily our truest selves, we will not grow and will have little choice but to cling to the last life stage where we felt most worthwhile. So how do we receive the gift of this season and emerge even more whole and integrated as a person?
Awareness: Get to know your false self
There’s some brilliant work and research in this area which identifies three major false selves.
1. Safety/Security – Get enough money, job security, own a home, have cars, possessions, stockpile money and food, protect the kids, provide for their futures.
2. Respect/Esteem/Affection – Love me! Think I’m perfectly wonderful, always kind, intelligent, competent, successful, loving and godly!
3. Control/Power – If I can control every detail of my environment, as long as I’m in charge and everyone does what I say, we’ll all be OK.
False selves really are helpful in many situations when we need to take charge, win support or keep ourselves safe, but their helpfulness runs out when right action requires (or failure forces) us to forego one of those faux values. Awareness of your false self sets the stage for us to challenge it and recover more of our true selves.
Challenging: Buck the old system.
Our false self is tenacious and challenging her can get pretty uncomfortable. The false self can’t be completely eradicated nor should it be. The bulk of the work is in identifying her in action, surrendering the behavior to God and discussing it with others. Common behaviors like competitiveness, manipulation, flattery, control-freaking and people- pleasing are a great place to start your awareness challenge. This self-awareness work helps loosen the false self’s grip and allows the true self to emerge more and more.
Daily life will generate countless small opportunities to exercise courage in challenging our false selves. I wholeheartedly believe that if we were all going about the business of growth, that we would become radically courageous, powerful and peaceful women. Your true self is God manifesting himself through your unique life, body, soul and personality.
Being: Enjoying life.
I wish this step didn’t seem so simple. If it felt complex, you may be more likely to buy in. However, the truth of the matter is … your true identity exists
outside of all actions. Therefore, you must practice being present, showing up and just being. Presence is the antithesis of compulsively filling every moment with productivity and chatter – the false self can be quite chatty. Your essence, or your soul, is quieter, though not shy. She feels zero compulsion, competition, jealousy, offense or ego. She’s humble, joyful and squarely in reality. Operating from my true self is like staying on a surfboard, the more you practice, the longer you can stay on, and it feels amazing. Your true self is the you God dreamed up and is in love with. Children live from their true selves more than us of course. Don’t they light up when we match their ability to be present and don’t hurry and stress?
We get it right with babies. We universally agree that a baby has inherent worth exactly as she is, she doesn’t have to do anything to earn it. We admire the freedom of children to just be, to simply live and enjoy the world. This freedom fades as we age and master the ability to conform and please. I believe this is the point of Jesus’ famous words: unless you become like a little child … you won’t know the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3) We are lovable not because of what we do, but because we simply are.
What you are supposed to do with yourself is an exciting question, curious and endlessly fascinating. It’s only scary if you think your false self is all you are. A person who practices grounding and regrounding herself in the truth of who she is will experience her life – changes, losses, endeavors, goals and hopes – with far more richness, joy and freedom. I want to be her.
Kelley Gray has been a private practice psychotherapist in the Denver area for 15 years. She is married to Brian Gray and is passionate about
promoting growth, healing and making messes with her daughters.
This article currently appears in the summer 2017 issue of The MOPS Magazine. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get The MOPS Magazine in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.