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Self-compassion gets tested daily

Testing one, two, testing….did you take the test, the self-compassion test yet?  There is a link to it in the last blog.  It’s true there is an actual test, 26 questions to determine if you are low, moderate or high in compassion for yourself.  The reason to know is that there are health implications.  Folks that score high are more optimistic and happier with less anxiety and depression.  And they make healthier lifestyle choices about food consumption and issues of weight loss.

This makes perfect sense to me although it may be contrary to popular pundit opinion.  Why? Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  Accepting the actual reality of our common humanity means letting go of perfectionism to appreciate the wonder of our common beauty as we are.  Sure, maybe you do need to lose some weight.  But you don’t have to beat yourself up about it to lose it.  In fact, beating yourself up may have just the opposite effect.  The belittling self talk only makes you feel bad about yourself and more likely to then use food as a medicative behavior for those bad feelings.

Dr. Kristin Neff, who came up with the test, makes the point clearly.  She said that the reason many folks aren’t scoring higher is cultural.  ”Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

I had a patient who was overweight who came in to see me and I noted that she looked great.  It was clear she had lost weight.  I asked her how and she said something that fits in this discussion.  She told me about standing naked in front of a mirror and looking for long periods at her image.  Her goal was to love and accept the person looking back at her in the mirror.  The better she got at doing that, the more she made healthier choices and the more weight she lost.

Here’s Dr. Neff, “if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

The NY Times article, 3/1/11, says a much shorter test can get at some of what we are talking about here relative to self-compassion.  It’s just one question.  Do you treat yourself as well as you treat folks you care about, your friends and family?  If you do, great.  If not, start.  You’re worth it.  And you’ll lead a healthier life while infecting friends and family by example.

Give yourself a break today

We have been talking about the scared one and how stressful it is to be constantly vigilant.  Being always on guard against looking bad or doing/saying something wrong isn’t just a psychological state.  It’s also physiological. Science has long shown us the connection between psyche and soma, mind and body.  The body is a slave to the brain and what we do between our ears drives activity at a distance in the body. For example, your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, different ones depending upon the acute or chronic nature of your stress.

Chronic stress causes them to produce corticosterioid hormones.  These steroid hormones are like predisone which is used to surpress that itchy inflammatory response when you get a bad case of poison ivy.  In other words, they surpress your immune response.  This means that you are more likely to get sick when you feel you have to always be on your toes.

You know the slogan, “you deserve a break today?”  Running around all day long living our McNormal lives, dressed for success while putting our best foot forward, don’t we deserve a break today?! I think we do.  I just don’t think it’s a Big Mac.

Maybe the break is to notice the scared one running your life.  Then punch out on the trying-to-impress-others clock and do something else with your time and attention.  After all, concern for how others are thinking of you may be misplaced.  In fact, they probably aren’t thinking of you. Their scared one is probably doing with you what you had been doing with them.  :O)



The Secret of Juggling


Part Nine

I mentioned last time that while I am still in development, I did finish a book entitled, “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.”  Part of normal not being healthy is that we all share a secret that we don’t discuss.  That secret being that we all have feelings of inadequacy and insecurity we don’t want others to know about.  The part of us that carries those feelings I have named the “scared one.”

Last time, I discussed a personal example of the “scared one’s” effect on the book project.  I’d like to continue to explore how our secret affects our development.  Or, another way to say it, how our “scared one” hinders our growth toward emotional maturity, health and wholeness.

First, a question: how many of you have tried to juggle?  I’m not talking schedules or “the books” but objects.  How many of you have tried, at some point in your life, to juggle 3 balls or other like objects in the air?  When I ask this question to groups of people, about 80% to 90% of folks acknowledge such attempts.  But when I ask, “How many of you have learned how to juggle?” Only a small per cent mastered the skill. 


            When I ask why, respondents tell me things like:

            “Poor hand-eye coordination…”

            “I don’t know.  I tried it and I just can’t do it…”

            “I’ve never been good at sports…”

            “It wasn’t that important…”

            “No one taught me…”

            “It’s a kid thing…and I’m an adult…”

Let me tell you what I think.  The people that try to juggle and don’t learn the skill, approach the learning from a normal, but not healthy perspective.  They attempt the new behavior because something about it interests them.  They think, “Gee, I wonder if I can do that?  It looks like fun.”

They try for a brief time to see if they can do it.  And they fail.  How does it feel trying and failing at any task?  It doesn’t feel very good.  Why?  To begin with, we learned, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”  And we're obviously not doing it right!

It doesn’t feel good for two related reasons.  First, we are not doing it right and second, the “scared one” risks being seen as inadequate when we fail.  So when we try something new and we’re not a “natural,” we don’t “get it” right away, it reinforces our feelings of inadequacy.

We try, fail, and feel bad failing.  So, how can we stop feeling bad?  Easy.  Stop trying the thing that causes the bad feelings.  We don’t persist because there is no pay-off in dropping the balls over and over and over.  We tried and learned, “I can’t juggle.”  Why continue when we already know, “I just can’t do it?”

It’s interesting how we use the word can’t.  The contraction of ‘can not’ almost implies no fault, no accountability, no responsibility.  I wonder if we often use that word in the place of “won’t.”  This contraction carries a different quality of energy, a quality of ownership, of responsibility.

To me, it says I’m not willing to (will not) suffer through the learning that is required to have the skill.  It isn’t that I “can’t” (can not), it’s actually that I “won’t” (will not) pay the price to earn the learning.

This brings me to juggling.  Juggling is a wonderful metaphor for learning and for a life of learning. 

What is the secret of juggling?  You don’t earn the right to have the skill unless you sustain your effort and fail enough to “get it!”

How long do you have to drop the balls before you learn to keep them in the air?  Just long enough.  When you’ve dropped them enough you don’t drop them any more!  You “get it.” 

Our problem is that we compare ourselves with others, and see how quickly they “get it.”  And in comparison to them, we feel uncoordinated and inadequate.  That feels bad.  The “scared one” risks exposure as an inadequate person, simply because it takes some people longer to “get it.”

Well, what if we change the game?  What if we decide that it isn’t important how fast we learn something?  What if we slow down?  What if we quit comparing and competing with others?  What would change? 

There would be a conservation of our energy making more energy available for learning.  Why?  Energy follows attention.  If you are attending to the other jugglers, and wanna-be jugglers, while you are attempting to learn, your energy is invested unwisely.  STOP for a moment.  Put down the balls.  Multitasking drains energy and slows down learning. 

Shine the flashlight of your attention on someone who has learned.  Watch to see what they are doing.  Then pick up the balls anew and try what you saw them do.  You get a much better return on your energy investment.  Energy expended on what they are doing while you are trying, splits your attention and your energy. So less is available for you to use to learn the new skill. 

Having less energy to utilize, you quickly get tired and frustrated.  Saying, “I quit!  I just can’t do it!” 

Whoa, slow down.  We’ve all been there.  It’s OK.  And, don’t quit.  Just take a break.  Change your mindset by adding “yet” at the end of the sentence.    I just can’t do it yet!

The best way to conserve energy is to focus on your own process.  Make the competition ‘you with you.’  Eliminate the external reference by attending to the task at hand.  And when the “scared one” starts to say self defeating phrases, stop the chatter.

Because we have feelings of inadequacy, doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.

By attending to my own negative internal dialogue, I have the energy to stop the noise that creates interference in the learning process.  Then I can change the conversation.  For example:

“I know you.  You’re scared because that’s your nature.  You bought the standard line.  ‘If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.’  It’s normal, but not healthy to feel that way.  It’s not healthy because you’ll never try anything new if you have to do it right the first time.

“Let me assure you that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure.  I know you have trouble with this concept.  That’s your nature.  Although I honor your need to see the world as you do, I cannot, and I will not let it hinder my learning.”

By dealing directly with the “scared one,” we keep him/her in check so that we can drop the balls as much as we need to learn to juggle.   Remember it isn’t so important how quickly we learn.  What is important is what we do with what we learn and to know that we can learn anything.

I learned to juggle in medical school.  It was one of the things I did to de-stress, to relax.  As you might guess, medical school puts a huge emphasis on ‘doing it right.’  The pressure is continuous.  Competition fierce.  There are multiple opportunities daily to have your feelings of inadequacy reinforced.  It’s not exactly a healthy environment for learning.

I learned to juggle three balls.  Then I learned to pass.  That’s what it’s called when jugglers play catch or juggle back and forth to each other.  Anyway, I had a lot of fun alone as well as juggling with others.

Then my wife got me juggling clubs.  Imagine the scene.  It’s Christmas.  All four daughters watch as I open the special present.

“Oh, boy.  New toy!”  And I immediately begin to throw the juggling clubs.  Guess what?  I couldn’t juggle them.  It’s always fun failing in front of the little ones, isn’t it?   Guess how I felt?  Could it be . . . inadequate?  Yep, I was pretty embarrassed and went off to practice. 

Was I going to practice in public or private?  Right, in private.  Why in private?  Because no one would see me failing over and over.

So, I went limping off to practice in private when I had an ‘ah ha’ experience.   I remembered my own BLEF system.  BLEF (I never was much of a speller.)

[B]  I believe that anything I do, I can do Better.  Myself, all of us are underachievers relative to what we are capable of doing.

[L]  If I am willing to Learn, there isn’t anything I can’t do better.  And there isn’t anything I can’t learn.

[E]  But I Earn my learning the old fashioned way by . . .

[FFailing enough to “get it.”  The final common pathway of learning is mistake making.  We earn our learning one mistake at a time.

No, I didn’t want to practice in private.  I wanted to practice in public.  I wanted my kids to see me fail over and over and not quit.  I wanted them to see me get frustrated, but persist until I finally learned how to juggle the clubs.  And that’s what I did.

Remember my line, “I’m slow, but trainable.” Others may be quicker on the uptake.  But, there’s nothing I can’t learn if I’m willing to fail enough to eventually “get it.”

How about you?  What is it you’ve decided you can’t do?  What is it you tried and failed at, that caused you to lose belief in yourself?  Perhaps you might revisit that experience and see if it looks different from a juggler’s perspective.






1370 words



OUR BEST KEPT SECRET A Real Life Example of “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy”

 I started writing a book in 1989. The title is “Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.” I didn’t finish writing and publishing that book until many years later. Why?  Not finishing means not risking. If I finish the book, someone might read it! Then I risk others rejecting the ideas presented. And that rejection, that potential criticism, would be taken personally! Having my feelings of inadequacy reinforced feels so bad that I sabotage completion. If I kill the book I slay those feelings before they occur in reality.

My ‘scared one’ plays out worst case scenarios to avoid exposure to rejection. I stay safe by not finishing the book. Then no one can read it to find out how stupid, unoriginal, banal and superfluous I am. That’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’. My ‘scared one’ will avoid risk-taking and, thereby, the anxiety inherent with the risk.

Risk management to the ‘scared one’ means to avoid being seen as a flop or a failure in the eyes of the world. By not finishing the book, or certain other projects, for that matter, I decrease my exposure. Playing out the rejection in my imagination reinforces my feelings of inadequacy. “Why should anyone read this book? There are so many good books out there already. What makes me think I have anything to add?!”

As a risk manager, my ‘scared one’ downsizes risk by presenting reason after reason to put off completion: “It will be so hard to organize my material in a concise way for the reader. Besides it will take away from other fun stuff that I really enjoy.”

And when sitting down to write, to work through the internal resistance the ‘scared one’ creates, distraction is always one thought away: “You know, I think I’ll get something to eat.” or “Look at that floor. I can’t believe its so dirty. If the floor were cleaner, I could write better.” or “I need some exercise. Yea, that’s the ticket. I’ll write better, concentrate better after I work out and shower.”

The irony of it is, that the ‘scared one’ is endlessly creative in the distractions he presents to keep me from the task. He will map out detour after detour to avoid reaching the end. And then, to add insult to injury, he says: “You really are pathetic! You’ll never finish that book. You’ve been blowing smoke for years. Why don’t you just forget it!” It’s a perfect example of ‘why normal isn’t healthy.’

It’s normal to let the ‘scared one’ drive the engine of the psyche. It’s normal to be grateful for the detours s/he provides from the anxiety inherent in risk-taking, in doing the new behavior. But, if I am aware of this tendency in myself to sabotage what’s best for my development, for my health, I can watch. I can pay attention. I can see when I am being my own worst enemy. And, my energy follows my attention.

Paying attention, energy is then available to deal with the ‘scared one.’ In a metaphorical sense, I reach over, turn off the engine, and take the keys. “I know you. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re the ‘scared guy’ and you’re anxious about exposure. You don’t want to stick your neck out, ever. It’s too risky, too scary. So, I have to stop you now. I’m taking over. I’m going to drive now. You get in the back seat. I know you’re anxious and I honor that by feeling scared too. However, I’m going to act in spite of my fear.

I’m not going to allow that anxiety to keep me from standing up for myself and expressing how I think and feel. I believe Kirkegaard was right, anxiety is our best educator. I’m not going to allow anxiety to keep me from new learning.” Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that I can be my own worst enemy. If I can be my own worst enemy, I can also be my own best friend.

Because I have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean I’m inadequate. Because I have a risk-averse ‘scared one’ inside doesn’t mean I have to avoid risk. But it does require that I am awake to the workings of my own psyche so that I can watch when the ‘scared one’s’ attempts at self-sabotage appear. Energy follows attention! By paying attention, I have the energy to deal with this internal terrorist and disarm him. It doesn’t require being judgmental or critical.

I don’t have to beat myself up because I have a ‘scared guy.’ He will always be present and play his ‘scared guy’ role in the movie of my life. But he doesn’t have control of my performance. He will make appearances, but if I’m paying attention to my life; to my thoughts, to my feelings, to my behavior, to my body, to my health and to my relationships, I’ll see him pop up.

If I fall asleep at the wheel, and the ‘scared one’ takes over, it is really helpful to have a supportive community of friends to hold up a mirror and reflect back to me the image of the ‘scared one’ at the controls. Their care and concern lovingly nudges me to wakefulness. Fully alert, I see the situation with clarity.

By paying attention, energy flows differently: “Ah ha! I see you clearly now. Your turn is over. Give me the keys, get in the back seat, shut up and hang on! We’re gonna have an adventure. Life can’t be an adventure without risk. And with risk comes anxiety. But, remember Kirkegaard’s comment that anxiety is also the dizziness of freedom. Yahoo!!”

Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that some people, even people who love us, people in our own families, don’t know how to give healthy support. When we’re too scared to jump, they belittle us, thereby reinforcing our feelings of inadequacy. Or they push and push and push us over the edge. Their energy was required for the leap, so they take the credit. “Well, you wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been there.  So we relearn what the ‘scared one’ never forgot. I’m inadequate. But that’s not true.  It's a con. Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate !

Of course, another aspect of ‘why normal isn’t healthy’ is that to even ask for help or support means to risk being seen that way. “Need some help?” “Nope, I can handle it.” It’s also normal, but not healthy for some people to think that supporting us means to help us stay stuck where we are with a friend. “You know, I think I’ll just forget about doing that stupid book. It’s so hard to fit it in with the other work I’m doing. Besides, everything’s already been said before. Why say it again?”

“Yea, you’re probably right. Why stress yourself? I’ve got tickets to the basketball game. Let’s go have some fun.” Or “Yea, I know what you mean. Say, why don’t we go to the shore this weekend. We’ll put on some steaks, drink some martinis, smoke some fine Cuban cigars and relax. No one reads books anymore, anyway.” It’s normal, but not healthy, for some friends to tell us what we want to hear. And let’s face it, a lot of what the ‘scared one’ is hoping for is a helper, a friend to support us in taking the detour away from risk-taking exposure.  “Whew, I’m off the hook!” I think to myself, “that sounds great.” I say out loud.

“But wait,” you say, “I don’t feel inadequate.” “That’s great!” But let me ask you something. Why are you running around doing project after project? Why do you have lists of lists or projects? There is the immediate list. Then the long-term list and of course, the list of what to do if you can’t find any other list. Compulsively ‘doing.’ You’re always so busy. What is your busyness all about?

Wouldn’t you admit that much of the economic wealth in this country is built by people running full speed trying to prove how adequate they are? In fact, we’ve built a country that provides an opportunity for others to come and prove it also. If not, what are they and we trying to prove? Could it be that if you get enough done, complete enough projects, serve on enough committees, you will finally reach that critical mass of accomplishment to establish once and for all that you are adequate?!

Or even better, superior!! Superior. Interesting concept. It surpasses adequate as the next level of value. A superior piece of workmanship is worth more than something merely adequate. In fact, the adequate job is now inferior by comparison. So, superior is better. Having a car made with superior engineering costs more because of the added value of the design, etc.

Driving that car gives the driver a leg up on the other guy in the five year old compact car. It makes a statement to the world of our value, because we can afford it. And, admit it, we feel just a little superior and they may, who knows, feel just a little inferior as they compare vehicles.Our homes, our yards, condos, apartments, cars, boats, clothes, kids, schools, jobs, lifestyles, bodies, mates, friends, clubs, memberships, vacations, and yes, cigars, tell the world where we are on the value scale:

Inferior – - – - – - > Superior.

We constantly compare and compete. Paying attention to these matters we have energy for them. Part of ‘normal not being healthy’ is that we spend large amounts of money on appearances, on the surface of things. “Well, why not? You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Exactly. If your concern is with your image in the eyes of the world, that’s normal. And if your concern is on making a better impression, that makes perfect sense. Improve and enhance.The ‘fix’ only requires money and the things money can buy. It’s normal, but it’s a trap, a money trap. And you never have enough.

That’s not what really moves me or what we’ve been exploring. An investment of money is not required to carry forward our premise. What is required is an energy investment. And, an interest in exploring what it means to be a fully human person, functioning from a center that makes us unique and distinct, while also connected to the larger family of humanity.

“Even if you don’t know what you want, buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow. Start a huge, foolish, project, like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.” (Rumi)

The ‘scared one’ be damned. Let’s kick it into gear and bust out of the confining limits and safe habor of the status quo. The question then becomes, what “huge, foolish project” is only mine to do? Maybe I’m the project and the book a little ship.

“No. Thanks, for asking. But I really want to work on this book. I’ve been putting off finishing it for years. I know it would be fun, but it will be more satisfying for me to finish what I started. So long.”

The book is finished. I’m still working on me.

From Perfection to Acceptance


We are a paradox, both tiger and goat.  We have a ‘scared one’ inside us driven by the fear that at any moment we could be exposed as inadequate, our goat self.  Since our ‘scared one’ fears that at any given moment our secret may be revealed, he/she has to be constantly vigilant.  Therefore, “safety and security at all costs” is the motto for the ‘scared one.’

One way to stay safe is to do things well, or better yet, perfectly.  That demonstrates to the outside world how great we are.  In school some of us got all “A”s and as adults still seek that grade from others.  We seek the “A” for adequate, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy.

Our perfectionistic tendencies are also affirmed and admired by others.  We can be proud, are even told that we should be proud, of our accomplishments.  The car, the house, the yard, the kids, the school, the clothes–everything we do becomes an opportunity to show the world how great we are.  How perfect we are!

But, what happens when we fall short of the mark?  What is your self talk like when you don’t meet your high expectations, when you fail?  When you screw-up, what do you say to yourself?

I asked this question once to a group of women at a conference.  Most of those present shouted out self-deprecating statements like:

“That was a dumb thing to do!”

“I can’t believe I did that!”

“What an idiot!”

And, one of my personal favorites:

“I should’ve known better.  What’s wrong with me?!”

But one woman said, “Oh.”

I said “Oh?”

“That’s right, Oh! O-H Only Human.”

I said, “That’s suspiciously healthy.  I should report you to the thought police.  Now stand in the corner and straighten yourself out!”

When I inquired as to whether she had always been so accepting of her humanness, she said,  “Oh, no.  I used to be a relentless perfectionist.  Then I had years of therapy which taught me to say O-H.”

Folks, save yourself some money!  Don’t use your failures or mistakes as an opportunity to reinforce your feelings of inadequacy.  Who benefits?  No one!  You certainly don’t.  Do others benefit when you belittle yourself?  No way!

So, give yourself a break today.  After all, don’t your highest values support you doing so?  I mean, is God waiting for the new improved you?  Or just as you are, flaws and all, are you loved and accepted by a mystery that exceeds your understanding?  If that is part of your belief system, use it to support your new learning.

Our culture is so caught up in self improvement.  When you go to the self help section of the book store you have to take a number and get in line.  And after you make some improvement, are you now perfect?  Nope.

So what is required?  More improvement.  Done.  Are you now perfect?  Nope.

And on it goes.  When do you get to perfect?  Never.

So when do you get to your good feelings?  Never!

What is much more useful from my perspective is self acceptance, not self improvement.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m very interested in learning, in getting better at everything I do.  My bias is that everyone is an underachiever.  No matter how well we do anything, we can get better.

But I don’t want to wait to feel better until I get better at what I do.

So, what about those feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that never go away?  How are you supposed to feel better when they are always present?  Very good questions.

The answer is connected back to the paradox of our humanness.  Think of it this way.  Acceptance of myself, with all my imperfections, creates a psychological space to create something new.

Why?  Self acceptance is the beginning of change.  For instance, having overcome my denial about some character flaw, accepting the actual reality of its existence, I can pay attention and deal with that flaw.

Energy follows attention.  I only have energy for that to which I attend.  Said with poor English, what I pay attention to, I have energy for.

Creation requires energy.  In order for me to create something new, energy is required.

But, what if I’m tapped out energetically?  If you’re bereft of the energy required, go to the source of energy.  Rumi has a poem with the lines…

“Move within, but not the way fear

makes you move.

Go to the well.

Move as the earth and moon move

circling what they love.

Whatever circles comes from the center.”

What is at the core, the center of your being?  Look past the mask you’ve been conditioned to wear to your essential self.  The real you made in the image of, what?  Some say a Devine Parent.  Coming back to your belief system, are you on your own, or can you get help?  What was it?  “Ask and you shall receive.”

You see, if we place our psychological development within a spiritual space in the psyche, we feel safe and secure.  And our developmental process will be infused with the energy required for change.

The ‘scared one’ doesn’t believe any of this because he/she feels unworthy of help.  But, our ‘sacred self’ understands the secret.  At the center, the ‘sacred one’ watches with an inward-turned eye.  Turning within, “but not the way fear makes you move,” the ‘sacred one’ opens to the loving embrace of the Mystery of God.

Rumi says and the ‘scared one’ agrees:

“I am so small.  I can barely be seen.

How can this Great Love be inside me?”

Then he answers from the mouth of his own ‘sacred one’:

“The eye is small

yet it holds enormous things.”

The paradox of the ‘scared one’ / ‘sacred one’ is only known by the latter.  My ego doesn’t know my soul.  But my essential self, my soul center understands the ego as a loving parent understands a child.  It’s energetic source is the Ecstatic Love of its Creative Parent.

The dual nature of our ‘isness’ requires two sets of parents.  One set provides 23 chromosomes each, to build a body and then the environment to nourish development.

The other set made the ‘sacred one’ and implanted this essential self into the body to live through it into Realization.  The Realization of its true nature, it’s true Tiger nature.  And although the ‘scared one’ and our egocentric concerns don’t permanently dissolve as long as we’re breathing, they don’t have to drive the engine of the psyche.

We can disengage from those small obsessions of the ego by changing what we attend to.  Energy follows attention.  Change what you pay attention to and you change the energetic equation.

It isn’t by adding to what you have inside, that gives you value.  It isn’t a matter of improvement.

It is by recognizing what is already present, as a Present, a Gift, from a Divine Source.  Reconnecting with this gift happens when we remember.  And remembering often happens when life forces us to change that to which we attend.

Newly awakened, we see the familiar with Tiger eyes. Those eyes that pierce the blackest night of the soul and see clearly that which supports us, feeds us, energizes us.

Rumi says,

“Ecstatic Love is the ocean

on which the Milky Way floats,

like a flake of foam on the sea.”

Tiger food is the abundant love that flows from that source whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is no where.

“Whatever circles

comes from the center.”





Our True Tiger Nature

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright

In the forests of the night.

What immortal hand or eye

            Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”           

    William Blake

There is a familiar ring to this poem.  Most of us probably had to read it in English Literature.  I remember doing so as a kid.  I read it and moved on, probably not thinking much more about it.

Reading it now, however, has a much larger charge for me.  Because, now, I think about tigers differently than I used to.  And wanting to continue to explore the dual nature of the human psyche with you, a tiger story comes to mind.  Remember my bias that we all have both a ‘scared one’ and a ‘sacred one’ inside us.

The ‘scared one’ is ashamed of him/herself.  The ‘scared one’ is programmed by family, school, church, peers, etc. to carry culture. The local cultural conditioning process happens unawares.  Much of the interaction with the child occurs without awareness on the part of the grown-ups.  People do with their offspring something similar to what was done with them or they overcompen-sate in rebellion to the parenting they received.

So we have explored how the ‘scared one’ feels inadequate and insecure as a result of our long period of dependency upon parents or parental figures. 

Not being adequate to care for ourselves in the jungle that is the world, every child will have feelings of inadequacy.

“Dad, can I go down to the store and get some candy?”

“No, you can’t.  You’re only six years old.  You haven’t learned to be paranoid yet.  Get back in here.  Maybe I’ll take you later.  And it’s not can I, but may I.”

“Dad, what’s paranoid?”

“What? Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Now go bother your mother.”

While we all have this secret that we share yet don’t discuss, there is another secret that likewise, we share and do not discuss.  While there is much agreement about the presence of the 'scared one’ there is more controversy about the existence of the ‘sacred one.’

This is the luminous aspect of our humanness.  This sacred component is not a product of conditioning.  It is not burdened with egocentric vision.  It is, however, often covered by psychological brushwood.  The ‘scared one’ is in hiding, the ‘sacred one’ is hidden, so deeply hidden one may think it nonexistent.

But, let’s come back to the poem and a Tiger story that will help clear away some of the brushwood.  This is an ancient story, one I heard a wonderful storyteller, Joseph Campbell, tell years ago.  I wouldn’t presume his skill as a raconteur, but this story is one I’ll always remember.


            A pregnant tigress is on the prowl hungry for goat.  She comes to a clearing and spots a herd of goats grazing at a distance.  She stealthily slips up on the herd and picks out her prey.  Slowly she moves in for the kill, and leaps upon her victim.  But while she was in midair, the goat changed position.  So when she landed upon her meal, two sharp goat horns pierced her heart.  In the moment of contact, she sustained a mortal wound and lay dying in the grass.

           The traumatized goat is dazed, yet very aware of the closeness of the call.  He just saw his little goat life flash before his eyes.  He can hardly believe he’s not badly injured when he notices the spectacle.

            In her dying moments, the pregnant tiger’s uterus begins to contact and she delivers a beautiful little tiger cub.

            The goat is amazed at the miracle.  Out of this death comes new life.  “Wow!  What a beautiful little tiger cu….b… Wait a minute!  That’s a tiger.  I’m a goat. Tigers eat  goats.  This is a problem.”

           So the young goat goes to get the goat elders.  They come over to investigate the situation“Let’s see now.  That’s a tiger.  We’re goats.  Tigers eat goats.  Yep, it’s a problem.  But, hey, wait a minute.  She doesn’t know she’s a tiger.  We won’t tell her. 

            We’ll just just raise her like a goat.  She’ll eat goat food instead of goat.  Yeah, that’s the   ticket. 

            She’ll live her little goat life with the herd.  She’ll live like us and be like us.  Sure, it’ll work.”

            Time passes and it’s as the elder said.  The little tigress lives a goat life eating goat food instead of goat and moves as one with the herd.  Things go along smoothly. The tigress isn’t growing into her full, mature tiger self because she’s eating grass instead of goat.  And her secret identity is hidden from the tigress.

            Then one day, a large female tiger comes along hungry for goat.  She catchers the scent of the herd and tracks them down.  She begins to select her prey when …WHAT?…she notices a tiger grazing with the herd.

            Astonished at these events, the tigress forgets about her hunger and runs out from cover to satisfy her curiosity.  The herd dashes away, but the large mature tigress is much faster than the goat-tiger and catches her easily.

            “What the heck are you doing out here with these goats.  Don’t you know you’re a tiger and tigers eat goats?”

            The young one looks up at the mature one and says, “Baaaah, Baaaah”

            The big tiger cannot believe her ears.  “What!!  That’s not what tigers say.  Tigers say,  GRRRRR!   GRRRRRR!

            And her booming roar blasts the little one’s ears back.  But all she can muster is another, “Baaaaah,  Baaaaah.”

            No matter what the mature tigress does, she cannot convince the young one of her true tiger nature.  Until finally, she spots a quiet pool of water nearby.  She moves over to drink and sees her image reflecting up to her.  She calls the young one over and says,  “Here, put your head here next to mine above the pond.  Now, you see those eyes, you see those whiskers, you see those stripes??”

            “Stripes!  What??!  Can it be??!” thought the little goat-tiger.  In an instant the truth was revealed. “See, you are a tiger like me.  You are meant to live a different life than the one you have known.  Come with me.”

 And off she went to live her true tiger life.

You see the problem?  We are all born tigers and taught to be goats.  We live our goat lives, eating goat food and moving with the herd.  We feel inadequate and easily let others ‘get our goat.’  Or, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we become a bully and ‘Billy’ other goats.

The story then reveals the dynamics we have been discussing.  The ‘scared one’ bleating out anxious tones from a fearful hiding spot.  Or the ‘Big One’ picking on other smaller goats to establish dominance.  Reinforcing the feelings of inadequacy in others, the bully reveals his secret.  He is unaware of his modus operandi until a still larger one appears and his tail drops between his legs in submission to the new alpha figure.

The ‘scared one/Big One’ and the goat are synonymous.  And we all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  But that is not an accurate picture of our entire nature.  That is programming absorbed by osmosis from our local environs.  We are imprinted early to think goat thoughts and move with the herd.  We replicate ourselves and teach our children to do the same.

But then, there is this Other One, this tiger self, this essential self that waits to be discovered. 

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright.”

This luminous ‘sacred one’ who is hidden behind the conditioning of a lifetime. 

“What immortal hand or eye did frame thy fearful symmetry?” 

And when this one remembers, re-members, reconnects to the “immortal hand” that birthed a universe, look out!!

Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.  Because we have fears, doesn’t mean we can’t face them to see what they have to teach us.  For it may be only in facing what we fear the most that we discover our true stripes. GRRRRRRRR!

We experience our core “burning bright” and this light illuminates a new way.  The familiar is seen with a sense of possibility.  Our confusion gives way to a brief moment of clarity.  We see through the illusion of who we thought we were to live for an instant what we actually are.

And that moment, that one instant of direct knowing also reveals to us who is hidden within everyone else.  And though we cannot hold that moment, its memory holds us, enfolds us.  It informs all we do thereafter, the moment we remember, because our energy follows our attention.

Hey you!  Yeah You!  To what are you paying attention??  Are you busting your butt trying to keep up with the herd?  Exhausting, isn’t it!  Your energy follows your attention.  What you pay attention to, you have energy for.

Pay attention to your true tiger nature and you have the energy for living out your true tiger life.  In those moments you become a metaphorical pond for others to see their true reflection in the deep pools of your tiger eyes.





From Scared One to Sacred One

The ‘scared one’ inside the psyche is in a state of constant vigilance.  He/She is constantly scanning the environment, both external and internal (inside the mind) for potential attackers.  Therefore the ‘scared one’ expends large amounts of energy maintaining a secure perimeter.  Should someone get too close, an automatic alarm response is triggered and defenses are fortified.  This reaction allows the ‘scared one’ to stay safe behind the walls built to protect him/her.

This also means, however, that we often feel alone, isolated and separate even though we are around other people.  The walls built to provide us with safety and security, to protect us, are in fact, prison walls.

We survive our lives in psychological cells tapping out sounds that we hope someone, someday will decipher as an S.O.S.  But when a liberator comes, when someone listens past the words, we hear ourselves say; “Did I say that?  I didn’t say that!  I didn’t mean it that way.  I’m fine.  I can handle it!”

But what we mean is tap, tap, tap tap tap, tap, tap. . .don’t believe me, keep probing, just don’t let anyone else know.  Ask me another way.  And we just keep putting out the Same Old Shit!!

To compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we project images of adequacy.  The ‘scared one’ doesn’t want to be seen as inadequate so to compensate, he/she projects a (+) plus so as not to risk being seen as a (-) minus.

So we dress for success as we act like we’re on top of things, showing “no fear” even though our knees are knocking, and we don’t have a clue what to do next.  This adolescent approach to life can last until a significant emotional event shatters the status quo.  Even then, it’s amazing how long we can hold on to the old habitual response patterns.

A dear friend told me about a family tragedy.  His brother’s son committed suicide.  When he talked to his brother, who, by the way, never even called him after this loss, said, “I’m doing all right.  In my line of work, I’ve had a lot of experience with this.”  His brother worked in law enforcement.

The ‘scared one’ inside always stays safe.  Even people we see as powerful, people that are leaders in their fields have a ‘scared one’ trying to maintain a public posture that compensates.  We see them as confident and secure when, in actuality, they are hiding behind their protective facades. 

To risk exposure, to let down their guard, could open the flood gates and the world would rush in to take advantage of their vulnerability.

I recently did some consulting work with a Fortune 500 company.  Prior to doing a presentation, I was visiting with the leader of the group that hired me.  He was in charge of the largest group in the country and had earned his position through results obtained in former roles.  He is a driver and a star performer.

We were discussing the agenda for the day.  I suggested some risk-taking on his part, letting people see another side of him.  His response was interesting.  “These people have never seen the real me.  I’m not like this.  In fact, my own family has never seen the real me.  It is only with a few people that I feel safe enough to relax and let down my guard.  Most people don’t know what I’m like.”

He feels trapped and stressed out to the point that he wonders what effects on his health might accrue.  His company recently reorganized, and he is feeling the pressure of his increased responsibilities and the need for results.

By the way, when I queried about results to date, he said they were at 97% of goal in one area and exceeding goal in all other areas.  But, he said, for the first time in his life he questioned whether it was worth the price he was paying.  He also said that his family had noticed the strain, and he questioned the job he was doing at home as husband and father.

He had not taken more than a week’s vacation in many years though his position and tenure with the company provided him with much more time off.  Here is a man who grabbed the brass ring and is making the “big bucks,” yet he hasn’t reached a critical mass of success that would allow him to break out of his self-constructed prison and feel safe enough to reveal himself to the world.

I don’t think this business leader is that different than many successful business people.  I think a great deal of wealth has been built by people compensating for their ‘scared one.’  The drive to succeed, to prove value and worth to the world often comes from the ‘scared one’s’ need to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

The problem is, that vacuum inside the psyche can never be filled from the outside-in.  He will never reach the critical mass of success, wealth or notoriety needed to allow him to open up.  As long as it’s a matter of how much, it will never be enough. 

It is only when you quit caring about the score, that you win this game.  Then you can do what Rumi suggested, “Go start some huge foolish project like Noah.  It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”

When we quit defending the perimeter, when we let go of our concern for our image in the eyes of others, we discover how much energy we were consuming.  The leak plugged, that energy now becomes available for “huge foolish projects.”

Although we all have feelings of inadequacy, it doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.  When we stop being paranoid and defensive, the energy available is enormous.  We tap into a reservoir , or better yet, a stream, a flow of something life-giving, nourishing, potent.

You see, we not only have a ‘scared one’ inside, we also have a ‘sacred one.’   The ‘sacred one’ has limitless possibilities for growth and development.  Seeded within each of us is a radiant core that we can mine.  This ore is not “fool’s gold.”   It is the real thing!  Though, when tapped and brought forward into the field of action, the world may see us as foolish.

This type of leader sees him/herself as a servant.  This leader doesn’t win by intimidation using the evil twin of the ‘scared one,’ ‘the Big One,’ to squeeze performance out of people.  This leader knows who is in hiding in his/her own psyche and so knowing has learned much about those he/she leads and serves.

This dual knowledge, the knowledge of the paradoxical nature of the human psyche allows this leader to serve with awareness.  With this awareness, no interaction with another is aimed at reinforcing feelings of inadequacy.  To the contrary, the energy exchange is aimed at connecting to the ‘sacred one,’ creating a psychological and social space for the expression of giftedness. 

This leader does what Goethe suggested:  “Treat people as they are and they remain that way.  Treat them as though they were what they are capable of becoming and you will help them move toward that which they are capable.”









Avoiding Risk

We have been discussing a secret we all share, yet rarely reveal to anyone.  That is, we all have feelings of inadequacy / insecurity and we have named that part of us, the ‘scared one.’  We all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  All males, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared guy’ inside.  All females, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared gal’ inside.

The ‘scared one’ inside us is fully formed once we learn to be ashamed of ourselves.  This was learned from those we were dependent upon early in our development.  We learned to do things the “right way” by trial and error.  When we erred, we got our feelings of inadequacy reinforced.

“No, don’t do it like that, stupid, do it like this.”  “Come on now, pay attention.  You know better than that.”  “Come on.  You’re not using your brain.  Did your brain fall out?”

To compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we want to show how adequate we are.

We, as parents, show how adequate we are through the performance of our children.  I mean, how many of us heard our parents say, “Now remember, when you go over there you’re a reflection on our whole family.  So don’t pick your nose or scratch yourself.  Stand up, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t slouch around like that.  How many times do I have to tell you to stand up straight?  And look at those shoes.  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself.  I told you to polish them yesterday!”

Because our children demonstrate our competence as parents we have seen bumper stickers appear on the scene.  “Proud parent of HONOR ROLL student at Maplewood School.

The unwritten message is “I am an adequate parent. Just wanted you to know so I put it on the car.”  You may have seen the take-off on these.  “My kid beat up your honor roll student.”  The unwritten statement is “I’m adequate too!”


I thought we needed another bumper sticker.  “Proud parent, regardless of their grades, my kids have an “A” in my book.”    “A” for love and acceptance, regardless of their performance on the world’s stage.  So I had them printed.( if interested)

Can we affirm, affirm, affirm our children unconditionally?  I’m not saying catch ‘em being good.  I’m saying remind them and ourselves, often, that they are radiant gems that have come through us into the world.  We have them for a short time on their journey.

We need to do everything we can to create a safe, loving environment for learning.  For learning is required for them to be able to take their place in the larger community.  Learning is required for them to have the internal where-with-all to thrive in the jungle that is the world.

And the final common pathway for learning is mistake-making.  When mistakes happen, we need to focus on the learning that is gained rather than the mistake that is made.  We don’t want to reinforce our child’s feelings of inadequacy, but we do want our children to learn new things.  And anything worth learning, is worth failing at.

You see, the ‘scared one’ inside us feels safe when doing what is familiar.  Repeating behaviors in which we have already established adequacy allows the ‘scared one’ to feel secure, to feel safe.  Safety and security are the most important elements to the risk averse ‘scared one’.

To do the new or novel is to put the ‘scared one’ in a position where there is a high risk.  If we risk failing at the task or if we try a new behavior in response to familiar stimuli, the ‘scared one’ risks exposure.  So there is a great deal of psychological inertia that has to be overcome to break out of old patterns, even if they don’t work anymore.

As for children, their gaze is upon us.  They watch us and model what they see.  How much healthy risk taking do they see?  Let’s say some change happens at work.

By the way, have you noticed there are a few changes happening at work?  Oh, I know, there are also plenty of changes happening at home.  Change is everywhere apparent.  In fact, it is the one constant in life.  Yet dealing with change is stressful.

Eric Hoffer said, “In times of change, it is the learner who inherits the earth, while the learned finds himself beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

How do our children see us responding? In fact, how did we see our own parents respond when they were stressed?  Was the stressful event used as an opportunity for learning something new or an excuse to go for an unhealthy coping strategy ?  Here’s one from the past:

“Boy, you wouldn’t believe what those idiots did today!  With that kind of management, this company is in for big trouble.”

“What happened?”

“Well, everything has been going along fine.  The business is growing.  We’re making more money.  And now they want to gum up the whole works.”

“What do you mean?”

They want us to change the way we do things.  They actually want us to put everything on computer.  Do you know how long it’s gonna take.  It’s crazy.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  This whole computer thing is just a fad.  It won’t last.  So we’ll switch everything over then be stuck switching back to the way we’re doing business now.  It’s nuts!

“So, what are you going to do?”

“What am I going to do!?  I’m going to fix myself a drink.  Then I’m going to fix another.  In fact, I think I’ll just mix up a pitcher.  Care to join me?”

“Sure, but dinner won’t be ready for a while, so take it easy.”

“Don’t try to tell me what to do.  And why isn’t dinner ready, yet!?  You sit around all day, the least you could do is have a man’s dinner ready when he comes home.  I’m gonna watch TV.  Call me when it’s time to eat.

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  But you don’t have to yell.  Just go in and try to forget about it.  You’re all upset.  I’ll call when dinner’s ready.”

The child observing this interaction watches in innocence.  The grownups act out unaware that their performance demonstrates psychic compensation and risk avoidance.

The father is at-risk at work because he will have to learn how to do something new.  His ‘scared guy’ felt safe doing things in which he has established adequacy.  Now he’ll have to learn something new and what if he fails?  He risks being seen as inadequate.  His anxiety is masked to others by his anger.

Feeling small, he acts out with a big voice as the evil twin of the ‘scared one’, the ‘Big One’ appears.  The ‘Big One’ only appears when we feel little.  His fears are then medicated away with alcohol after he reinforces his wife’s feelings of inadequacy by putting her down.  The TV also serves as an entertaining distraction from his interior discomfort.  It also puts control back into his own hands, albeit remote control!

Mom tries to placate her husband by apologizing even though she may have done nothing wrong.  By doing so she avoids a confrontation and models a behavior for the observing child.  The ‘scared one’ within the child needs to feel safe at home and when there is tension between the grownups invisible sensors in the child’s psyche make note.  The child feels the tension and learns from mom to avoid the risk of confrontation.  No healthy risk taking here!

There is learning, however.  First, change is bad.  Second, when change happens hold on to something familiar, that you can count on to help you cope.  Third, deny the actual reality of the situation and then you can avoid the risk of doing something unfamiliar or new.  As a good friend of mine says:

“I have two constant companions, two friends who never desert me.  No matter what happens they are always there.  I have never faced a problem, crisis or situation I couldn’t handle with their help.  Even in the middle of the night, they are there to comfort me. Those two friends?  Denial and avoidance.”

Know  ‘em?  I do.  Next time we’ll explore looking risk in the eye and see how anxiety may be the “dizziness of freedom”.



Naming Our Best Kept Secret

When last we visited, I brought out into the open a secret that we all share, regardless of our unique differences.  That secret is: we all have feelings of inadequacy and insecurity – regardless of age or achievement.  I would like to name that part as the ‘scared one.

The ‘scared one’ inside the psyche is very concerned with being exposed to the outside world.  His/her fear is that, if constant vigilance is not maintained, someone may discover the truth.  We are not what we seem.

In other words, the persona, the mask we display to the world hides the real us below, just out of sight.  We expend energy maintaining the facade to protect the ‘scared one’ within.

Here, we can see the exquisite logic of many relationship problems.

When we plumb the depths of the psyche we find the ‘scared one’ projecting images to the surface of life that compensate.  Example:  the ‘scared one’ has an evil twin, the ‘Big Guy/Gal.’  The‘Big One’ is shown to others only when we are feeling small, ie: inadequate.  The bully picks on weaker kids because they are “safe” targets.  When the bully runs into the older sibling of his/her victim, who is bigger than he/she is, the bully disappears and the ‘scared one’ is revealed.

The bully’s treatment of another is not a reflection of feelings for the other, but rather reveals feelings for self.  When I am feeling great about me, I am meek, tolerant, patient with my children.  When I am not feeling so great about me, the ‘Big Guy’ pops out of the psyche.  I hate it when that happens!  But hey, it’s just psychic compensation.

Let me give you an example.  I am the father of four children, four daughters!  They are incredible treasures.  My vocation includes traveling and working with others around the planet. I had been on the road quite a bit and returned Friday evening feeling guilty about being away from home. 

“What kind of husband and father am I anyway?!”

So, I made a plan. Saturday morning I got up with the youngest two, Jordan and Brynn, 4 and 7, and went downstairs.  I planned to occupy the young ones downstairs while Alice and Hope, the older two girls and my wife, slept in upstairs.  Then, later on when the late-sleeping beauties came down to begin their day, they would see what a great father and husband I was!  After all, I kept the little girls out of their rooms so they could enjoy awakening from their slumber at their own pace.

Things went along smoothly for a while, then the worm turned.  Brynn and Jordan had been playing quietly after eating their breakfast.  My plan was working well, when all of a sudden their play stopped and they went at each other!  Their loud battle was going to wake-up the sleepers.  So I quickly moved in to separate them.

As I was saying, “you guys need to play separately for a while, to calm and quiet down, so you don’t wake anyone up.  Then you can play together again,” Jordan walked over, picked up a bucket of Brynn’s stuff and dumped it on the floor.

I said, “hey, Jordan, I saw what you did.  It’s one thing to spill something by accident, but what you did you did on purpose.  So here’s the deal.  You can play anytime you want, after you pick up what you dumped on the floor.”  (Pretty hip parenting, don’t you think?)

But I had to add this caboose… “So why don’t you pick it up, now?”

Jordan folded her arms and stuck out her chin in defiance.  Then I knew the game had changed.  But, I also knew I had to win!  I said “Jordan, did you hear me?”

She turned her head away and stood her ground.  My voice got bigger.  “Jordan, get over there and pick up that stuff!

She didn’t budge.

With a bigger voice I heard myself say the same thing with a bigger “NOW!” at the end.  She turned her head toward me, looked me in the eye and gave me the finger!  That’s right!  She gave me the bird!

At that point, the ‘Big Guy’ in me grabbed her off the spot she defiantly held, carried her in the other room and placed her underneath the dining room table.  We didn’t spank our children.  We  could shame our children in other ways!

I couldn’t believe it.  She gave me the finger.  If I had given my father the finger, I wouldn’t have the finger!

I was justifying my abrupt handling of my daughter because of the seriousness of the offense.  But a nagging voice from inside began to force its way into my awareness.  It said, “Gee, she’s only 4 years old.  I wonder if she knows what that means?”

Do you think I wanted to hear that voice?  Heck no!  I wanted to rationalize my actions as an appropriate response to my child.

But the voice persisted.  “Gee, she’s only 4 years old.  She probably doesn’t even know what that means.”

As this voice repeated itself, I finally relented.  You know, she is only 4 years old and she probably does not know what she just did.  She is probably just repeating a gesture she has seen other kids in the neighborhood give or on TV.  Uh Oh! I just screwed up!

I walked in the other room and crawled under the table.  Jordan was sitting there holding her blanky and sucking her thumb.  I said, “Jordan, do you know what that means?”  My fingers displayed the protruding third digit.  She shook her head revealing her ignorance. 

By now I was feeling quite small anyway, but when she signaled her not-knowingness, I became minute.  I said, “Jordan, I am so sorry.  I over-reacted.  Someday I’ll explain what it means.  But it’s not nice.  I love you and I am so sorry.”

With that, the thumb came out of her mouth, a wall of tears came down her cheeks, and we embraced there under the table. 

Tears were running down my face also as we connected.  The warmth of that moment stood in stark contrast to the frigid temperature of the previous exchange.

When I thought about it later, I wondered about my behavior and how I love my children dearly, so why would I treat one so? 

Well, guess what?  It didn’t have anything to do with them.  My treatment of Jordan was a reflection of how I was feeling about me.

Remember, I wanted to be seen as a great father and husband for taking care of the youngsters Saturday morning.  Why did I need to be the hero?  Could it be I was feeling guilty about my recent absence? And, furthermore, didn’t that have something to do with my treatment of Jordan.  Feeling small, I acted Big.  If I had been feeling great about me, I would not have added the caboose.  I would have just said, “. . . you can play anytime you want, after you choose to pick up what you dumped on the floor.”

Then, if she would have begun to play prior to picking up Brynn’s stuff, all I would have had to do was clear my throat and she would have probably altered her behavior, secondary to the “observer effect.”  Her behavior would have changed just by her noticing my observation of her behavior.

Alas, I was not feeling good about me.  Worse, I was not observing myself!  But that happens.  The ‘scared one’ / ‘Big One’ has no self-observation skills.  So, he acts out on the world stage, what is unresolved in the psyche.  He is not awake.  He is asleep at the wheel.  Running on automatic pilot he will swerve off course in his relationships and can end up causing harm even to someone he loves.





Our Best Kept Secret

There are many folks talking about not just how polarized we are but how different.  And we grew up hearing that different is bad.  “Three apples and a pear.  Which one is different and doesn’t belong?  Which one is wrong?”

Hence, there is no real dialogue, no meeting of meanings.  Conversations then involve talking past each other and little listening.  After all, why listen when you’re sure you’re right?

Why?  When you’re sure you’re right you’re stuck with what you already know!  And being stuck, you can’t learn anything new.

With that in mind, now that we’re grownups we’ve heard messages telling us to honor our differences, to even learn from those different from us.  That is well and good.  It is even needed. 

Nonetheless, I want to discuss what we share in common regardless of our differences.  I will paint with a broad brush stroke a picture of human development. The vehicle is imperfect but, so is the artist.

Space limitations necessitate taking only one characteristic that we all, regardless of sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. share in common.  That characteristic I call our best kept secret.

This secret that we can’t tell anyone, save perhaps our closest friend about, can even be hidden from ourselves.  We are so close to it our own breath fogs the mirror.  So we’ll step back to allow what is, to be seen without distortion.

Imagine a newborn child, a radiant little being arriving on the scene.  This infant is totally dependent.  In fact, this beautiful child begins the longest period of dependency of any animal upon parents or parental figures.

We are not like the wildebeest.  We can’t run with the herd an hour after birth.  It takes us a couple of decades to be able to run with the herd.

This infant is born into a world where there are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.  As an infant we don’t arrive with a script in the psyche for the social ammenities.  We have to learn our lines mistake by mistake.

Early on no one minds if we poop in our pants, spit out our food, dribble when we vocalize or even pee on people.  But over time this all changes.  And we begin to learn that there are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.

Because of our long dependency upon the grownups, because we’re not adequate to care for ourselves in the jungle that is the world, we are all going to have feelings of inadequacy.  Every little one has feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  Every toddler, preschooler and grade schooler has these feelings.  When do they go away?

Do they go away in adolescence or in our twenties?  I know, they go away when we become parents, right?  Wrong. I bet you can see where we’re going.  Middle age is no cure nor is becoming an older or even an elderly person.  Why?

Because our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity never go away.  They are part of the fabric of being human.  And they are permanent because they were woven in early in our development when the fragile psyche was vulnerable to all environmental input without filters.

How did this happen?

Well, use your own data base of life experience.  How do parents show how adequate, how competent they are as parents?  That is demonstrated through the behavior of their children.  Therefore, the child’s behavior is put under a microscope and is expanded in importance relative to the relationship with the parental figure.

Because there is only one way of doing things in most cultures, the right way, what do parents do when children do things wrong?  They correct them, of course.  Now does this radiant little child learn to do things right upon the first correction?  Of course not.  We need repetition, repetition, repetition to learn most things.  And, guess what?  We get it.  “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times” (Gee, she’s told me a thousand times to chew with my mouth closed. I must really be stupid!)

Eventually, we learned the socially acceptable behavior sets.  When we performed the right behavior, perhaps someone even caught us being good, once. “Your mother and I are proud to see you chew with your mouth closed.”  Then they could focus on another flaw!

Why?  So we wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the entire family!

So, growing up, we do it wrong, we do it wrong, we do it wrong until eventually we do it right!  In the process we received much more specific negative feedback than specific positive feedback.  The grownups didn’t realize it, but they, and we, have reinforced feelings of inadequacy in their/our children just by correcting them.

Getting more specific negative than specific positive feedback, we all got our feelings of inadequacy reinforced.  The grownups / we didn’t know any better.  They / we did the best possible job we could with the information at hand.  And we all learned that anything worth doing, is worth doing well / right!

In fact, how were we taught to feel when we did things wrong, when we made mistakes?

“Bad boy!  Get your hands off your brother!”

“Bad girl!  That’s a bad girl!  Don’t ever let me see you do that again!”

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself!”

“We are very disappointed with these grades.”

“We give you everything and this is what you do!”

It wasn’t just parents.  There was a conspiracy amongst the grownups to teach us the right way to do everything.

We eventually learned the right way ‘to do.’  In fact, many of us learned how to do many things well.  But how did we learn to feel about ourselves?  Once we learn to carry shame of self, no matter how well we ‘do’ anything, we still can feel bad about ourselves.

As Jung said, “the psyche always seeks to compensate.”  To compensate for feelings of inadequacy, we project to the world an image of adequacy, or even better, an image of superior competence.  To compensate for feelings of insecurity, we may project an image of a secure, confident person.

So, much of our psychic energy is consumed with image projection reflected in achievement, status or success in a material sense.  But no matter how much we achieve, it is never enough to transform the interior minus into a plus.  But we keep trying.

This secret that we all share, yet rarely discuss, has all sorts of implications for human relationships.  Why?

Because the way we treat others is a reflection of how we’re feeling about ourselves.  How others treat us is not about how they feel about us.  How people treat us is a reflection of how they are feeling about themselves.   So, we have all taken many things personally that didn’t have anything to do with us.  And others have taken personally many things from us that didn’t have anything to do with them. 

Perhaps, if we could talk about this secret we could address relationship problems from another perspective.  One that is inclusive of our own baggage.  Then, perhaps our differences would be less of a barrier because our best kept secret would be a bridge that connects us together.