A friend and parent at Learning in the Woods shared this with me today. This fits so well with my life philosophy. I think that when we deny who we are or reach too far outside of ourselves (trying to meet someone else’s expectations), we need to draw on energy to keep up that façade. When we are aware of who we are and what we can do, there is an acceptance that is freeing...and the knowledge of who we are and our abilities can be used strategically.
A person who is in complete connection with their abilities and interests is a powerful thing to witness. It is Blue Jay fever right now at our house and my husband has been listening to baseball radio non-stop. The other day a former player, Rance Mulliniks was a special guest on one show as we drove in the car. He was so positive and enthusiastic in his commentary that it caught my attention. I asked my husband about him and he explained. Rance was not built like other baseball players; sort of scrawny looking and thick glasses. While he never played a glory position on the Jays during his time with them, he was consistently strong in multiple aspects of the game. My husband contends that the secret to his success was a passion for baseball, strong research skills, and his ability to apply his analysis and adjust his playing according to the research he had done. Rance was aware of who he was and what he could offer. Using that awareness to his advantage and he found a way to play to his strengths. That gave him a long, joyful career in the sport he loved; even scoring him a position on the winning team when the Blue Jays won the series back to back in the early ‘90’s. After retirement, this non-glory player was able to secure jobs as a commentator and consultant because he knew how to adjust his skill-set accordingly. Plus fans love him. In part, I think, because Rance scored every baseball fan's dream job. If they can’t play baseball, they sure are happy to cheer on this guy who found a way to play on the winning team even though he wasn't the natural athlete, at least in comparison to his teammates.
I also have an example of complete disconnection. I did my MBA at a school in Toronto and at that time, there was a large number of people in my class on student visas from China and I made friends with some. I was in awe of their efforts to hold everything together. They were away from home, away from the support of family and friends, away from the familiarity of mainland Chinese culture, speaking and studying in a language that was challenging, at a university in a competitive program, often studying material that was not interesting to them or part of their natural skill set. One friend I made was truly a poet at heart. She tried to show me the beauty of Chinese art, folklore, and poetry at every study session. (I was eager for distractions and procrastination myself I guess!) Although there were many examples of disconnection and emotional hardship in my program, my friend was stretching so far outside of herself in every possible way, that she experienced a mental disconnect. A month shy of finishing the program, when we were all feeling like the stress might break us, she started to say things that made us fear for her safety and the safety of others. Eventually, she went into a hospital where she was given medication that she hated and made her feel strange (even more disconnected from herself?) Her story has a happy ending and as heartbreaking as it was to witness, her brave example taught me that we are all capable of such breaks if we reach too far outside of ourselves. Given enough pressure and lack of support, we will all break. None of us are immune.
When things become stressful, and they inevitably will, a person stretching to be something too far outside of themselves won’t be able to bear the stress as well as a person operating within their scope. A person who is connected to themselves is more aware of their personal boundaries and better able to find a path of success suited to their unique skill-set.
The power dynamics in many of the institutions in our society are not conducive to promoting self-awareness and connection unfortunately. I think many of us struggle to connect with the core of who we really are, making us vulnerable to symptoms of stress and disconnection such as illness, lashing out in anger, depression, and addictive behaviors. (I believe that addiction is a symptom of disconnection.) When we are faced with life’s traumas and difficulties and we do not have a strong community of family and friends to love us as we fall, we become depression and look to self-medicate our pain. It’s a mammilian reaction to stress and lack of loving social bonds. Treat the disconnection, and the need to self-medicate will be gone. I also read a lot about ACE scores, and the data is clear, children who are supported with love and empathy through hardships grow up to lead significantly healthier and happier lives. Interestingly, developing self-awareness can buffer negative effects too; both in childhood and adulthood. Self-awareness can truly help bring you peace and set you free from anger, depression, and disease.
So how do we promote connection and self-awareness?
- We allow a wide range of feelings and emotions to be expressed in their entirety, without minimizing them or dismissing them. I really despise the phrase “You’re Ok! You’re fine! Stop crying/stop feeling, you’re fine!” It’s the most common disconnector adults push on children and it’s usually it's done because *parents* feel uncomfortable with the emotions their children are showing.
- We encourage them to follow their intuition and signals from their body when they are pushing themselves beyond their own boundaries.
- We help them develop their own solutions when the problems feel too big for them to navigate.
- We encourage children to connect to one another through play and community meetings.
- We stay away from grading and evaluation because that is a form of manipulation; creating a dynamic that places a child’s worth on someone else’s value system. It encourages them to stretch outside of themselves to please the person in power and their reward is a small dose of fleeting self-esteem.