Everyone of us has three selves:
An Unconscious Adapting Self– – an Expected Self – – and a Transcending Self.
Each of these selves has four components – Body; Others; Thinking and Emotions.
These three selves come to fruition in different ways but always though the four components. Border conflicts between these selves are useful because they bring to the surface issues around adaptation, convention and aspiration.
The Unconscious Adapting Self (UAS) is that part of us which tries to make sense of the world and our place in it. As the child grows it explores and is connected to the world through Body/Others/Thinking and Emotions. They feel the tribal drive to fit in and it is through these connections to these four elements that they form relationships to themselves. This of course cannot be articulated by the growing child: all they are aware of is the need to fit in, to adapt, to belong. But as we are tribal creatures this need to belong does not go away and the UAS still functions within us as an unknown but powerful drive operating through B.O.T.E. in adult life.
We become aware of the UAS when for example the Body expresses an inexplicable urge to indulge in a form of behaviour which is dangerous and irrational. The care which the individual usually takes of the body is abandoned and joining in becomes the primary (and indeed tribal) directive. The UAS is very sensitive to Others and the deep forces they represent. For example, a boss may be resented by the employee for no rational reason but because the UAS is responding to authority they are angry and unsettled by the slightest remark. The UAS has a deep attachment to the ideals and beliefs that he or she acquired in childhood. The Expected Self will be the space where these are played out but the strength of their connection (or indeed rejection of) these ideals and beliefs is felt in the UAS. For example, the belief that a man should be the main breadwinner may conflict with the difficulty of becoming so in certain times and conditions. The UAS response to this will not be helpful because it is not amenable to reason but is rooted in beliefs. The UAS is highly sensitive to emotions. In the case of men, the UAS has powerful emotional force not least because socialisation processes have forbidden it from expressing much at all on that plane. The Expected Self of many men forbids emotional responses and the result of this repression and then suppression means that great energy is stored in the emotions. When this is finally released the results can be overwhelming and even dangerous.
The Expected Self (EXS) is the public performance of us – that aspect of us which we deliver very much as expected by the various Others of our lives. It is in a sense the most automatic version of us. The EXS is co-produced by what Others think we are. For example, if we are known as dependable then this is the version that is stored in the minds of Others, and it takes a great deal of effort to dislodge that version. Our individual circumstances or struggles in the moment will be less important than what we are known to be by others. When an individual wishes to change their EXS he or she will encounter challenges because the tribe are adjusted to one version of the individual and may not have much capacity or tolerance or willingness to change it. Change violates the psychic economy of the tribe which helps explain so much social conservatism.
We become aware of the EXS through the body when an individual decides to get in shape for an upcoming event. The Body then is being bossed around to produce the version Others demand. Whether or not individual Others actually feel this way the individual cannot say but the body is made to respond to social pressure, image-ideals and related forces. In the EXS the body is being made to perform and deliver rather than being heard. Others bring the EXS into being. Attitudes to parents, schooling, peers, and the wider family all co-create a body known as Others and it is this that we install from an early age and respond to. The Thinking that takes place in the EXS is directed towards function – am I doing this or that correctly or efficiently? A great deal of anticipation informs thinking here -the relentlessness of being for others as they want you to be. The Emotions of the EXS also must be reined in according to what others know and will accept. This works from the socio-cultural level in terms of what the state and other authorities require, down to individual private responses. For example, there are only certain spaces where men may express emotion. The unwritten code of masculinity police the EXS in a way that deeply locks men into habits of suppression that can be deeply harmful which being socially sanctioned.
The Transformative Self (TS) is the space of possibility. It represents the possibility of transcending the EXS and becoming for ourselves. The TS is that space not determined by the UAS and the EXS but one which we can explore what we want for ourselves. In its most modest form, the TS is space where we allow ourselves not to be bothered by what everyone wants of us. Thus, it is not an escape and return to the loops of our being but a chance to rise above them. In a fundamental way it is building our own home, our own sense of peace and harmony. However, this build cannot be achieved while the old structures in the UAS remain. It is only by exploring our past that this work can begin.
We become aware of the TS through the body when we discover that the version we habitually produce may not correspond to what we actually feel. Once the body is freed from the need to be what the UAS and the EXS have required of it, will it explore new domains and other modes of expression. We become aware of the TS when we feel able to understand Others from the specific circumstances of their own past rather than what we have imposed upon them. The TS approaches thinking from a calm and settled place in which the person can make a distinction between the thinker and their thoughts. Once freed from old patterns of thinking the individual can now be open to contemplate other systems of thought without feeling threatened or overwhelmed by them. The TS welcomes emotions because the person knows that they have evolved in ways which were not consciously shaped by the individual. He or she tolerates and can even override the habitual responses and can choose a more settled path in which collaboration and mindfulness help determine how they choose to be.
In this manual we will look at many examples of ‘border conflicts’ – those moments when different versions of the self collide. The clash between the UAS and the EXS might be felt in any of the four areas but the focus on one – say between two ideas of what the body has to be – can be instructive and can eventually lead to a transformative self that brings calm and understanding to the conflict. For example: a client may have to get into shape for an upcoming celebration. In this case the EXS demands the body be presentable while the UAS has a deep attachment to food as comfort and refuse. By unearthing this conflict, we help stimulate the TS and offer the client a route toward a more equitable solution – not least because the discussion brings to the surface underlying emotional issues and activates a more compassionate mode of thinking.