By Tim Sitt, MSW, RSW
Clinical Associate at Beaches Therapy Group.
Self-connection is the process of being in touch with the worthiness and wholeness of your Self regardless of form of experience you are having. These forms could be feelings, thoughts, expectations, beliefs, or attitudes. The Self can only be experienced when there is both rooting in the inherent worthiness of Self and acknowledgment of the experience that is occurring as distinct though connected to Self. By engaging with what is present in experience while simultaneously rooting in the Self, the Self emerges more fully. When connected to, the Self can then engage in the learning process through whatever experience is occurring and transforms the experience to a higher level of evolution.*
Self-connection is a deeply personal, private and even spiritual activity. In the general pace of life, we get caught up in various roles as a spouse, parent, professional, and friend. The demands of completing one task after the other can overtake all of our energy that we lose touch with our Self since our energy is constantly projected outwardly. The endless pursuit of achievement, accolades, material gain are all temptations to find oneself in these activities as if the Self was out there. The temptation is always present to find fulfillment and peace in someone or something external to us. These can become toxic and addictive patterns that steal our energy and alienate us from our true nature.
The practice of Self-connection is a combination of insights, concepts, and skills that help the individual access their resources of awareness, wisdom, choice, and trust to transform their experience.
The healthy expression of Self is not in trying to attain worthiness through a role. Though many of us fall prey to the trap of wanting to make more money, be a better parent/spouse, achieve more, exercise more, eat healthier. The subtext is “If I accomplish all these things, then I will be ok.” External outcomes or the good opinion of others is temporary, conditional; not a solid basis for the Self. To begin in Self-connection, we first acknowledge the worth of our Self before taking any action or making any judgements. By forming a foundation of Self-connection, we can live and express that worthiness with our feet firmly rooted in the ground. Having this foundation, we are more capable of being honest with ourselves about our shortcomings and the need for growth. The Self-connection process helps contain and lead the ego in its proper place; that is, it is the servant to the Self and not the other way around. An individual engaged in their Self-connection process creates greater resilience in their lives because their energy is not invested in maintaining a fixed view of themselves (ego); instead they are focused on their learning and growing process.
Early in my career, I worked with children in a residential treatment home. These children experienced terrible abuse and neglect in their families while others had no connection with their parents. There was one boy ( I will call Kevin to protect his privacy) who became extremely violent while playing games. Kevin found losing absolutely abhorrent. He would quickly go into a rage if he had not performed well, if he lost or if there was any perceived injustice. Very often other children would get hurt as he would lose control of himself. The youth workers were never sure when he would slash another kid with a hockey stick, start a fight or runaway. Losing was a great trigger for him.
As I watched this pattern unfold, I could see that Kevin was basing his worth on his performance on the basketball court, the soccer field or whatever game he was playing.
I believe in the worth of all people, a worth that precedes role, function, and behavior. This worth lives in the Self of every person and the source that animates their life and which moves the person in a positive direction of growth. I see my role in helping people to help remove barriers to that inherent Self that yearns to grow and to encourage whoever I am working with to be in touch and to express their Self honestly and creatively.
As my relationship with Kevin developed and he started to trust me more, I decided to sit down and talk with him about his worth. At the time, I was still thinking about this as self-worth/self esteem, now I realize I was talking to his Self. I said to him, “Kevin, you are an incredible athlete, you practice really hard and you’re strong and fast. You have all the attributes to have a lot of success in sports, but those things aren’t the things that make me like you. They don’t make me think you’re good or worthy. I know you’ve been through a lot and you miss your family so much. You’re not worthy because of how many goals you can score or how much better you are at sports than others.”
He looked at me puzzled and said, “So what makes me good if I’m not good at sports?”
“Do you have a birthmark or something on you that’s been with you since you were born?”
He pointed at a birthmark on his elbow that was the shape of an almond.
I continued, “Your worth is not based on how well you play sports or whether you win or lose, it’s there inside of you. When I am with you, I enjoy you because of who you are and what’s in your heart. You love people, you love your brothers, you’re funny. All these things are parts of you are. You can’t avoid being the way you are when you’re relaxed and you feel trust with people. Just as you were born with that mark on your elbow, you were born with your worth. You are worthy of my and others attention, respect and love by the very fact of you being here. You don’t have to earn it. In fact you can’t earn it because you’re worth is already inside of you. The point is to live knowing that that is true.”
I knew that Kevin felt unworthy because he internalized his mother’s abuse of him and he took her failure to meet the expectations of child protection to be able to see him as a sign of his unworthiness. Disappointment after disappointment, led Kevin to feeling like his only worth was in his talents and accomplishments.
This meant that he approached situations of sports, learning, connection with an attitude of needing to win, to be the best. He was desperate, closed off and stressed.
After this conversation, Kevin calmed down and stopped becoming violent. He came up with his own mantra that helped him let go of his anger when he felt upset, “My worth isn’t in winning. I can let this go.”
I will never know how much my words had an impact on Kevin. What I believe wholeheartedly, is that because I could see and experience his worth beyond his behaviour and because I could connect with him at the level of his Self through my eyes, our interactions and my voice that this became a model for him of how he could relate and connect to his Self.
Self-connection is different from self-esteem or self-worth. Self-esteem/Self-worth describe a person’s feelings, perceptions, or attitudes of themselves at a moment in time. In other words, self-esteem and self-worth describe how a person experiences themselves and often this is related to their evaluation of their abilities, successes/failures, and roles. How worthy do I feel or esteemable, right now?
The problem with self-esteem and self-worth is if my esteem or worth of self is in how I experience myself then to feel good about myself I might use food or drugs, I might become a workaholic or a tireless parent who gives endlessly to the point of burnout. Emphasizing having a positive experience of self means the form of my behavior might take on unhealthy patterns that harms myself. It might not, but still the basis of my worthiness is always projected onto something external to me; something else to be done. I think many of us experience this as a never ending to do list. The stem of these thoughts sound like , “I can feel ok when I…”
“I can feel ok when I… lose 20lbs/make a million dollars/help the kids grow up successfully.”
Self-connection is a process of living from within yourself not trying to find yourself externally but always returning home to the life energy inside and making choices that express and manifest your unique Self.
The Self-connection process can be described in three stages which all begin with letter A.
Self-connection: Acknowledgement, Awareness, Action
The first phase is acknowledging your Self, your life and your intrinsic worth. Just by being alive you have worth. You have uniqueness and potentials in you that yearns to come out in the world. Just as Kevin learned that he didn’t need to earn his Self, he was already it. The first phase is the most difficult of the three stages because it requires letting go of old patterns, and the habitual projecting of the worth of Self in role, outcomes or other’s experience of us. It can be scary to let go of the familiar pattern of finding worthiness in roles and instead acknowledging yourself.
The second phase is awareness of your experience. After making a connection to your Self, you will have a base from which to look that is rooted in the Self. Being connected to one’s Self creates a context and a container to hold the experience. The aim here is to look at the challenging or stuck experience and to excavate out of it the parts of the experience that are connected to the Self. For example, what does the sadness tell you about what is really important to you? What you want/need/value? When there is only the impulse to do and no awareness or connection to Self, we act from a place of defensiveness, survival and reactivity.
The third and final phase is taking actions that manifest the Self. After acknowledging the Self and becoming aware of the experience you are having, you can explore the question, “What choices and decisions do I need to make that are congruent with and express best who I am at the level of Self?” This stage can be more interpersonal than the others since it might require us to taking risks, use our courage, and communicate our needs.
On February 8 to 10, I will be hosting a three day Self-connection workshop that will explore the various ideas and practices in this post. A retreat format will provide a supportive context within which to learn and practice the skills of Self-connection. For more information and to register, please visit: https://www.freedomtomovegroup.com/retreats/
*The forms of consciousness become more complex as they move from reactivity to deeper thoughtfulness. The individual does this takes through the process of awareness, wisdom, choicefulness , past/present future orientation and then ultimately trust. A higher level of evolution means that the initial inner experience of feelings, understanding and actions has been transformed into more complex map and better accounts for the complexity of the situation. The Self-connection process offers individuals an anchor from which to look at experience and to adapt to others and their environment more successfully.