I am all too familiar with the theme of disconnection from myself. I don’t see it in a purely negative light, but something like this: As children, we want more than anything love, appreciation and acceptance for who we are. Yet the world around us tries to shape us into “proper” self-reliant individuals. Within our unique frameworks, we develop multiple strategies to get these and other basic needs met (for me and many others, this involved disconnecting from our feelings and needs). Later as adults, our life-long strategies can cease to serve us. We want to stop doing things the way we always have, break through old patterns but it can be so difficult! If you also recognize a deep-seated strategy of disconnecting, read on to find out there’s ample hope for rediscovering self-connection . . .
First, I’d like to give a shout out to Falan Storm, who wrote the 2014 post, “18 Ways Women are Disconnected from Themselves.” I’m quite familiar with nearly all forms of disconnection she describes. I think she captures it accurately for me, especially when I first became a mother:
For most women our connection with ourselves often comes last, if it even exists at all. As we wake up each morning and catapult ourselves into the busyness of our days, we carry very little regard for the many ways we disconnect from ourselves.
I’ve therefore had a LOT to learn about moving away from my strategy of disconnection towards self-connection. And now, I’m passionate about helping others do the same.
I’ve chosen six (of Storm’s 18) forms of disconnection to explore ways I have routinely disconnected from myself. Yet I don’t leave it at “what’s wrong,” which is often followed by guilt, shame and/or self-flagellation. I take it two steps further: find compassion for my disconnecting “choices” so that I can more easily move out of the old pattern into self-connection and new, creative space.
1. Being everywhere but here
Disconnecting: Dwelling for long periods of time on my past doesn’t typically serve me well. Staying with my future-related fears can seriously hold me back from my goals and dreams.
Finding compassion: Thinking about my distant or near past often helps bring me understanding or clarity about why I did certain things. Finding acceptance for my actions helps me move on. And thinking about my future can help me get clarity on what’s holding me back and my next steps to break through fear.
Exploring creative space: The importance of being in the here and now is a message we all hear these days. It doesn’t come very naturally to most of us, however. Finding doable ways to practice it is the key. I try to remember to simply name what I’m doing. I set an alarm for very short focus-on-my-breathe breaks. I do yoga once a week. I schedule regular empathy calls with someone I know has the skills to actively listen to me, without giving advice or solutions. Storm suggests practicing mindfulness by simply saying, “this moment.” Or try “right now, it’s like this.”
2. Our relationship to our body
Disconnecting: I grew up comparing my body to the models in magazines and ads. It affected my ability to love, accept, enjoy my body (and does to this day).
Finding compassion: I wanted to belong, to be appreciated, and thought I should be different in order to achieve this.
Exploring creative space: Since moving to the Netherlands, I’ve tried to shed the habit of not allowing others to see my body. I go to the sauna, sometimes without the required shaving, and practice NOT comparing my body with others, but to appreciate mine as it is. I’m especially motivated to practice this in front of my daughter, and ask her what she loves about her body.
3. Trying to prove our worth
Disconnecting: For most of my life, I’ve just not been aware of Storm’s statement, “Worth is inherent. There is no one to prove anything to. We really are enough exactly as we are.” Just this year, I stumbled upon the possibility this could be true (see my blog post, “Self-image: take this one critical step toward Self-Love”)
Finding compassion: Since early on, I’ve lived with the core belief, “I (or some aspect of me) isn’t yet good enough.” Now I know it’s actually a voice of protection, trying to get me to improve before falling flat on my face and experiencing humiliation.
Exploring creative space: I’m exploring my fear of humiliation and working out what it even means to me. What I’m finding out is that whatever happens, I not only survive, I learn and grow with each “failure.”
4. Prioritizing things that are not important to us
Disconnecting: After doing a Time vs. Priorities exercise a few years ago, I realized that I was doing things that I didn’t care that much about personally, like keeping my house very tidy and clean.
Finding compassion: I did it because I cared about others’ expectations and what they thought about me. I cared about our connection and wanted to feel safe around people I knew really prioritize this themselves!
Exploring creative space: I decided in one day to stop spending so much time on it. I now do the bare minimum that keeps me content. This way I’m in harmony with myself and don’t feel pressured by or resentful towards others. Sometimes I hear myself clarify to my visitors, “I’m not much of a housekeeper—I prefer to be in my garden, where it’s nice and dirty.”
5. Being way too hard on ourselves
Disconnecting: By FAR the words I speak to myself are the most violent I ever hear. Countless times a day, I hear me say, “I could have done x better, faster, wiser, sooner” or “I should have done something” or “nothing!”
Finding compassion: This is again, my protective voice, trying to keep me sharp, prevent conflict, harm, contribute meaningfully.
Exploring creative space: I’m trying to catch myself each and every time I hear the words, “should,” “must,” “have to” (or their negative versions), and then check if I’d actually rather experience the freedom to choose among options.
6. Not giving ourselves what we need
Disconnecting: As Storm puts it, “for most women, we come last. We meet the needs of everyone else and if we have anything left over we guiltily share it with ourselves.” That was me as a beginner mother. It’s not that I was a perfect picture of altruism—I was actually often resentful and bitter about this existence, but had no clarity on what was happening!
Finding compassion: Before being coached and undergoing various trainings, one of my most deep-seated strategies was to put my needs aside, tune into others’ needs, please, and contribute to harmony outside myself. This is how I found safety and appreciation—it was so deeply rooted that I had no clue about the consequences for most of my other needs in life, like inner harmony, authentic connection, honesty, freedom to choose. . .
Exploring creative space: When I first started my Nonviolent Communication training, I was surprised to learn about the importance of knowing my own needs (and how little I did!). Later came finding the courage to actually take them seriously. Now I’m busy with this on a very regular basis and though the learning is ongoing, I feel happier than ever.
In summary, routine disconnection from ourselves isn’t something any one of us have consciously set out to do. It’s an old survival strategy of sorts. Beating ourselves up about it certainly doesn’t help; in fact, it’s more of the same. Instead, find ways to be compassionate toward why you do what you do. Self-connection is about getting in touch with your feelings and what you really want underneath it all—what drives you, your deeper longings (Refer to my list of needs & feelings). Focusing here opens up new, creative space and opportunities to get your needs met.