I started writing this blog about three weeks ago. It has come to me in fits and starts. Nebulous and hazy around the edges at first, then coming more into focus as I have watched this dynamic play out for clients, as well as in my own life.
What I have noticed more deeply over the past few weeks is this notion of polarization. You may know it or experience it as black and white thinking. It’s that place we go to in our heads where something is either this or that. Where we believe our only choice is one extreme or the other. It becomes so entrenched in us that we don’t know we are doing it. Nonetheless, this splitting off is still painful and does damage to our relationship with ourselves and those we love. Let’s take a deeper dive onto it.
The focus of my work with clients is childhood dysfunction and trauma.* And over the years I have come to understand these concepts in a more nuanced way. So it is with this idea. I see now with more depth and texture how those early woundings cause us to split off from ourselves. To cleave ourselves into two diametrically opposed halves. Here’s how it works.
As young children, our entire self-concept is formed by how our caregivers respond to us. It is in their reflection that we learn if all of us is lovable or just certain parts. It’s how we know if we deserve attention when we are showing strong emotions or if that is only given when we are compliant and behaving. In healthy families, parents accept the whole range of who we are. Angry? I can handle it. Scared? You’re safe with me. Worried? Let’s talk about it.
This does not happen in families where dysfunction and trauma live. In those houses, fundamental parts of ourselves are not allowed to be expressed. We can’t be scared or we are wimpy. We can’t be angry or we are a problem. We can’t be worried or we are too sensitive. Do you see the great divide starting? We are either good or bad. Right or wrong. Completely perfect or a complete failure. Not enough or too much. Less than or better than. Bigger than or smaller than. Too loud or too quiet. Too weak or too strong.
How we view ourselves extends out to how we view others and the world. People are either all in or all out of our lives, for us or against us, everything or nothing, dominant or submissive, safe or unsafe, incompetent or masterful… the list goes on.
I have also come to believe another reason we compartmentalize ourselves and everyone else is to create safety. Humans feel more secure when things are tucked neatly away in their predictable boxes. And there is never more of a need for order, stability and consistency than a childhood pierced by chaos.
Here’s the thing though. Human are deliciously complex. We are messy creatures. And the constriction of either/or does not allow for or honor this. There is no breathing space in this rigid stance. There is no place for expansion and freedom and flow. People can’t screw up or change their mind here. Especially us. We hold others and ourselves to impossibly high, unforgiving standards because of the illusion of the safety it provides.
So I’m here to suggest that there is another frame for this, a different container we can hold ourselves and others in.
The middle ground.
We can be right AND wrong.
We can do some things really well AND utterly fuck up others.
People can be safe in some areas AND not safe in others.
We can be good people AND do “bad” things
We can be kind AND have firm boundaries.
We can see a person’s highest potential AND choose not to be in relationship with them.
People in our lives can be overwhelmed AND we can still need things from them.
We can be angry, hurt or disappointed with someone AND still want to keep them in our lives.
We can be scared AND brave.
We can be angry AND express it in healthy ways.
We can be tired AND allow ourselves to rest.
We can go inward when we need to AND push out when we want to.
We can be fierce AND soft.
We can say yes AND No.
We can want connection AND space.
We can be rigid about some things AND flexible about others.
We can be right AND so can other people.
We can have our own truth AND allow other people to have theirs.
I invite you to play with the energy of being in this sweet spot. What would it look like for you? What else would you add to the list? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!
* There is a big wide range of what constitutes childhood trauma. It’s so big, I wrote a separate blog about it called “Invisible Scars”. If you’d like more information, you can read it here: http://candacefolden.com/invisible-scars/