What if your inner dialogue could be completely different? What if it sounded something like this: “My life is truly good. I acquire information and skills about the things I am passionate about. I am fortunate enough to apply my knowledge in a job that I enjoy and I am well-compensated for my work. I am surrounded by people who do the very best they can every day. I have wonderful personal relationships that are supportive and nurturing.”
Does that sound too good to be true? According to our ego, this inner dialogue is certainly unrealistic. But, that’s largely because the “essential self” is not a part of that psychological narrative in which we tend to live. Perhaps, now, you are asking yourself, “What is our essential self?”
Author and professor of clinical psychology at UCLA Dan Seigel defines it as “...the ability to be aware that our thoughts, feelings, memories, beliefs and intentions are temporary and, moreover, that they are not the totality of who we are.” Eckhart Tolle describes it further as “...a liberation to realize that the 'voice in my head' is not who I am. ‘Who am I, then? The one who sees that.’” Our authentic self is not the voice of personal opinions, judgments and preferences. It comes from a deeper place and with practice and time, we can learn to tell the difference between the misleading voice of our ego and the voice of our true self.
All of us have the tendency to identify ourselves by race, gender, religion or even our occupation. Many of those labels were given to us as a matter of circumstance as early as the day we were born. All of them inform our point of view; however, none of them define who we truly are. They are simply categories of relative identification and the preferences of our egos—a superficial representation of our identity at best. The more we live on the surface of our identity, the less we are in touch with our deeper self.
For each of us, our truest earthly purpose manifests as the quest of seeking answers to the deep questions of life—and then living in accordance with what we find to be true. It is as if we are searching for an inner light—as though we have to awaken something inside ourselves in order to truly understand who we are. Once we have accomplished that, our internal awareness finds a voice. When we listen to and follow that inner voice, we cease to live within that old psychological narrative of thoughts, feelings and memories—and begin writing our own living stories.
I am passionate about storytelling. When we are being told a story, the ability to learn and retain information changes dramatically. We are wired to remember in terms of a story. Throughout the day we make up short stories and play out potential scenarios in our heads for every action, conversation and choice we have to make. Whether we are thinking about obligations at work, our spouse at home or even about the groceries we need to buy at the store—we are constantly framing our thoughts within a narrative.
A narrative approach in therapy utilizes the power of story as a way to generate understanding and make fundamental changes in our lives. In terms of the deeper self, the narrator can also recognize that the stories we tell—the agreements we make about the world and ourselves are only parts of us and are not the totality of who we are, which can give us insight into how and where we are getting stuck in our lives.
In my approach to counseling, I find Cognitive Therapy (CT) to be a very straightforward and useful mechanism for increasing personal awareness and breaking down the barrier to our deeper selves. In our sessions together, we can use motivational interviewing, joining through truths exercises and mindfulness techniques to explore how you perceive yourself and the world. After collecting information about your situation and interpreting the living story you are writing for yourself, you and I can develop an “action plan” or homework for you (to do on your own) to learn more about yourself.
The benefits of cognitive therapy and its approach to healing is that we are able to identify distorted thinking, modify self-perception, change negative behavioral patterns and alter how we relate to other people. Changing your perception of yourself also means learning how to change distorted patterns of thought associated with trauma, anxiety and depression-related conditions so they no longer define you. Working together to identify the root of problems internally, we can create practical solutions that can initiate sustainable change and help you get in touch with your authentic self.