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Who is my true "Self"?

... let me find my angels and my demons

The brilliant writer James Hillman said something along the lines of "if you take away my demons, you take away my angels, too." So many of us spend years--some of it in therapy--trying to cut out our "bad" bits (our demons) while keeping ahold of the "good" bits (our angels). But I can't help thinking that our demons could be more valuable to us. They might actually lead us where we need to go.

So, you might ask: how can the so-called bad parts of ourselves, the things we don't like (and especially those parts our partners point out), be a positive? To understand that, let's look at the self.

I believe there is some elemental part of us that is truly "us." It's the piece of us--our soul? our core? our "me-ness"?--that makes us unlike any other other human on this 6-billion+ person planet. And it's made up of many parts--yearning and selfishness and selflessness and impatience and ambition and pettiness and kindness and some oddities and quirks that have no name. What makes the "self" is a mystery that philosophy and religion has pondered for eons.

This self is not binary--as much as we're led to believe it is. We're not all pure or all evil. (Yes, it's all on a spectrum--bad and good, female and male and in-between, our sexuality, etc.) And yet, from early on we're shaped by internal and external forces to change the "bad" parts of ourselves. Our parents do it, society does it, our bosses and our partners try to do it--and then our own internalized critic and 24/7 self-shamer adds to the chorus.

The problem is that it's not clear what's "bad" and what's "good." Thoughtful parents help to temper a child's natural self-absorption, gently reminding them of others' needs. But there are parents, not to mention our culture, that calls normal human variety and expression shameful. To be a woman and marry another woman. To be a boy who feels-no, knows-he is a she. To be Black or Brown in a White culture (or any other person of color). To be an atheist. To express yourself sexually that is shamed.

And that is where so many of us lose sight of that own, true "self". We are forced from early on to bend and twist ourselves to fit a "norm" that doesn't even exist. And, in the process, we become someone we don't know. If you doubt this, turn to the person sitting next to you and ask, "What emotion(s) are you feeling right now?" and/or "Are you living the life that truly expresses who you are and what you value?" Chances are, that person will quickly exit the building/room/MAX.

I think one way to touch that "self" again is to go back to childhood to find out our pure and innocent selves, the ones we were meant to be. This takes quiet time to sink deep. When we can do this, we can reconnect with our first joys and pleasures and the "bad" parts of ourselves that were shut down. Maybe it was your rebellious, loud and unrestrained self? Embrace her. Perhaps it was your sensitive, moody, need-to-be-alone self? Find him. Or even the messy, sloppy you that wouldn't pick up your socks or clean your room? Let them shine.

I'm not saying we should all become out-of-control children. Keep the adult self that is contained and respectful of others. And then look past the "good" child and the "bad" child you were labeled. This search could well lead you to your true purpose and meaning, to the work you really want to do and the person you want to be--not who you were "supposed" to be. That journey could be your liberation.