Updated: Jan 16, 2020
Hi, this is an Open Letter to anyone that needs it. As always, please put yourself first and take a break if you need to.
If you love this one, you'll love the other 9. You can buy the audio and PDF versions of them for $20 in Open Letters - Stack 1.
You are not who you think you are.
Take a deep breath and hold it for a moment, in your belly if you can. Let it out slowly, really extend that exhale.
You are not who you think you are.
Who are you? Think about that. Who are you? What makes you you? What pops into your consciousness? Into your thoughts? What did you think of?
Did you think of your role as a parent? Or in your career? Or what kinds of food you like? What you do for entertainment? Your culture? Your sports teams? Maybe you did.
But you might have also gone another direction. Loser. Unlovable. Pathetic. Weak. Maybe your history flitted through your thoughts. Or the bad habits you have. Or the addictions. The damaged relationships, the past painful ones or even the current painful ones.
On a more logical end of things, you thought, I’m a collection of atoms. I’m a sum of my parts, I’m a mammal, something like that.
And I think you’re wrong about all of it. I honestly don’t think you or any of us, for the most part, know who or what we really are. And maybe it’s ultimately just an exercise in philosophy, but it’s worth examining.
I don’t think you know who you are.
For one, you are not your thoughts. You. Are not. Your thoughts. And you don’t have control over them most times anyway. They sort of come and go, don’t they? The vast majority of the day is spent in your head, listening to words you didn’t choose to have in that moment. They just appeared. How is this you? It isn’t.
In fact, I’ll demonstrate how little control or agency you have over your thoughts by asking you to not think of a purple karate belt tied around the forehead of a department store mannequin. So don’t do tha - wait, you’ve already done that, haven’t you? You did. The image just popped into your head after your ears picked up these audio waves, which went into your brain and processed the information and output the image.
You didn’t choose that. Just like you’re not going to choose to refer to knives as “miniature swords” from now on. I mean, you might not say it out loud, but it’s in there now. And you’re welcome for that.
Alright, you get the idea. Besides all that though, typically, your thoughts are simply a reflection of what state you are in. If you’re in a shut down place, your thoughts will be numb, disconnected, apathetic and fatalistic. If you move up the polyvagal ladder into your fight sympathetic state, your thoughts will reflect anger, aggression and blame. If you move up into flight sympathetic arousal, your thoughts will change into evasive, deflective and protective. And when you finally reach the state of safety, your thoughts will be calmer, connected, empathetic and compassionate.
You don’t choose these thoughts. They’re just a collection of culturally relevant sounds and images. And those sounds and images are really just a reflection of your state. It’s not you. Not exactly, right? And if it is you - if your thoughts are you, who is it that’s listening to those thoughts? Who is it that hears the sounds and sees the images in your brain? The all-present consciousness, awareness. Maybe that’s the core of who you are? The consciousness that can observe with curiosity and experience without terror. Maybe.
You are not your state either. You are not safety, you are not flight, fight, shut down, freeze, play or stillness or anything else in between. That’s not the essence of you, but it does seem like something you experience. Notice. It does alter the experience of your day to day life.
But these states are not you.. Because they’re temporary. They change. Yes, you might be stuck in one of these states. Even for a long time. But again, if the state is you… who is it that’s stuck in it? It’s more like you, whatever that is, is stuck in a deep mud pond. The mud might be the experience of shut down. But you are the consciousness or maybe even the soul that’s stuck in it. But again, there’s a level of awareness of the state that you are stuck in.
You are not your adaptations or habits either. By this, I mean the things you do in order to adapt, compensate or self-regulate your nervous system state. These are simple things like hobbies, but also more serious, potentially harmful things like addictions, compulsions or behaviors that you engage in. These adaptations are there as a way to deal with the stuck defensive state. Not because you’re defective or ill or broken. You know this by now - #stucknotbroken.
You are not the limits you’ve placed on yourself. I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, It’s too late to accomplish that thing, I’m too tired or old, I’m not worth being in a relationship with, That other person is better looking than me. Those limits you’ve placed on yourself about your character, who you are. Or the limits you’ve placed on yourself about what options you have. Those are artificial boundaries, creations of your mind, insecurities stemming from a defensive state.
Same with the limitations that others have placed on you - It’s not real. It’s not you. That is not who you are. If anything, those are their issues, their projections of themselves. And rather than doing their own work, they take their defensive state out on you. And other people, probably.
Point is, that’s not you. And you have the option to disagree with what other people say. The same goes for yourself - you have the option to disagree. You have the option to disagree with those thoughts in your mind. Remember, those aren’t you. You can hear those thoughts in your head and reflect on them. Or accept them. Or ignore them. Or even disagree with them. Just say “no thank you.” Or even, “I hear you, but I’m not interested.”
You are also not your past. You are not your trauma. You are not the thing that you survived. And it is not you. It’s something that happened to you and a state that you are in. But it’s also not permanent even if it feels like it. It’s temporary. Really, it is. It takes a lot of conscious changes, but it’s temporary. If you do nothing else, it might be permanent. But again, if you’re listening, you’re already doing something. You’re already in the process of becoming unstuck, whether you realize it or not.
Imagine where you might be if you weren’t open to new messages. Imagine how much more pain you might be in if you didn’t seek out new information and ways to get unstuck. That wasn’t you. This isn’t you either. These are just temporary states.
Your trauma affects you heavily, I know. But it does not have to define who you are. Neither do the relationships you had or didn’t have with parents. They missed out on or severed a relationship with someone who is probably pretty amazing. Someone unique and beautiful inside.
This is all well and good, you’re thinking. Buuuut who am I then?
And my answer is - I don’t know... and that’s wonderful. I don’t know who you are and neither do you. You have the opportunity to meet yourself all over again every moment of the day. You have that option. To be curious and notice what’s happening with you in that moment. And to notice how those sensations within you change, come and go. And also notice what thoughts and images are associated with those sensations. You have the option to be a witness to your internal self, to just watch with wonder.
By doing this, by living in the present moment, experiencing and trying new things, you’ll learn about yourself little by little. And it might contradict what you already think of yourself. I’ve realized that I’m actually more social than I’ve always thought. My nervous system tends to like more alone time, but it’s not as exaggerated as I had once believed.
To learn more about yourself, go with what feels safe and connected, not just protected. Go with what brings your body to life, not just numbs the pain. Be with yourself in curiosity, not evaluation. Watch, don’t judge.
That’s really the heart of the matter here. Who you are is ever changing, adapting, connecting and disconnecting. Seeking out safety and connection, pulling away from danger and disconnection. Let’s not place limits on who we are.
Let’s accept that we’re dynamic. We exist now. And we exist here. Not then. Not there. Not in the past, not in the future. We are constantly and irrefutably in a place of the dynamic present moment -new changes, people, places, sights, noises, textures and smells… you change along with it. Your biology has an adaptation to these things. You are constantly in flux. You are dynamic. Placing limitations on yourself is nonsense. Let’s not do that.
You don’t know how excited this makes me for you. Literally. Like, as I am writing and thinking about this, I feel excited for you. I feel pumped up for you. And myself too. There are beautiful, wonderful, incredible things within myself I haven’t tapped into yet. Yet. And I know it’s the same for you, simply based on the work that I’ve done for myself and for my clients in therapy. Even though I am not your therapist, I’m excited for you.
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