There's no disputing that you are the expert on you, you know yourself better than anyone else, so who are you? Do you have a clear sense of yourself and of how others see you? What drives your behavior, your actions and decisions? Do you know what your strengths are and what triggers your defenses, those times when you react without conscious intention in an attempt to reduce discomfort?
Everyone has their own individual combination of character traits, gifts and defenses, and just as with gifts, there are many types of defenses. An example of a defense would be the belief "I am not loveable". This defense is a turning against one's own person formed in early childhood as an attempt to rationalize mistreatment or to defend against unfulfilled longing. The unexamined belief becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
It's not that all defenses are bad, we developed them in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, yet many of our defenses may no longer be serving us, or our relationships. In order to free ourselves from unwanted defenses we must first see them.
"Self-knowledge leads us to have respect and compassion for each other. How can I know you, if I do not know myself? The depth of my relationship with others depends on the depth of my relationship to myself." - Urania Paes
As Paes explains, our relationship with others begins with our relationship with ourselves. The more we dwell in our defenses, the less we abide in the abundance of our gifts. To have a clear vision of how we wish to travel forward on this journey, we need insight into all that we are, our values, strengths, gifts, defenses, believes, dreams, and intentions.
It All Begins With Awareness
This month I want to share with you a few of my favorite books for assisting individuals in deepening their understanding of themselves, and a list of questions to contemplate:
The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge, and The 9 Types of Leadership Beatrice Chestnut, PhD www.beatricechestnut.com
Chestnut, a Bay Area psychologist, has written two of the most thorough and comprehensive books on the Enneagram. A universal symbol of purpose and possibility, the Enneagram is an incredibly accurate map for developing self-awareness, for realizing, owning, and accepting your strengths and weaknesses, and for charting your personal growth path. "If we can recognize the Shadow cast by our personality, consciously bear the suffering we normally defend against, and accept all of who we are, we can open up endless possibilities for ourselves." (Chestnut)
Many individuals take comfort in seeing a reflection of themselves when reading about their Enneagram type in these books. If you don't know your Enneagram number I recommend the free quiz at www.eclecticenergies.com. It takes about 15 minutes to complete.
The 5 Personality Patterns: Your Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others and Developing Emotional Maturity Steven Kessler www.The5PersonalityPatterns.com
This book draws from many sources including traditional psychotherapy, Character Structure, somatic psychotherapy (integrating the body), the Enneagram, and energy work. Kessler, a Bay Area Psychotherapist, has created a map to help you recognize survival patterns (defenses), how you get stuck in them, how to get yourself out of pattern, and back to presence where your true self resides. The book explains how survival patterns are formed, illustrates the direct mind body connection, "until we heal the core traumas in our body that fuel our survival patterns, we will still go into our patterns when in overwhelm", and offers clear and specific guidance.
You may recognize your primary pattern while reading the book, or you can take a quiz on Kessler's website. The quiz takes about 5 minutes, and requires 3 or more people who know you also take it in order to get the results.
Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them Angeles Arrien
This last book is more like an insightful game, it's fairly quick to 'play' and always an accurate indication of ones process of growth. Through years of in depth research in cultural anthropology, Arrien, whom also lived and taught in the Bay Area, discovered that five basic shapes, the circle, square, triangle, cross, and spiral, appear in the art of all cultures with similar meaning. The meaning attributed to each shape "stands for a process of human growth, and the shape carries this process within itself"; external symbols of internal psychic states meant to awaken a greater understanding of oneself and ones environment.
You can view Arrien's 2014 Tedx Talk Cornerstones of wisdom: the four-fold way on YouTube.
The following is a list of thought provoking questions Oprah asked a guest on a recent episode of Super Soul Sunday. Unlike the guest, you can take time to contemplate and reflect on your answers. Begin by quieting your thoughts and coming into the present moment, grounding and centering yourself. As you reflect on each question pay attention to any answers that come to you in the form of sensations and images as well as words. You may want to draw or journal.
I feel the presence of God [Goddess, source, connection...] when?
I experience love when?
I am living my purpose when?
My life force is most fulfilled when?
My hope for my legacy is?
The most difficult choice I've had to make to fulfill my destiny is?
What is the word or words that best describes who you are and why you are here?
What inspires you?
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn?
What do you think is the clearest, cleanest, most open path to your authentic self?
As we look inward with curiosity we strengthen our self-awareness, gaining a greater sense of integrity, and the freedom to mindfully take action rather than to mindlessly react. It takes courage and humility to uncover, acknowledge and own up to our defenses. If fear arises, remember that "fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth" (Pema Chodron), and you don't have to go it alone. Knowing yourself fully is the way foreword.