I found a new book to add to my pile of future reading: “A Life of One’s Own,” by Joanna Field (pen name of British psychoanalyst and writer Marion Milner). I think this book might be informative for many people, especially those I counsel who struggle to accept themselves, to know themselves, to trust themselves and their intuition, and then to make life decisions based on what they have discovered.
Although I have not read the book, this very literate, thorough and thoughtful review by Maria Popova at her Brain Pickings blog is a good start. She always offers a wealth of cross-references to other books and authors on related subjects, which I find very helpful.
Apparently, the book documents a seven-year “experiment in living,” in which Field/Milner essentially discovers what we would now call self-acceptance or self-compassion. Her journey sounds remarkably like the journey to self-discovery that I enjoyed. (Although I have journaled for about 15 years, I’m sure my journals are much less erudite!)
She notes what many feel, especially in their youth — a sense of missing out, which today even has its own acronym: FOMO. I recall that until I learned self-acceptance I had a belief that everyone else was in on the secret of life, or certainly just knew much more about the world than I did.
Milner writes: “Although I could not have told about it at the time, I can now remember the feeling of being cut off from other people, separate, shut away from whatever might be real in living.”
What we know about attachment theory tells us that we humans all have a tremendous, primal need to belong and feel bonded to others. If in childhood we do not fully experience this from our parents, we grow up often lacking secure attachments to others AND TO OURSELVES. We feel different from others, largely because we lack an awareness and acceptance of our true self. I believe this results in this vague, unsettled sensation that we are different in some unknown way from others. Add in a dollop of low self-worth and what can result is the belief that others just have everything all figured out and we are clueless, hapless losers.
One key reason I love teaching Mindful Self-Compassion is because this practice essentially improves the way you relates to yourself and forms what we psychologists call “earned secure attachment.” It builds a healthy bond with your self and you then reduce that feeling of “otherness” and isolation that so many struggle with and that results in anxiety and depression.
Milner also echoes my experiences of being approval seeking, which I describe in “Pack Leader Psychology.” She writes: “I was so dependent on other people’s opinion of me that I lived in constant dread of offending, and if it occurred to me that something I had done was not approved of I was full of uneasiness until I had put it right. I always seemed to be looking for something, always a little distracted because there was something more important to be attended to just ahead of the moment.”
This is one of the reasons many people are anxious and cannot live “in the moment,” because their brain is constantly strategizing on ways to manipulate others into liking them.
I also agree with Milner that the very act of journaling (and therapy!) is key to developing a sense of mindfulness and self-reflectiveness that is essential for self-acceptance.
Her work on developing a mind/body connection was both ahead of its time and also rooted in many ancient traditions from around the world.
I find it interesting that Milner comes to the conclusion that “continual mindfulness” is the result of self-acceptance, which of course mirrors the nonjudgmental “being with” described by Buddha.
This is something that is difficult to describe to others, and many patients in therapy are surprised when I describe this sensation of being relaxed, loose and aware at all times, rather than jangly, distracted and unfocused.
Once you drop judgment toward yourself, the sense of fear of the self evaporates. Knowing you can meet yourself with acceptance, empathy and compassion means you can relax into really knowing yourself, rather than harshly criticizing yourself. When we judge constantly, we also tend to avoid looking honestly at ourselves because to do so provokes feelings of fear and dread.
Milner writes: “By continual watching and expression I must learn to observe my thought and maintain a vigilance, not against ‘wrong’ thoughts, but against refusal to recognize any thought.”
There is much more in this review and I look forward to reading the entire book.
…. be kind to yourself