Saturday, May 1, 2010

Getting Reconnected

Children in Tajikistan

I've had an idea lately that I really can't prove -- it's purely speculative -- and it is that much of our misery as adults stems from ignoring what we considered important as children. It may have for its inspiration, the AARP commercial that presents a series of over-40 adults, each one telling the audience what they want to be when they grow up. It gets your attention because of the incongruity; you usually expect something like this from kids. But here they are, people who, ordinarily, should have had their act together for a long time, talking about what they'll do, when they do.

The implication, of course, is its never too late to reinvent yourself and its only too late to stop trying new things when we're six feet under. But there's something about the ambitions of childhood that makes them surface in late-night party conversations among close friends, long after the casual (or uninteresting) guests have gone home. Someone asks, rhetorically, if anyone ever imagined doing what they are when they were kids, and it takes off from there.

What I think is happening is, an attempt to create a sense of continuity between who we imagined ourselves to be and the person we've become. And I think it's discontinuity between these two that generates a lot of the dissatisfaction that can bring adults into therapy. The feeling that one has gotten "lost" somewhere, or they don't recognize themselves when looking into the mirror.

I'm not suggesting the solution is to walk into the boss's office on Monday morning with a note reading, "Goodbye, farewell, this is it," and then set off on a quest to become whatever. But I do think ignoring what we once thought important is like dismissing a critical part of ourselves as unimportant, producing a tenderness that is easily irritated and we can't say why.

What we dismiss has the tendency to become associated, over time, with shameful, and what we associate with shame gets hidden. Hiding saps energy and promotes defensiveness. When others come too close, we find ourselves irritable, and that's why. Getting reconnected with oneself nurtures wholeness and a feeling of being at peace. It's not as scary as it sounds and most of the time we're not alone. It's part of growing up.

(Creative Commons image via Wikipedia)
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