My Post-Election Selves

Almost a month after the election, I thought it would be a good idea to step back and notice the different ways that various selves within me are reacting to the outcome. The overriding feeling over the last four weeks has been heartbreak. I've felt a deep sadness that has had me close to tears during large portions of the last 28 days.

My rational mind self has found the intensity and duration of this grief perplexing. This part reasons that, in actuality, things were just as bad before the election. Whatever misogyny, whatever disregard for the effects of fossil fuels on our planet, whatever xenophobia I'm aware of post-November 8th was also there before November 8th. To this mind part, my emotional response makes no sense.

In contrast to the rational self, I'm also aware of a part that feels greatly relieved to have been given a key to unlock this deep grief and give it full expression. This part is, in the words of Stephen Jenkinson, "on the side of heartbreak." This self agrees with the rational self that there was plenty to grieve before the election, but points out that very little grieving was actually happening. 

This one longs for me to face into the real pain of living in the world today and allow myself to feel it. So many people are suffering from war, from poverty, from racial oppression, from genocide, from watching their land become uninhabitable due to climate change, from losing their livelihoods, and on and on.

When we look beyond the human population, things get even worse. By 2020, 75% of wild animals (vertebrates, which includes fish) will have died off. And just walking around my town, I see over and over what we've done to the Earth. This morning, I was walking through the Delta Ponds, a beautiful area along the Willamette River where wildlife can flourish. Even as a great blue heron gracefully lifted itself from the water's surface, I heard a blaring voice from the PA system of a nearby car dealership.

Plenty to grieve indeed. This part of me appreciates how accessible this heartbreak is to me in the aftermath of the election.

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A third self I've encountered came to the surface a couple of weeks ago. I was talking with my partner about a moment of intimacy we had shared, during which my mind kept going to Donald Trump and the things he said on Access Hollywood and on Howard Stern's radio show. As I remembered the moment, I started crying and the little girl's voice came through clearly: "how could so many daddies of the world have voted for that man? Didn't they realize he was talking about me and their little girls?" 

This little one inside of me is frightened and confused by the election results. She wanted to be president when I was her age and she was so excited for a girl president. She can't understand why so many people said no to the girl president even though she was so much more qualified than the boy and even though he said so many mean things about so many people. He even made fun of a person in a wheelchair. And now he's going to be president.

Finally, the day after I discovered the little girl self, a fourth self came rushing forward. I was at a dance class in Boulder, Colorado and one of the women from the class was speaking about the Women's March on Washington. She said that she and her daughters and granddaughters were all going. Suddenly I knew that I, too, would be at that march. I went back to the place where I was staying and started researching the logistics. 

This fourth self is part activist, part advocate for my little girl self and others like her. She's riled up and ready to get to work on behalf of women's rights and the rights of other beings who experience marginalization. This part feels super energized by what's happening at Standing Rock and by the almost 4 million members of Pantsuit Nation who are standing for and with each other and others in need. She will be marching in Washington D.C. on January 21st on behalf of little girls and women all across the country.

As I navigate the post-election landscape, I am grateful for these four selves and the gifts and vulnerabilities that they bring to my life. I'm also grateful for the work of Voice Dialogue, through which I can be present to these selves without collapsing into them.

Would you like to learn more about Voice Dialogue? If so, I'll be hosting a Free Introduction to the work on Monday, December 12th. Also, I'd love to hear about what selves you've been noticing in response to recent events. 


Dancing with My Selves: The Free Spirit and The Conformist


On my Facebook feed the other day I saw the post: “Does anyone want to go to Standing Rock in the next week or two for a couple of weeks or so?" Go to Standing Rock? YES!!!!!! My Free Spirit Self immediately comes to the fore. It’s the part of me that loves to step off the trodden path and throw myself into something new and exciting. It’s the part of me that decided to follow the call of the spirit and move to France in my mid-30s, even though I didn’t speak French.

My Free Spirit insists that I follow my inspiration and one of its passions is standing up to injustice and oppression. This part of me chose to move into a L’Arche community and live with people with intellectual disabilities for two years. And Standing Rock resonates with this Self strongly. For some time now, I’ve been waking to the almost complete and collective disregard that the native peoples of this land have experienced since my ancestors (most of our ancestors) arrived in the Americas.

I have also, to my increasing grief and alarm, been educating myself on the developing climate emergency; learning how our fossil-fuel soaked culture is putting the life and livelihoods of our children and grandchildren in jeopardy.

So…..”YES!!!!”  My Free Spirit Self does not hesitate. It's fired up. Ready to rock and roll. Large and in charge! Where’s my sleeping bag? Who can take care of the cats? Is driving a car 2,000 miles to a climate-change inflected protest even somewhat justifiable?


And then, just a few minutes later, here it comes - My Conformist. Given that I have a strong Free Spirit, I might expect the opposite self, the Conformist, to be disowned in me. However, as is sometimes the case, I actually have competing, opposing primary selves in this area. Following the rules, paying careful attention to the consequences of my actions, maintaining the status quo, valuing the rewards I accrue from “towing the cultural line”…these are all deeply ingrained habits, instilled at a very young age in my fundamentalist Baptist family.

And in no time flat, the dance is on: My Free Spirit itching to lead the charge, to leap off the cliff into the unknown, no matter what the considerations and consequences. My Conformist making lightning quick calculations: “What if I get arrested? What if I have a record? It could affect my job. A large fine would really drain my savings. And what would my family think? Going all the way to North Dakota would really disrupt my life. Maybe I can send a few supplies or find a protest march somewhere.” 

At this moment in the dance, it’s my Conformist who is leading. For right now, I will not be driving to Standing Rock. Nevertheless, I’m trying to stay linked with my Free Spirit Self even as I continue in the semi-urban, daily routine that I know so well.

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One place where her presence burns brightly is through my longing for and intention toward living on semi-wild land. Moving toward this possibility is an important part of my work of holding the tension between these selves. It’s more likely to be in the Pacific Northwest than in North Dakota, but my hope is that by living in an active relationship with wildness, this untamed part of me can find fuller expression in my day-to-day life.

How do your Free Spirit and Conformist selves show up? I'd love to hear about your dance with these two in the comments. And if you'd like to explore these and six other selves over the next several months, I have one spot left in my Dancing with the Selves Workshop.

Dancing with My Selves

Yesterday I woke up with a strong sense of generalized anxiety. I was worried about a specific situation, but the anxiety spread out and attached to many areas of my life. I knew immediately that I was in a self who feels overwhelmed and incapable of meeting the challenges and demands of life. 

Ive worked with this self before and she is very young. She has a sense of needing to be able to figure things out that are well beyond her intellectual and emotional capacity.

I got up and went outside to the circle of stones my partner set up in our backyard. There I simply sat with the energy of this part of me. As I witnessed her fear and insecurity, she began to cry. I felt a deep compassion for her sense of isolation and for the intense pressure she felt to get things right. 

As I witnessed this energy from a different place, I found myself wondering what other kinds of energies might be available. I thought of the part of me that believes in a supportive and interactive universe. That part values trusting that life is unfolding and that all I need to do is go with the flow instead of pushing against it.

I also connected with the part of me who engages challenges with vigor and enthusiasm, who thrives when she has an obstacle to push against and work through.

These other energies were present, but they were much quieter than the young, anxious part. Still, my wondering helped strengthen my separation from the child self and helped move me forward in developing an Aware Ego Process with respect to that self.

I’ve been listening to a wonderful series by Voice Dialogue founders Hal and Sidra Stone on the Aware Ego Process (AEP). In it they offer a series of metaphors for the AEP to help listeners get a better sense of what it is. They mention the orchestra conductor, the captain of a ship, and the juggler to name a few.

One metaphor, however, jumped out at me: the Aware Ego as Energy Master. Hal speaks at length about the possibility of dancing with the energies of different selves. In this image, the Aware Ego Process can essentially be related to all energies that come in, either from inside or outside.  He compares it to martial arts and specifically aikido, where we are trained to accept the attack of our opponent as an energy gift that is given to us and then we learn to dance with that gift.

When I first heard this description, I experienced a great longing to be able to engage the selves within and without in this way. Just imagine being able to dance with whatever selves you encounter in yourself, your partner, your co-workers, your family, etc without getting hooked, without shutting down, without attacking from a place of fear.

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I tried to call in this Energy Master yesterday with my fearful child part. Her anxiety didn’t go away after my meditation. It stayed with me throughout the day. And I got to practice this dance. Staying connected without collapsing into to the fear and without pushing off from the fear. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Master, but I find myself increasingly grateful for the many opportunities I have to practice. 

If you’d also like to practice and grow your Aware Ego Process so that you too can dance with the energies, I”ll be offering a class, Dancing with the Selves, in Eugene beginning in early October. You can find more information about the class here.

Hal and Sidra’s Aware Ego series can be purchased here.

My Inner Donald Trump

Why on earth would I ever want to find my "Inner Donald Trump"?

A few weeks ago, I had a session with my teacher J'aime ona Pangaia. We worked with a pretty massive inner critic attack I had endured a couple days before. I’d made a snarky remark about someone and later realized she'd been in the room. On top of it all, that same evening this person gave me a very thoughtful present. My inner critic went completely nuts. I couldn't think about anything else, I felt paralyzed. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.

During the session we spoke with the part of myself who cares so deeply about how other people feel and how they perceive me. This part (or “self”) articulated very eloquently that I should never in a million years have even thought something negative about this woman (or anyone else for that matter)--much less said it out loud. This self spoke at length about how people are doing the best they can with the circumstances in which they find themselves and chastised me for being so self-centered.

This is a part of myself that I value very highly. It is, as we say in Voice Dialogue, a primary self for me. This part is compassionate and has perspective. It's a part of me that helps me in my work and my personal life by reminding me regularly to think from the perspective of my friends and colleagues instead of thinking only about my needs.

What I realized during the session, however, is that I'm not always conscious about when I'm operating through this other-centered, compassionate self. When I'm unconsciously identified with this self, I tend to disown any energies that oppose it...and that can be dangerous. When the energy on the opposite side isn't acknowledged and expressed consciously, it can sometimes push through in unconscious blurting out complaints about other people in public settings.

So what's on the other side? J'aime ventured the guess that the disowned self might look a little like Donald Trump. For my other-centered self this comparison was not a happy one. For that self, Donald Trump looks something like the anti-Christ—which makes sense, because we're talking about polar opposites.

So it got me to wondering, “What would my inner Donald Trump look like?” To start with, he would be focused on my needs and desires first. He wouldn't care a whit about what other think about him (or me). He would say what he thinks without even considering how it might impact the people who are listening.

Can I imagine circumstances in which that kind of energy might be helpful?  Absolutely. There are certainly times when I need to be consciously tuned into my own needs and not focusing exclusively on the experiences of others.

More importantly, if I disown that self-oriented perspective, and hold myself up as someone who would never be so narcissistic, so self-absorbed, so utterly incapable of thinking about the needs of others, then that Trump-like energy will emerge in potentially explosive ways.

Conversely, it’s easy to imagine swinging too far to the other side with the Trump-like energy running roughshod over the kind-hearted part of me.

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The goal is to have access to both of these energies within myself, to hold the tension between their conflicting perspectives, desires, and needs. The capacity to stand between them and exercise conscious choice around how much of each “self” to bring into any given set of circumstances, this is the Aware Ego Process; the primary aim of Voice Dialogue work.

Without an Aware Ego Process, I find myself unconsciously identified with my kind-hearted, altruistic self and vitriolically judging the self-oriented energy.

And if a large group of people, say an entire nation, say the most powerful nation in the entire world, disowned that energy – it might even explode forth so disproportionately as to secure a major party’s nomination for President of that country.

Stepping Off the Hamster Wheel

Lately I've been painfully aware of a recurring one-two punch in my life. It goes like this: I'll blurt something out or do something completely from impulse, and then moments (or sometimes even hours) later, I'll feel consumed with shame about what I said or did. And when I say consumed with shame, I'm not exaggerating. I have an overwhelming desire to cease to exist and I find myself hoping that the Earth will open up and swallow me whole. Other times, I obsessively go over and over what I said or did, a pit growing in my stomach.

Most of the impulsive things I do or say aren't that bad. Maybe I eat a third piece of cake, or blurt out a critical remark about a person who is not present. I'm not saying these impulsive actions are ideal, but they don't seem to warrant the intensity of the shame that follows them. 

I've started to suspect that the impulsivity and the shame are somehow co-dependent; they seem to feed each other. It's clear to me that the impulsivity leads to the shame, but what I'm beginning to realize is that the shame leads to the impulsivity as well; that the shame mechanism fuels the very behavior it attacks. It's a classic feedback loop: the more shame I feel, the more impulsive I become, which in turn generates more shame.

And that's when I feel like I'm running on a hamster wheel. I'm going nowhere fast and I can't figure out how to step off.

I was speaking about this dilemma with a friend of mine who experiences the very same thing. As I listened to her describe her own version, my Voice Dialogue training kicked in and I realized that we were describing primary and disowned selves. 

(For those readers unfamiliar with primary and disowned selves, here is an explanatory paragraph from my website: "Although most of us think of ourselves as a single "I," we are actually comprised of a complex tapestry of selves. Each self holds to and advocates for a particular view of the world. Each protects a particular vulnerability. From an early age, most of us identified with a small number of these selves that then became our primary ways of being in the world. At the same time, we disowned other selves with alternate, sometimes conflicting perspectives.")

The primary self for both my friend and me is a self who values control, order, and discipline. As I thought about what vulnerability that self is protecting, what came up was the fear that other people will dislike me, that they will see me as a problem. Even as I put that fear into words, I could feel myself trembling and tears started to come into my eyes. It's no wonder that this "Control/Order" Self works so hard! The vulnerability underneath it is enormous and quite old; it goes back to my early childhood. From this angle, I can feel deep compassion for this Control Self and understand why it enlists the help of my inner critic to activate the shame when that other impulsive self appears. I appreciate why it works so hard to get rid of that impulsive self altogether.

Once I had a little compassionate distance from that primary self, I could turn my wondering to the other side: the disowned, "impulsive" self. This other self values spontaneity, freedom, and letting go. It is also protecting a vulnerability--although this vulnerability is less known to me since I've been so identified with the control and order side of things. 

Here is where a Voice Dialogue session serves me well. In a session, I can hear directly from both my primary and disowned selves about why the energies they each bring to my life are so important. Even before getting to hear from the Spontaneous Self, I already know how important it must be for that self to find expression. I know this because it continues to erupt through the formidable barriers that my Control/Discipline Self has enacted and refined over the last four-plus decades of my life.  I can imagine that if my primary Control Self wasn't working so hard to hold back my Spontaneous Self, it might show up in a more relaxed way in my life.

I'm only just beginning to work with this set of opposites in my life. As I learn to bring my awareness to the different selves without identifying exclusively with either one, I can develop what is known in Voice Dialogue as an Aware Ego Process. In the Aware Ego Process, I practice holding the tension between my primary self and it's push toward control, order and discipline, and my disowned self and it's love of spontaneity, freedom, even chaos. Based on my experience in Voice Dialogue, in time I will grow in my capacity to choose which of these energies I would like to bring in at which times.

I'll keep you posted!

Do you wrestle with this same dynamic? Or do you know someone who does? Tell your story in the comments. Want to learn more about Voice Dialogue? Come to my Free Intro on Monday, June 13. And if you'd like to have a session to hear from your opposing selves, contact me here.