The theory of the Psychology of Selves says that as we grow up we develop primary selves that keep us safe in the world, protecting our vulnerability. The price we pay is that we more or less disown the opposite selves, and also lose touch with our vulnerability. When we encounter our disowned selves in other people, we either judge them or put them on a pedestal and find them mysteriously attractive. I recently had an experience of both on a flight to London from San Francisco. In this posting I’ll first describe the judgements.
I had booked an aisle seat and, when I boarded, a middle-aged couple were settling in to the two seats next to me on my left - the woman by the window, the man using my seat to unpack things from his bag that he would need during the flight. I said, “Hello”. But he didn’t acknowledge me and seemed irritated that I had arrived to take my seat before he had finished. As we headed east at 35,000 feet he clearly felt it was his right to use the whole of the armrest and block my reading light by holding his book up high in front of him. He never said “excuse me” or “thank you” when he had to get by to use the toilet. I noticed that he only used monosyllables and grunts to respond to his wife’s questions and requests; and, to top it all, he drank quantities of wine and spirits!
You have to understand that my primary selves have to do with being polite, communicative, respectful, accommodating, and pleasant to others. Also, I seldom drink alcohol. So here I was sitting next to a whole bunch of my disowned selves in the form of my fellow passenger!!
I could feel the judgements of my primary selves coursing through my mind and body. I felt myself tightening and sitting more rigidly, waiting for the opportunity to recover the armrest should he move his elbow. Then I paused. I was on my way home from a weeklong intensive Voice Dialogue training with Hal and Sidra at their home in northern California. There had been much sharing and analysis of negative bonding patterns and I decided to put into practice what I had learnt and experienced during the training.
So I asked myself if I was unconsciously feeling vulnerable right now. It had been an amazing week where we had all supported each other as we dived deeply into our individual processes. I was still feeling quite open, sensitive and a little lost as I moved out of the safe container of the workshop and back into the everyday world. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends in California and also missing my partner in London as I had been away for 3 weeks. I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was facing a 10 hour flight with the prospect of an 8 hour time change and jetlag when I arrived. Yes, I was feeling vulnerable!
Once I realised this, and that my primary selves were on high alert to try and protect me, I was able to sit with my vulnerability and take more conscious care of myself. As I did this I could feel my judgements about my neighbour melting away. I followed Hal and Sidra’s advice to imagine taking a little essence of his energy to see what gift it could bring me. Of course! It was one of my issues that I had been working on during the training: entitlement. I was entitled to my space and light, comfort and consideration. I could do more than just cope with my very entitled neighbour, put up with his behaviour, be outwardly nice yet inwardly silently judge him. I could unhook from the negative bonding pattern and assert my rights in a neutral and impersonal way through an Aware Ego. I felt very calm about this realisation and my body immediately relaxed.
And then a remarkable thing happened. The energy between us shifted. He moved his elbow away, and for the rest of the flight we shared the use of the armrest. He reclined his seat and held his book lower and I had plenty of light. When the snack tray came around half way through the flight I wanted to take two chocolate bars. But the steward made it clear that we were only allowed to take one each. Noticing this, my neighbour took the bar he was entitled to and then offered it to me! He continued to drink but it didn’t bother me any more. We never had a conversation, but once I had embraced both my vulnerability and acknowledged the disowned selves that he held for me, the tension between us disappeared and I could relax for the rest of the flight.
Well, almost! In my next blog posting I will describe the passenger to my right across the aisle and how he was the source of a mysterious and consuming attraction.