Knowing Yourself, Then Showing Yourself

Writers are reminded to “write what you know” and “show, not tell.” The instructions apply to fiction, but also pertain to the fact of who we are.

Therapists take the closed-up, armored patient, hoping to help him remove his metal plate covering.

His end goal?

To man up.

Up straight, chest out, eyes forward. Self-confidence and pride manifest themselves in the unspoken declaration, “Here I am.”

One encounters rejection this way, but our compensation is exploration of the world regardless of fear. What acceptance we obtain is less essential, but more often real; not the approval of those fooled by our costume, blinded by the bronze.

Much discussion exists on the subject of self-revelation to others, but a first step prepares you to lower your guard. It was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi over 2500 years ago:

Know Thyself

A dangerous effort? The book of Ecclesiastes warns:

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

We seem to have a conflict here. Humans use rationalization, compartmentalization and four “D” words to keep their minds off troublesome realities: denial, dissociation, distraction, and drugs.

Socrates, another son of Greece, sided with Delphi over Ecclesiastes. The legendary teacher didn’t write, wore dirty clothes, and was sufficiently disclosing of what he stood for that he was sentenced to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens.”

He led them to question their own beliefs.

The philosopher chose his end over exile because he could only be himself as he wished to be, with his people.

Counselors are friendlier to Socrates than Ecclesiastes in their pursuit of the Delphian truth. They recognize no one can show himself who doesn’t know himself.  Otherwise he displays but half — the fragment of which he is aware.

The hearing impaired who are clueless to their deficiency resemble those without self-knowledge. Such men live in a world of sound, but perceive only a segment of it. The undiscovered portion leaves no evidence of absence, no apology in the form of a regretful RSVP.

But Ecclesiastes was no fool. Fearless self-insight exacts a fearful price. Once you realize how you hurt another, the recognition bleeds you. You bleed in the knowledge of who you have been, how you harmed. To the good, now you can improve, apologize. Permission for do-overs, however, is a rare, “sometimes thing.” The damaged don’t always stick around.

Nor does self-awareness recover lost time. Those who wait for aged parents to acknowledge their failure, encounter people for whom internal vision would come with an unacceptable redefinition of themselves.

Fifty-years of error cannot be borne except by the hearty in body and mind. Indeed, all of us of whatever age want to turn from the mirror’s truth, claim distortion, and blame the glass.

A splendid blogger, Clara Bridges, tells us, “I read and write poetry for myself, not for others, and in both cases the revelation is primarily of myself, to myself.”

Clara recognizes the power of journaling, not just expressive and therapeutic, but as a tool for piercing the layers of cloaking armor we wear in our everyday version of Halloween.

Bronze plate is an inflexible thing. Clanging hardware is cumbersome and noisy. All grace disappears, the wearer’s voice drowned out by the dissonance.

A Dance of Seven Veils calls to us. The music is seductive if you are open to hearing it and brave enough. Adding to Delphi’s admonition, it sings, “Know thyself, then show thyself,” one dropped veil at a time.

You partner with yourself in the first dance, others are invited later.

Who knew counselors offer dance lessons?

—–

The first image is Constance Talmadge, Head and Shoulders Portrait,1921, Library of Congress. The second is called, Looking in the Mirror, taken in Surmi, Tulgit, (a small village in Ethiopia) by Rod Waddington, 2014. Both are sourced from Wikiimedia Commons.

11 thoughts on “Knowing Yourself, Then Showing Yourself

  1. What if you’re a bunch of fragmented pieces – all you (not necessarily “false selves” – but you, in parts)? What is knowing thyself when you have only known fragmented versions of yourself – out one at a time, or two if there are helpers/protectors involved? What I like one moment I may not like the next; what disposition I hold true one moment may not reflect who I am the next. It depends on the external “threat,” because survivors are more prone to detecting danger than pleasure. Dissociators don’t necessarily disengage if one part of themselves – say a protector – actually fights back and faces the music, knowing all too well the different versions of self within. Multifaceted is one word to describe MPD/DID; whoever is out is the one who can face the storm. Integration is like twinning, mirroring, and becoming one with the alters within. You learn of their pain and imagine it as yours. You feel the pain later on. You’re brave enough to handle what they handled for you. I think there’s a difference between those who have different faces to please those around them versus dissociators who have different faces to survive the dangers they encounter in every scene of life. If I were to describe what it is like to know thyself, I’d describe a bunch of souls packed into a body; I think I’d imagine a heaven where, when we all died, we’d all be separate but real souls walking God’s ground with angels and others. Of course, that’s just fantasy for me, as I’m in a very strange place these days, but a good enough place to stand my ground and be my own darned protector – angry, tough, outspoken, and all – of course, with the somewhat unemotional resilience that allows for a little bit of fun and/or relaxation after I’ve defended myself. And even then, as I describe me, I will never truly know thyself fully.

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  2. Your description suggests you know yourself pretty well. You’ve described lots of different facets. And you may yet get to know more, as one hopes we all do. I treated DID, even back when it was called MPD. Clearly, where there is not yet an integration of the dissociated alters, any one will not have complete self-knowledge. If we look at the process of self-understanding, one who is DID or BPD is more often than others, perhaps, in a different mood state and state of awareness; but the non-dissociative/non-BPD individual will not necessarily possess a clear and thorough level of self-awareness, either. Thanks for your comment, Multinomial.

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    • Thank you, Dr. S. I do not want to know myself sometimes though. Right now I am in a place where I do not want to feel remorse for anything I have done. I also have a new therapist who seems really nice and understanding. I asked her if I could start over with therapy. She allowed me to talk about my bad therapy experiences in the past and understood my need to feel safe again in therapy. Out of all the treatments I have had, she asked me whichbone felt the safest. I said CBT, but it was very short lived. She is the only one who assigned me homework that asks me about the goals I want to accomplish with therapy, and she also had a sheet that asked me about my strengths, which was relieving to me. But in my place of feeling a bit more understood and accepted, I am now so angry about how people have taken advantage of me or failed to address their own wrongdoings without being fake or disingenuous. I am angry and do not care at the moment to feel any remorse because a protector alter said recently to me that I am a wimp whenever I take the blame for everything. Of course that is really me feeling and thinking that, but it feels like I am dissociated again. I do not know why because I have way too many triggers going on in my life to pinpoint what is going on. I am not a danger, but I am just angry and partly unemotional, but partly afraid to cry again. I think MPD is a more appropriate term for me now. Maybe I got mixed personality disorder, since I do not meet the diagnostic criteria for one single PD but have the traits of many different ones. I am a mess these days.

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      • I’m sorry things are so tough for you, Multinomial. As you know, dealing with anger in treatment is necessary for one who has been abused. That you are trying to pace yourself and take on only a bit at a time is another example of self-awareness. No therapist wants to open everything, all at once. I’m glad you’ve made what sounds like a good start with your new counselor.

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      • Thank you, Dr. S. Thank goodness for pacing.

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  3. “Showing Yourself” comes up in politics. When a person is good at it, they are deemed “authentic.” Bernie comes to mind. People said that Hillary was really authentic in private but couldn’t carry it over to the public stage. On the other hand, we’ve had some pretty authentic seeming leaders who fooled us, haven’t we?

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  4. Appearing authentic might not be the same as “being” authentic. I can imagine numerous kinds of self-presentation by people who believe they know themselves well (most of humanity thinks so, in my experience) without knowing much about themselves. IF you know yourself well, then what you present will be both open and true. My take, at least.

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  5. You are so right, Dr. Stein…”Who knew counselors offered dance lessons?” Life lessons….my counselor never ceases to amaze me with his take on things, how he sees things differently than my own distorted thinking. I use to poo-poo the thought of therapy until a crisis sent me running to it. Now I am learning to “man up” or “woman up.” An excellent read. Happy Festivus to you and yours!

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    • The world is not full of people who celebrate Festivus. Consider yourself one of the elite, Nancy! Glad to hear of your continuing therapeutic progress. Your good wishes are shared.

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  6. Much food for thought here, Dr. Stein. “Know thyself” has been a lifelong quest of mine. While writing my first novel about a son’s journey of redemption for wrongs committed, I came to a new realization of my own abandonment.

    As you say: “Nor does self-awareness recover lost time.” This was so true with regards to the betrayal of the sister I had most trusted during my convent days. You write: “Those who wait for aged parents to acknowledge their failure, encounter people for whom internal vision would come with an unacceptable redefinition of themselves.” When I finally had the opportunity to meet her face-to-face after twenty-two years of separation, she no longer knew who I was.

    May the joyful spirit of the holiday season fill your home ❤

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    • How unspeakably sad is your penultimate sentence, Rosaliene. I hope only more joyful thoughts and feelings are yours this season and the year through. Thank you for your good wishes, as well.

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