So much of our self-improvement is just self-critique in a sexy outfit. Our culture focuses obsessively on the endless quest for improvement, but there’s a much more thrilling area of inquiry: What parts of ourselves are aching for expression, and why do we flee their heat? Our answers to those exact questions hold the key to deeper love and a much richer life!
Why do we fear our deepest and most precious gifts, and how can we learn to embrace the thrilling risk of authenticity? Stay tuned to this episode of the Deeper Dating® Podcast to learn more.
Hello, everybody and welcome to the Deeper Dating® Podcast. I’m Ken Page and I’m a psychotherapist, author of the book Deeper Dating®, and Cofounder of DeeperDating®.com, an online environment where single people can meet in a way that’s inspiring, positive and safe. Today in this episode, I’m going to explore one of the most profound and paradoxical truths about human intimacy, why we fear our deepest gifts. In this episode and every episode, I’m going to share the greatest tools and insights that I know to help you find love, and keep it flourishing in your life while healing your life in the process, because the skills of dating are the skills of intimacy, which are the greatest, richest, most important skills of all in our lives.
Self-improvement is nothing more than self-criticism in a sexy outfit. Click To Tweet
If you want to learn more about the Deeper Dating® path to real intimacy, just go to DeeperDatingPodcast.com, and you can sign up for my mailing list, get free gifts, learn about lots of different resources, and use these ideas to transform your own intimacy journey. There’s also a complete transcript of every episode of this podcast. I just want to say that everything I share in this podcast though is educational in nature. It’s not medical or psychiatric advice or treatment, and if you feel that you’re troubled or concerned about symptoms that you’re having, please seek professional help. If you like what you’re learning here, I would love it if you could subscribe and leave me a review, so thank you so much for that and let’s jump in.
I often say that self-improvement is nothing more than self-criticism in a sexy outfit. We know that this culture focuses obsessively on this endless quest to improve ourselves, but there really is a much more thrilling and pertinent area of inquiry. What are the parts of ourselves that are aching for expression, and why do we flee their heat? The truth is that the quest for self-improvement is booby-trapped from the start because it begins with the tyranny of comparison. How can we become the person we think we’re supposed to be? There’s this wonderful 12-step slogan that says, “Compare and despair.” That’s often just what happens when we try to fix ourselves in order to find love or earn self-esteem.
The hours that we spend fixating on our personal drive to excellence are often hours spent avoiding the simple and present Core Gifts of our being that are kind of waiting to breathe every moment. What are these Core Gifts? They’re the places where we feel the most deeply. They’re the places where we most ache to express our authentic self, but because we sustain the greatest wounds around these Core Gifts, we learn to protect them more than almost any other parts of ourselves, and we spend large parts of our lives fleeing the heat of their call.
We remember the pain, the shame, the embarrassment we’ve been made to feel around these really tender parts of ourselves that we’ve expressed in innocent and direct ways, and then just been really shamed for, or hurt for, or neglected around, or we’ve had these parts of ourselves stepped on or humiliated by other people that are kind of passing on their historic humiliation. We vow to never be so stupid and naive and earnest to feel or express that again, but as safe as we might feel by avoiding these Core Gifts, there’s a grave cost.
I think that fleeing our vulnerability is an act of quiet violence against ourselves. We create a vacuum where our self should be, and we do this all the time in sometimes very powerful and self-destructive ways, and sometimes in lighter, gentler ways, but I just think it’s so much a part of our human experience, is avoiding the heat of our true self. When we do that, we create a vacuum where our self is supposed to be, where our self is, and our nature abhors that vacuum. In my experience, avoidance of those parts of ourselves always leads us into situations that are masochistic or sadistic, but somehow deeply hurtful to our sense of self-worth.
Fleeing our vulnerability is an act of quiet violence against ourselves. Click To Tweet
Instead of kind of this ever-present call to white-knuckle our way to a more successful, and attractive, and desirable, and witty, and confident self, instead, the act of practicing identifying the gifts that are in us already, and learn wise ways to bear their complexity, their demand, their existential challenge, their beautiful heat. That’s the steep path. That’s the path of real intimacy. That’s the path that leads to both authentic intimacy and authentic meaning. Why do we spend so much time focusing on everything else but these Core Gifts? I think the biggest reason is that our gifts scare us, and maybe scare us more than anything else in our lives.
I want to share with you something very moving to me. Someone who’s very dear to me is terribly, terribly sick at this point. This person is a powerful, powerful thought leader. She is facing a very, very challenging health road ahead. She said something to me that I wrote down because it was so powerful, and I’m just very, very privileged to share it with you. She said, “As I take on the role of cementing my legacy, I’m facing the fact that I have been unnecessarily hiding my light, and I’m not going to do that anymore. I have been hiding the light of my vision, which is also my love because it feels so vulnerable, and that is a compromise that’s not worth making. If I’ve self-protect in that way, too much is lost. I need to do my mission with full light and not blunted out of fear that it, or I, will be rejected.”
I think that captures what we’re talking about here in such a moving and beautiful way. I’m so inspired by it. Donald Winnicott, the great psychoanalytic theorist, said that each of us has a true self and a false self that we construct to protect the true self. According to Winnicott, the need to protect our true self is so great that some of us choose death over a threat to that self. What I want to talk about now are three aspects of your, my, our, Core Gifts that I think frighten us the most, followed by what I believe is the simplest way to move past our fear.
Power And Passion
One is our power and our passion. I think most of us are scared of how deep our love goes, how powerful our anger can be, how fierce our hunger, how burning our need, how fierce our protectiveness of ourselves and other people. We can be scared of our power. Scared because we’re afraid that it might frighten others, and scared that it will frighten us. Just like being afraid that like Icarus, if we fly too high, if we get too close to the burning sun of our possibility, our wings will melt and we’ll come crashing down. We’re afraid of showing the intensity of our power, and afraid of feeling the intensity of that power, and afraid of other people feeling the intensity of that power and being hurt by it.
I tell a story about a client of mine who was told to tone it down ever since she was a kid. She was really smart, and her feelings were not quiet. Her mom felt threatened by her intensity. She felt like it was not girl-like, it was too demanding, and Jody quickly learned that her passion got her in trouble. She was never taught to work with the fierce gift of her passion, just to suppress it, and so as a result, and many of you might relate to this, I know I do….. She swung between expressing her feelings with this pressured intensity that could turn people off, and suppressing her feelings, which left her feeling bewildered, lost and incomplete. With this first one, a really rich question for us for reflection is simply this. You could even pause the recording and just take a moment to kind of think about this. Which passions of yours scare you with their intensity or depth, and what are the gifts that could lie within these passions?
At our core, with all our similarities, each of us is a completely unique creation. Click To Tweet
Tenderness And Vulnerability
Next one, our tenderness and vulnerability, because really at our core, we are all tender. We’re breathtakingly tender. We’re sensitive in the deepest ways, and life teaches us really quickly to toughen up. Our sensitivity to the pain of the people around us and our own pain threatens to break our hearts. The more authentic we become, the more we feel our tender soul, and that is challenging, and in a world like this, scary, as well. We become afraid of feeling the depth of our tenderness, much less revealing it to others.
Another story of a client I will call Jay, who felt things on a deeper level than most people, and the daily small blows to his spirit, the myriad little cruelties of life affected him really deeply. He kind of longed for a world that was kinder, less pressured, and he absolutely unequivocally felt weak for feeling that way. He was chided for that by his parents, teased by his siblings, and it wasn’t until college, where he found his cohort of like-minded friends that he began to feel that maybe, just maybe, there might be a place for him in the world. Another question for reflection, and you could again pause to just let this ripple in you. What parts of you have felt too tender for the world? What Core Gifts might those parts reflect?
Here’s another one. Our originality, because at our core, with all our similarities, each of us is a completely unique creation. We share a language, although we experienced that language differently, but each of us has our own internal, personal language as well. Our own dreams, our own hopes, our own symbolism, our own memories, but going too far with our originality is risky as hell because on some level, we’re herd animals. When we get too far from the pack, we start to feel nervous, “Will I end up all alone? Am I so different that no one will want me?”
As we go deeper into our authentic selves, we become more and more original even to ourselves. As we venture deeper and deeper into the new space of what we really feel, what we really see, what we really wonder about, what we really don’t understand, what we really question, what we really sense – the terror of the unknown can rear its head. We left the herd behind now, and things like just kind of feel dangerous, so we protect ourselves by not letting ourselves wander too far from the herd. We curb the power of our radical and endlessly surprising originality, because we’re afraid of where it might lead us.
Each of these areas, I think you can feel, is filled with fabulousness, is filled with fear, is scary, and holds magic – your magic. There always seems to be a choice in front of us. Do we express what’s real or do we express what sounds right? Where does that most apply for you? For a lot of us, it is in dating, and in love, and in deep intimacy. This is such a rich question. What are the things that feel most important to us and hardest to express? What I want to say is that the more we honor and express those things, the richer and more full of meaning our life becomes, the more love we have to give and the more we choose to give that love in places that are fertile and nourishing as opposed to depleting.
So how do we approach our fears in order to heal them? I think that the key is through relationships and not through self-will. This is something I wrote in my book, Deeper Dating®. “Our gifts are at once too powerful, too original, and too tender to be ordered around by us. They will never stop drawing outside the lines. If we try to make them do that, they will simply hide in plain sight until the threat is gone, and then they will somehow nail us. No matter how much we threaten or pressure or grieve for them, they won’t come out until they feel that they will be honored, and it’s that simple. When we honor those gifts, we begin to glimpse this scary, magnificent path to the things that really matter the most.”
Our gifts are too powerful, too original, and too tender to be ordered around by us. Click To Tweet
How do we do this? We start hanging out with people that are further along, that are living this more. Those people, they are the gatekeepers for us. The people who really let themselves live that way in sane and healthy ways. There was always an artist in me, and I always, always felt like I didn’t deserve to embrace that self until I met my dear friend, David Schechter, a playwright who lived his creativity. He walked around with a notebook. He still does. He walks around with a notebook, always copying down things that interest him, and that he thinks are fun or powerful or deep. He lived like an artist, and he looked at me as someone who also could and should and would live like an artist. He saw the artist in me. He changed my life by doing that.
We cannot rob ourselves of our gifts in truth. We can only rob ourselves of access to our gifts. I think the key is to learn to approach them with love, and to find people who are further along the path with us and hang out with them. Now, maybe not super further and yes, if super further, ask them to be your mentors. That’s like such a wonderful thing to do to ask people to be your mentor. It’s scary, it’s hard but oh man, it makes such a huge difference. If they’re not that far along but they’re kind of far-ish along and they feel like peers to you, those are the people to hang out with.
A wonderful therapist of mine used to say that the wisest way out of old hypnosis is through current relationships, and so I think the best way to transcend the fear of our gifts is through a current relationship with other people who honor those gifts in us, and honor those gifts in themselves, and through a current relationship with those gifts themselves. These are just wonderful questions. What creative processes? What kind of interactions? What people from your personal history? With whom did those gifts feel safe and seen and cherished? One of the most important questions of all, and you can reach out to those people.
I feel like it’s this act of curating a wonderful life is saying, “Those are the people I’m going to hang out with,” and reaching out to them even if you haven’t talked to them in 10 or 12 years, or you just met them for a short amount of time. Those people are our happiness. The more time we spend in the environments with the people, and with the processes that get us in touch with those gifts, the more alive and emboldened our gifts become, and the less timid and self-sabotaging we become.
Our culture tells us to use our will to break through our fears. Will, will, will, but in my experience, that really almost never works. I think we need to learn to bear our gifts through tiny daily practices, and having friends and loved ones who love those gifts, and gradually stretching our capacity to hold their power in ourselves and in the world. I think we need to gradually build our tolerance. Fifteen minutes of painting what scares us the most. Five minutes of feeling what we most long for. Touching or being touched by our partner in the way that we most yearn for or has the most meaning, but it’s like scary to do. Most of all, I think the way to learn to stop fleeing the heats of our gifts is through those precious people who honor those gifts, with whom we feel willing and safe to share our scary thoughts, our risky feeling, our tender, our huge dreams. Those people are our gold.
At any given moment, all of us can think of an endless and horrifying myriad of ways to improve ourselves, but I think there are wiser questions to be asked and simpler questions. What are the gifts that already live inside of me? What holds me back from them? How can I liberate them in my life, and who might help me do that? Thanks so much for listening to this podcast. Please go to DeeperDatingPodcast.com and join my mailing list and subscribe if you like what I talked about here. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode of the Deeper Dating® Podcast.