This is my second piece on Turning Towards within my series on Living With Depression. Check out Pt.1 or Pt.2 to get the back story. In my first piece on turning towards I discussed the theme of turning towards, what it is, why it’s so important, and how it’s importance within relationships with self and others.
In this post, I’ll bring the relationship with self to the forefront of the discussion. The most important relationship we have is the one to ourselves. What good are you or what service could you bring the other if you’re not connected to yourself or are dead? When we look at the theme of what it means to help, there has to be a self that is lending the help. To begin to turn towards ourselves, we have to be vulnerable with ourselves and honest about what we are experiencing.
As we go about living, it is our body that does the experiencing in life and it’s through our body that we experience the world. The body is, in a way, our thermometer or barometer for getting a pulse or feeling on what's going on within us and around us.
These are some important questions from the last piece as we move forward in this piece:
Was I allowed to have my feelings and experience of things in my upbringing?
What don't/do I like about myself?
What do I experience in standing naked in front of a mirror or getting a glimpse of myself in the mirror of my yoga studio?
Do I feel or sense something in my body in sitting with these questions?
These are just experience. Not good, bad, right or wrong. Simply note them.
The Importance of Readiness to Be Vulnerable
In Pt.2, I addressed the importance of social interactions, particularly the importance of our early life prior to the age of 7. It is in being turned towards, paid attention to, and having our emotional experiences seen, understood, and validated that we begin to cultivate our own ability to turn towards ourselves.
Within turning towards is the necessity of making oneself vulnerability. In order to be touched by another, I have to expose myself. This is necessary in order to be touched – this turning towards life, others, and ourselves. To let the flower, the sun, the pair of legs, the aspect of our job, the glancing smile of another on the street be apart from others. In order to experience the other or the flow of life, I have to expose myself. Not just an exposure, but also as one who is separate from me. This can take some time to figure out this boundary.
As I’ve talked about depression, as a lack of self or a diminished but not lost relationship with self, something that may begin to develop is a dependence on the life force of something outside of oneself.
The most common ways I see this in my work is with peoples partners or friends, but secondly with folks relationships with work, fitness, and social media. This is where some other experiences of life begin to develop; loneliness, codependence, more intense symptoms of depression, and addiction. A lust or inner psychodynamic to consume the life force of another because they’re not able to turn towards their own inner experience of life.
Do I know the feeling of being close to myself?
How often do I experience that?
When do I feel close to myself?
What was a time when I felt this?
The pre-requisites of turning towards are that we first acknowledge the other as another, not as something to consume as my own but as a gift separate from me but still with me. We take up relationships. The other helps me cultivate my own self by helping me experience myself as I’m with them. We draw close - lean in to the other. Lastly, we give the other our time. Relationships take time and we have to be with the other and engage with them.
When we open up to the being of the other and give access to our own being, then we take up a relationship. We’ve all had social interactions where the other is talking but you’re getting no sense of them as a person. The words seem to carry no weight or are thin and carry no texture or feeling. This to might give us information about them as a person.
Prerequisite of turning towards:
I acknowledge the other as another, not as something to consume as my own but as a gift separate from me but still with me. The other helps me cultivate my own self by helping me experience myself as I’m with them.
Remember, this could be anything; the sun, a pretty picture, getting your hand caught in a door, someone telling you “fuck you”, someone smiling at you on the street, a song on the radio … anything. Within every moment of life is countless opportunities to have an experience.
What we cannot give to ourselves, we try to get from our relationships. We do need to give and receive, but this need comes from a place of depravity and it becomes a drive. One's unconscious dialogue might sound like this, “What I cannot give myself I will get from my relationship with my partner, my work, or my physical abilities.” A few ways to practice turning to ourselves and finding what we need in ourselves will prepare us, ready us, to be vulnerable
Take time for yourself - pay attention to your body.
Turn to yourself - have a warm heart to yourself.
Value yourself - practice self-care with things that bring you a sense of life.
Cultivate a relationship with yourself and nature.
So, where do we begin with this? Our first relationship is our relationship with ourselves. That relationship begins with our body. Not just it’s physicality or aesthetic, but with what we experience in our body. I’ve previously stated one of the most important questions in psychotherapy of “What is it you’re feeling with this”, I’ll extend this to the question of “Where do you experience that feeling in your body.”
I can't keep track of how many times a week I sit across from folks and ask this very question and am met with confusion as if the person has no idea what I’m talking about. Then a sense of shame washes in that they don't even know how to answer, vagueness of having no idea of where it is, or perhaps only a vague and ambiguous sense of the sensation.
This dimension of the felt sense of the experience, as I’ve experienced it in my practice and reflecting on the literature, is a bit of an uncultivated dimension like any art, skill, or relationship. I use the word uncultivated because it seems to be few and far between in how folks are in relationship with themselves and tucked away in books that are seldom read. I believe this is partially due to the context we find ourselves in a consumeristic urban environment with values that are seemingly opposed to more humanistic or personal dimensions of life.
With a little bit of practice and continued repetition, it can be recultivated.
The Role of The Body
A prerequisite of being able to turn towards is one’s ability to take up a relationship with oneself, take time for oneself, and to draw close to oneself. I bring the body to the forefront of this conversation because our body is our first home and our most immediate place for us to return to.
What is experienced in the body is particularly important – our emotions and sensations. For it is in the body that our emotions reside. This moves us into acknowledging ourselves, the "I am" that is always present ("I am feeling _____" or "I am experiencing _____".)
One of the best ways to turn towards is to connect with one’s own body – one’s most immediate home - the emotional relationship with one’s self, one’s sensations, vitality, life force, and one’s psyche.
Questions that can help one understand their own body and its importance in turning towards:
What is the quality or feeling of my relationship to my body?
Can I be in my body?
Do I like to be in my body?
Do I feel good and warm within myself?
What do I feel and sense as I read these questions?
Even when we are completely alone, we always have ourselves – “I am” is always present. A relationship with another is important, but our primary relationship is with ourselves, and this is particularly significant while looking at depression in light of the concepts of our likes and dislikes.
Drawing our identity from others’ likes and dislikes certainly gives us a sense of identity, but what happens when we lose our friends, our clothes, our work, or we don't get a lot of likes on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? This can be such a trap in our day and age.
James Bugental, one of the fathers in the existential-humanistic psychology field, in talking about loneliness, shares that as people, we are always a-part-of and a-part-from others. We become a shell of a person when we draw our identity from what we wear, how attractive we are, the friends we have, how much weight we can lift, how much attention our social media posts attract, the job or income we have. Those kinds of details are certain things that make up who you are, but they are not you.
They are apart from you, but they are not you. There’s a deeper part of you that your “problems” cannot touch.
You can lose your job, income, fame, and your image. But your essential self always stays with you. John O’Donohue, one of the most cherished and influential authors in my life, communicates this so beautifully and with such chilling-ness:
“(We) become addicted to the external, our interiority will haunt us. We will become hungry with a hunger no image, person, or deed can still. To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexity . . . you are the one and only threshold of an inner world . . behind the facade of image and distraction, each person is an artist in his primal and inescapable sense. Each one of us is doomed and privileged to be an inner artist who carries and shapes a unique world.” From Anam Cara, p.XVI
Questions to further this concept:
What is that within me that I cannot lose?
What do I feel when I receive another human being turning towards me?
How much turning towards did I receive in my life? Who do I think of?
What strategies did I develop to receive turning towards, as a child?
How do these questions resonate with and in me? Triggering?
What feelings do I have in relation to those questions?
It is in the receiving of being turned towards in life, through a therapist, friend, colleague, gym mate, someone's glance and smile towards you on the street, and most of all our parents early in life that we begin to create a sense of self.
Regaining what is lost
When speaking of depression, "I am", is what was lost and brought us into a depression. Thus, turning towards helps us get moving, it helps us explore ourselves and work of finding our own likes and dislikes. We begin to rediscover, or uncover, the “I am”.
I had a client tell me once in coming back from a vacation to visit friends that they felt so alive when with them. They became so aware of this silent, active, and unconscious feeling of being invisible in their regular life. In that session, on that day, my client experienced the process of self-acceptance in their body through another person (me, their therapist). I was able to be with this contrast that they experienced, and to begin reflecting:
Client: "Something is missing in my life here."
“What's there within you as you say that?"
Client: "I feel a loss ... sadness ... longing."
"Take a few moments ... how and where are those feelings showing up for you?"
“Stick with it … “
Client: (facial affect changes and the client is near tears for a few moments) ” ...no, I’m losing it.”
“What were you experiencing in that sadness? Did a word, a song, a simple image appear?”
The Importance of Turning Towards
I cant begin to emphasis this activity more. It’s so paramount to life. Particularly within the first few years of life. As I said before, the degree to which we were turned towards mirrors the amount we’re able to turn towards ourselves, and this in turn mirrors the amount and depth of our turning towards others. Some people are only able to do this with an animal, a horse, dog, or cat is common. Others with spirituality and ones relationship with the divine.
If we are unable to receive the turning towards of others and the implicit values, care, and kindness that are within those interactions, this tends to point back to some early life trauma and hence the beginning of our developing of a personality disorder because we are unable to be with ourselves and receive turning towards. But this is going to be elaborated on much later in the year in another post.
Feelings as 100% valid and important
This is your journey, where all of your feelings are completely valid and equally important. They are your story. Feelings bring us our sense of life, but needs to be sat with. Each one has its own story that may need to be processed because this might be a form of coping that keeps me from more life.
This self-knowledge and the ability to be vulnerable and turn towards ourselves and the world is the task of life and the price of authenticity.
To begin this process, we must first turn towards ourselves and the losses we've experienced. The process of grieving our losses is imperative to life; the flow of life, and our development into a fulfilled person. This is the topic for April.
My name is Caleb Dodson I’m a private psychotherapist in the Fremont Neighborhood of Seattle, WA and I’m most passionate about bringing kindness to and excavating a sense of humanity in the most challenging experiences to bring about a more full life.
If you’ve enjoyed this check out Pt.1 and Pt.2. If anything said above touched you and you’d like to visit, I’d encourage you to shoot me an email or schedule a time to visit. This is a massive overview of 3 days of material within my training in Existential Analysis through the Existential Analysis Society of Canada.