We live in a society that constantly dangles new ‘things’ in front of us: phones, computers, clothes, furniture etc, etc. etc. . We have to have the latest and best. In this type of environment it is very difficult to be satisfied. Of course our economy depends on dissatisfaction. We must constantly be dissatisfied with ourselves, our lives – what we have, what we do, who we’re with, where we live, etc, etc, etc – or else the economy will grind to a halt. In my work as a therapist I am constantly encountering people who are desperately seeking someone or something that will finally make them happy. To my mind this is very much like the alcoholic who needs the next drink to prop them up. Like all addictions it is based on a feeling of emptiness inside.
The truth of the matter is that we are not empty inside when we are seeking an outside release; we are in pain. The outside props are medications. In order to heal, we need to heal from the inside out. When I work with people I try to convey this idea to them. Mostly they resist. I don’t blame them. Who wants to believe that they are filled with pain and who wants to face it? Recently a man who was suffering from depression and addiction said to me, “If I look at the pain inside of me, I will become even more depressed.” I explained to him, as I do to others, that his medicating his pain does not get rid of it. It only makes it worse since the alcohol and depression combine to cause more pain through his hurting himself and those around him.
I realize that facing our pain is difficult since it hurts and it is not a quick fix; but it allows us to have the opportunity to confront it and release it. I go on to explain that it is like the process of grief; those who can grieve have a better chance of letting go of their pain than those who will not grieve. However, going within is not just about feeling pain, it can also be about seeing what is good within you. I see this with people who are dealing with self esteem issues.
I recall a woman, a child of alcoholic parents, who felt that she was worthless. Within her alcoholic family she was taught that she didn’t matter. As a result, her life was filled with self recrimination and stress. When we looked at her life, she indeed felt the pain of her childhood. But she also saw inside her a person of value with many positive traits. In this way she gained a sense of inner strength and substance. I have had similar experiences with people who engage in codependent relationships with others. They often have very little sense of identity and try to establish a sense of self through merging with people outside themselves. This often causes them great pain and stress. By going inside themselves they can begin to gain a sense of substance and self worth.
Another positive aspect of looking inside ourselves is that it can help us gain a sense of stability. When we depend on the outside for stability we find that there is very little permanence and that we have very little real control. People who have suffered from childhood abuse find that the outside world causes them great stress and anxiety. As a result of their childhood they see the outside as a threat. When they look inside themselves they can begin to find a constant source of identity and stability. As a result they can establish a source of safety that is constant and controllable.
Beginning from our childhood we are given the message that our sense of self esteem is gained from the outside of ourselves – our possessions and how we can prove to others that we are worthy people. However, the truth is that we cannot really grow if we only rely on the outside. In order to truly heal and gain a sense of strong identity we need to heal from the inside out.