“Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d Know Then Thyself”
Visitors to the ancient temple that housed the sacred Oracle at Delphi were greeted with the words “gnōthi seautón”, which translates from the Greek to “know thyself.” One of the most important decisions you can make in your life is to decide what you want. You cannot, however, know what you want unless you know who you are. Once you have a relationship to your inner self, knowing what you want becomes easier. One thing I urge people I help to do again and again is to take personal responsibility. In twelve years of marriage I have learned quite a bit about myself through my relationship with my partner and it is these insights I share with my clients. Part of what I do is listen to you and your needs and help you understand what it is you actually want out of a relationship and then point you in the right direction so you can actually find it. The first place we start is with you.
Nowhere is it more important to know yourself and what you want and need than in a romantic relationship. It would be interesting to do a study to find out how many partners in relationships go to a therapist and talk not about themselves, but about their partner. It is as if we use our partner to try to more deeply understand ourselves, and I know how scary that can be. Of course this is often a subconscious impulse that we may not be aware we are doing. It becomes particularly difficult when looking at traits of the partner that we have disowned in ourselves, traits we would rather not examine. This is what Carl Jung calls “the shadow” but I digress. That is for you to discuss with your very qualified, highly trained therapist, and in my work I just want to bring it to your consciousness or awareness.
How do you begin to truly get to know yourself? Knowing thyself helps you in every relationship of your life, its all different sides of the same coin. All the inner work has a pay off, because when we know ourselves and our wants and needs, we are ready to share true intimacy with another. “Working towards intimacy is nothing short of a lifelong task.” Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. writes in her classic book on relationships, The Dance of Intimacy, (Harper Perennial, 1989). “The goal is to be in relationships where the separate “I-ness” of both parties can be appreciated and enhanced, and where neither competence nor vulnerability is lost sight of in the self or the other. Intimacy requires a clear self, relentless self-focus, open communication, and a profound respect for differences. It requires the capacity to stay emotionally connected to significant others during anxious times, while taking a clear position for self, based on one’s values, beliefs, and principles.”
Getting what you want in yourself, for yourself isn’t easy, kids, its only for the brave of heart, and I know you are. One of the problems with selfhelp literature, although it has good intentions, is that it implies that we are somehow broken, that we need to be fixed. When we actually slow down our busy lives, we see that everything about us is a gift. If we get brave, we can see that though we might not have all the tools to use these gifts, we are not broken, we just need to strengthen those traits that scare us or that we dislike. The noise in our heads saying “I’m bad, I’m broken,” keeps us from going forward. Some of these traits we dislike or consider bad about ourselves could have been quite efficient coping or survival mechanisms that may have saved your life.
Moving forward can only happen when you are kind and compassionate to yourself, and the good news is, if you’re reading this, you’re ready to grow. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.” writes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Though it may be at times harrowing to do the deep inner work it takes to truly know ourselves, the rewards are enormous. In the end, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.