I’ve been thinking about something since last weekend, and knew an essay was coming. Here it be.
What follows are my personal interpretations of a theory presented by Mark Ettensohn, Psy.D., in his book, Unmasking Narcissism: A Guide to Understanding the Narcissist in Your Life.
Dr. Ettensohn suggests the idea that we each have three selves. I feel strongly that understanding these selves is imperative to ALL of us for living a well-adjusted, enlightened life, as well to domestic abuse survivors for living a healed one. Stay with me...
First, and again, in my own words, is the conceptualized self. This is the day-to-day portion of our awareness, and it bogs us down in thought, which is often superficial, and in reaction. In definition. In labels. Example: I conceive -- have conceptualized -- that I’m a single mom. I’m a fatherless daughter. I’m a worker bee. I’m a victim. I drive an old car. I live in a tiny duplex. I am tired. I am sad. I am anxious and worry about my future. I am weak and unworthy... That’s my conceptualized self. It sees vulnerability and mistakes or problems. It focuses on the upsetting or the stressful, and lets the negative hold court.
But, “you are not your thoughts,” says Dr. Ettensohn.
Second comes our observing self. This self takes into inventory the entire picture. Bird’s-eye view of whole experience. Through this self I am more than the labels my brain assigns. I’m human---more than a mom or daughter or sister or friend, or on my own---and I am the human condition. I love. I feel. I understand. I’m not just a worker bee; I work for myself and for others. I am bigger than what I drive and where I live. I am a survivor, and one who looks and lives beyond having been a victim. I am strong because I have been weak, and alongside my ever-present vulnerabilities, because I’m worthy. There isn’t just negative in me, there is also positive. I am not good or bad, black and white, I am both, and neither is wrong nor right. This part of us is constant, offers Ettensohn, and is unaffected by our thoughts. Think about that for a moment.
How much more peace could we feel every day if we embraced that those passing thoughts do not affect our whole?
Lastly is self-as-context. This is where the two other selves co-exist. Our conceptualized self is important for daily operations, because it helps us make decisions and solve problems and move forward. But the awareness of our observing self is how we maintain a greater perspective. It’s how we understand that trees create a forest, to borrow from Ettensohn.
The point of this theory in the book is that narcissists can’t see beyond the conceptualized self. They cannot observe the whole, so they don’t reflect or grasp perspective, or an understanding of how their disordered behaviors affect others.
So, too, in reading these theories, I recognized that many survivors of domestic abuse (by a narcissist) become suspended in the conceptualized self. We get stuck in those labels we were conditioned to believe for years. We mistakenly, at times, think that is all there is.
But it’s important to understand there is more. We are more than those things we were taught. We are good. We are worthy. We are greater than loss. We are purpose, not just task. We are whole experience, beyond abuse.
Think about that for a moment, too. And then have a talk with your selves.
[I absolutely recommend reading this book for yourself if the topic strikes any interest or need for understanding.