Posts Tagged ‘personal development’

Chapter 7: Head Trip

I am a student of human nature. I have a Master’s degree in psychology, so it makes sense that what goes on between the ears is fascinating to me. But like most professional students of human nature, the fascination comes from a desire to sort out the craziness in my own head. We professionals just like to do it the long way, by pretending to help others!

The thing that makes humans different from animals is the special ability to be at war with ourselves, and the entire discipline of psychology is built around understanding this war.

Last month I got a glimpse of the war I was fighting inside my own head, trying to keep my conflicting imperatives alive:

Be as small as you can, don’t take up space


Stand tall and don’t be ashamed, step into your full power.

That kind of conflict will make you crazy in no time, but for me, since it was all under the surface, it just created a perpetual suffering of the self. So I studied psychology in order to reduce the suffering of others. Brilliant.

However. Along with the ability to be at war inside ourselves, humans are also gifted with the drive to move toward integration. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, there are forces at work inside the psyche that move us, however feebly sometimes, toward the truth. Toward wholeness and health. It’s stunning.

My feeble effort came in the form of a narrative, a personal story which I could tell myself in order to organize my sense of self, articulate my dilemma, and give myself a problem to work on in perpetuity, without actually having to change.

I suffered a lot, that’s for sure. Suffering is just evidence of how hard I’m trying to heal, I thought. Here I am, stuck in this unfortunate body, for which I’ve suffered way too much shame. Shame has impaired my ability to be who I truly am, I thought. I lack the confidence to really succeed the way I want to, the way I feel I’m destined to. See, I feel made for greatness, but I keep defeating myself with my lack of confidence and self-esteem. That comes from a childhood of not really being seen, you know. Of being a child in an adult’s body. Of having an absent mother and a more absent father. Blah, blah, blah, you get the picture.

Then a month ago I had a conversation with a man who said he didn’t believe my story. The one about feeling so small and powerless on the inside that I was afraid I would shrink away and ultimately fail to step into my destiny, whatever it may be, on the outside. “I’m not buying it,” he said.

Excuse me?

“Your body is telling a different story. And your body doesn’t lie. You could never shrink away and fail, you’re not built that way,” he said with the confidence of 25 years of experience as a psychologist, yogi, body worker, and life coach.

Well shit.

No one ever refused to buy my story before. I’m very good at telling it, selling it everywhere I go. I consider it the height of compassionate respect to honor a person’s story, and the biggest betrayal not to. Especially when it comes to me. How dare you not believe my story? And who says it’s a story anyway? It’s the truth, dammit.

And yet. By the end of the day, pieces of myself came together into one coherent piece of magic, one I feel at a loss to describe. I almost heard the clap, the two pieces of myself finally coming together. Wham. Whole. Just like that.

My story was just a story I devised to keep the conflict from resolving itself. But my body knew the real score. It kept shouting to the world – don’t believe the bullshit she’s telling you! She’s a strong and powerful and beautiful woman. Don’t believe her self-doubt. Don’t buy her smallness.

But I couldn’t give up the dream of someday waking up to be Jana Gerken. – someone who could be cared for, someone who could be free to play, someone who wouldn’t have to suffer the loneliness of being too big for the world.

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Chapter 5: A Compromise of Sorts

Dear Laura gave me a lasting gift, for every time I tried it on, it fit perfectly. Every time I stood tall instead of hunched over, every time I held my head high with my shoulders back, I felt whole and fine, like I’d come home.

The boys were still scared shitless, of course, especially the ones I was inclined to obsess about: the blond-haired, blue-eyed trumpet player who stood all of about five foot five, and the upper-class football player/track star who, although he had better bulk than the trumpet player, was still a good inch and a half shorter than I. But I digress…

I began to be ruled by two conflicting imperatives. They went like this:

1. Stand tall, don’t be ashamed, throw your shoulders back and flaunt it.

2. Don’t be too big to play. Don’t take up space. Keep it small and maybe you won’t be alone.

Eventually marriage offered me the perfect compromise, one I deliberately chose. I fell madly in love with someone who offered me the best of both worlds. He was of average height, which for some reason I preferred, but he wasn’t scared or put off by my stature. He was mystified that it bothered me at all. This gave me the green light, if I wanted, to throw my shoulders back and flaunt it.

On the other hand, he generated a large presence. He took up a lot of space in a room. He was energetic and confident, enthusiastic and goal-oriented. He was going places, and he wanted me to come along. And best of all, he was perceptive as a tree stump. He didn’t get subtlety, nor did he feel inclined to read minds. Not one to ask, “what’s wrong, honey?” he was easy to hide from if I chose. I remember when the advantages of such a relationship began to dawn on me. I could be adored, but not scrutinized. I could go ahead and stand tall, but be as small and invisible as I chose to be, whenever it suited me. I remember thinking, “I could hide anything from this guy. Huh…” as the wheels began to turn…

Poor guy, he was set up from the start to play the foil in this inner drama of mine. He never stood a chance. Luckily he’s made of some pretty tough stuff.

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