Collaboration with therapist and mediation teacher Koret Munguldar:
Many of us struggle with having a sense of being strangers to ourselves. We may feel like we are living in someone else's skin, and that our life does not belong to us. This can feel depressing, anxiety-provoking, and scary at times.
This experience is called "self-alienation." On the outside, we may show a completely fine self-image, but on the inside, we can feel broken or lost. Growing disconnected from our moment-to-moment senses in our bodies, emotions and soul create alienation.
Early on in life, we learn how to adapt to the stressors in our environment and come to develop certain identities to maintain our sense of connection. Think of these identities as adaptive masks, like being "perfect," "shy," "leader," "promiscuous," "chronically-ill," or "overachiever." For example, a child learns that by taking on the role of the leader, they feel cherished. Over time, being the leader becomes their identity, and they grow disconnected from how they feel, and what they would like to act authentically. They look like a leader to others, but on the inside, they feel lost.
Our young bodies play a role in how we come to experience alienation. Early on in life, if the stressors in our environment and the relationship we have with our caregiver feels overwhelming, missing, or inconsistent, our nervous system adapts by regulating the intensity to which we can feel within our bodies.
Imagine a young baby who feels overwhelmed by the stress that comes from their mother's body? Their body can become frozen in this state, and over time, that way becomes the child's normal state of being in the world: disconnected from the senses in the body. Unable to know how joy, sadness, and love feels in one’s body.
At another layer, we also grow farther away from our soul, which is the loving awareness that resides in every one of us. We start identifying ourselves with our "identities" or "masks" in society, and forget our true essence.
But, these two elements: our feelings of our bodies and soul make us who we are, and to heal this sense of strangeness, we must address our development and practice reconnecting with our soul and getting into our bodies again.
Reconnecting with our emotions, sensations in our bodies, and soul can help us find connection with who we are.
We can try getting to know ourselves like we get to know a new friend, get curious about our own life history, our cultural context, and slowly melt the frozen memories within our bodies.
Look at yourself in the mirror and reflect:
Who do you see?
How does your body feel when you look at yourself?
What kind of experiences has your body been through?
How does it feel to look into your own eyes?
Make time every day, to meet yourself, again and again.