This step is most likely to stop us from going any further because we are saddled with the toxic shame that has been handed to us by our cultural environment. However, practicing this step is our golden opportunity to abandon that mud-slinging story and jump to a higher perspective. The goal here is to see that we — and everyone else — are neither all black nor all white. We are a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, and naming them makes it possible for shifting into acceptance and a non-judgmental attitude about ourselves.
This shift is both subtle and profound, because our self-understanding paves the way to empathy for our brothers and sisters who appear to be so far away from our world view. For most people it will be like water wearing away the stone, and we may eventually encounter an outpouring of grief for the history of unrealized human potential.
These are examples of the behaviors that we may have used to foster separation:
Bluffing, Arrogance, Controlling, Manipulation, Laziness, Guilt, Dishonesty, Self-centeredness, Self-pity, Depression Jealousy, Frozen feelings, Self-Isolation, Blame, Resentment, Distrust, Impatience, Criticism
Equally important, these are examples of the behaviors that we may have used to foster connection:
Willingness to listen without judgment or giving advice; Honest self-disclosure, vulnerability; Humility, awareness of belonging; Surrender to not knowing the answer; Asking for help; Relaxing hyper-vigilance (fortress mentality); Detachment from perfectionism; Viewing mistakes as opportunities to learn; Acceptance and forgiveness of self and others; Self-care, self-respect; Repair of damaged relations, making amends; Co-creating solutions that serve the needs of all stakeholders; Gratitude; Compassion; Making requests for specific actions with the willingness to accept any response.
A good place to begin is to simply write down
- why we might be anxious about making such an inventory,
- how our powerlessness over oppressive situations might be related to our ineffective ways of connecting with others,
- what barriers may be blocking our heart’s intelligence,
- and how we deny our interdependence with our systemic context.
We do this exercise of self-examination for our own benefit, not anyone else’s. In order to dig deep into our own psyche which has remained obscure to us for so long, we do it gradually, allowing insights to surface spontaneously by not rushing through this step. We also make sure that we complete a balanced picture of ourselves by including all our efforts to connect with others.
Ideally, we will do this with the coaching of a mentor who has preceded us with their own self-inventory, and the mutual support of a wisdom circle, peers who are engaged in the same struggle of self-understanding.
When we collaborate with another person to validate our self-perceptions, we take the first baby steps toward healthy relationships not only with others but most importantly, with ourselves. Sharing our stories of secret inner judgments, opinions and accusations that may have harmed or distanced ourselves from others shrinks the size and power of our shame. A new self-respect based on honesty begins to grow.
We can only lie to ourselves. Our good friends can instantly detect when we are rationalizing some outrageous idea or denying the truth. It is very important that we choose a friend who has previously experienced this step themselves, because they understand why gentle listening and soft feedback will increase the probability that we will restore our own dignity from what we hear ourselves saying.
This is not about self-humiliation. This is about acknowledging and discovering our normal, natural human failings that apply to everyone. In doing so, we humbly see that we are not super-bad, nor are we super-good. We are engaged in the struggle to be fully alive.
In working this step, we will see our own inner mechanisms, our analytic processes, that lead us to separation from others. We will see the chains of reasoning based on our dependency on our parents, necessary childhood survival strategies that no longer serve us if we are to be mature adults.
We can take any behavior and “drill down” to the rationale, the belief and the feelings that create the impetus for it. For example, either in writing or with a friend asking the questions, as quickly as possible, answer:
- “My undesirable behavior, ___A___ , happens because I want or need __B__.”
- “I want or need __B__ because I think, believe, or feel __ C __.”
- “I think, believe, or feel __ C __ because __D __.”
- REPEAT, digging for deeper reasons in the causal chain.
- When a strong feeling begins to arise: “I am feeling tension, heat, tingling located ____ in my body.”
- “I want ____”
- “I am afraid of ____”
- “I don’t have to believe ____ because _____”
- “I am a person who can choose because ____”
- “I don’t have to behave like __A__ because ____”
- “I feel better because ____”
- Often, we cannot name our feelings because we lack the vocabulary words for them. A feeling word list can be very helpful, and can easily be found by searching the internet.
Our goal is to surrender our struggle to change ourselves into a better person, and to simply allow it to be, to trust the process. The work of achieving the freedom in which our best qualities shine forth has to do with letting go of our defiant desire to look, sound, and act in way that others would judge to be good, strong, or virtuous. When we surrender to a process greater than anything we could devise from our own rational perfectionism and our old, fierce self-reliance, then we are able to feel a strength and peace that we probably never expected.
We feel supported to simply be who we are right now when we relax the voice of the inner critic. In its place, we attend to the evidence of a benevolent, intuitive life-energy in our heart which motivates and guides us to simply do the next right thing. We no longer carry our heavy baggage of toxic shame. We can forgive ourselves, and we can forgive others because we understand ourselves and our social environment so much better. We see for perhaps the first time how much love and support is available to us.
This could be extremely threatening to all our defenses — our ego identity of separateness — that we have learned from the “school of hard knocks.” It could be very terrifying! At first. We can get used to it. We can focus on the feeling that we belong, that we are accepted just as we are, and that our intention is simply to allow that love and forgiveness to grow and expand. We don’t need to fix, manage or control it.
Questions for this step:
- What feelings arise when you think about surrendering your struggle to be a better person?
- What evidence do you see for the intuitive motivation and guidance for you to do the next right thing?
- What confidence do you have that your best qualities of character will arise from letting go of your perfectionism?
- Which one of your character flaws will be the most difficult for you to accept just as it is? What do you anticipate might happen if you did accept it?