While on holidays recently I picked up a book my friend bought me many years ago. The very first chapter titled 'Who are you?' outlined a woman's experience during her psychology studies at university in the 1970s. I will add the reference below if you wish to read it yourself.
As part of her third-year of study, this woman joined an encounter group aimed at studying group dynamics of a leaderless group. The concept of a leaderless group was pioneered by Wilfred Byron a psychoanalyst as a way of studying unconscious processes.
Her observations of the group as they started their mandatory hourly meetings held weekly for 20 weeks were very interesting and ultimately identified that everyone suffered in one way or another as they reverted to their ’safe’ persona .. confident people spoke up, shy people retreated, some people talked and talked and talked..others refused to speak. Some people wanted to take control, others wanted to be invisible. Some people formed alliances, which didn’t last.
With no idea of what was actually expected of them in this group, the pressure on everyone began to grow and it was evident, with even the most outspoken in the group becoming subdued.
The woman, who had up to this point had stayed quiet, decided to talk. She commented, asked questions and responded to people. She described it like a dream where you discover you’re naked. She wrote…
In this version of the dream, there was something I had to retrieve, but to do so meant walking through a crowd naked. I had to choose whether to hide – which would be safer but meant I would not achieve my objective – or to walk naked past staring eyes to get what I had come for. Finally, finally, I had chosen to walk naked through the crowd. And to my astonishment, I discovered that what I had come to retrieve was myself.
She called her essay ‘waiting for the magical happening’. She discusses this as meaning, waiting for the group to magically change – to become cohesive and purposeful despite individuals grappling with confusion and tension.
Most, including the woman, realised around the three-quarter mark the group was not going to miraculously transform to become purposeful and driven towards a common goal. She found this to initially be a depressing awareness, even an enraging one.
Shortly after processing this.. another awareness came. A more empowering one. She realised that the only thing that could change was how she experienced and responded to the group.
She found these insights to be both liberating and terrifying as it put the responsibility for her life and the choices she makes back on to her alone.
This revelation changed her life going forward, particularly in regard to her dysfunctional relationship with her sister, who she was desperate to be loved by. But in fact, was hated by. With her new wisdom, the woman was able to truly let go of her sister, internally and externally. She wrote:
I realised that in letting go of my sister, I had also let go of the internal voice – my sisters – which told me everyday that I was ugly, stupid and awkward, and that there was no place for me in the world. Without understanding it, without even knowing it, I had chosen to make that voice a part of myself. And now I choose not to.
This story deeply resonated with me. The stories (ours or others) we consciously, but more often unconsciously embody as we grow up then shape our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. From this place, we create strategies to get through life, often these can be quite dysfunctional – they do not serve us well, and often keeping us stuck and playing small.
Awareness can be the start of profound transformation. It requires a ‘naked retrieval’ – a willingness to imaginatively walk naked through the crowd to retrieve yourself.
What does this mean?
For me it’s about those vulnerable and courageous moments in our life where we stop hiding, perhaps as a way to ‘people please’ or from fear of judgement, and start showing up authentically.
This may be a journey of retrieving the parts of you you’ve ignored or lost along the way in order to play it safe in the world. To notice and let go of the disempowering stories you’ve embodied and let take control of your life. To start being unapologetically authentic, making choices everyday that are driven by a healthy self-love and acceptance and are aligned with who you are and your purpose and vision.
With 2024 only weeks away, it's time to reflect about what you are choosing?
Reference: Brett, D & Cue, K (2019), Who are you? Published in ‘The Sunday Story Club’, Pan Macmillan, Australia.