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Self Identity Structure

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Self Identity Structure

Investigating the Inadequacies of Our Early Holding Environment Reveals their Effects on Our Particular Self-Identity Structure

As we explore the barriers to self-realization, we need to inquire into our basic distrust. This will take us into exploring our early holding environment and its effects on the development of our sense of self. Investigating the inadequacies of our early holding environment reveals the effects of these inadequacies on our particular self-identity structure. Working through this history, and illuminating the psychic structures it has created, leads finally to the awareness of the absence of basic holding. This absence is associated with a certain emptiness, the hole of a specific manifestation of Being. Learning to allow this emptiness finally ushers us into this manifestation of Being, which turns out to be a quality of love. It is a quality of boundless and gentle love, a delicate light experienced as the presence of softness, sweetness and generosity. It is not exactly a personal kind of love. It is love for everything and everyone—universal love. Its direct effect on the self is for her to feel lovingly held, as if cuddled in the infinitely loving arms of the universe. It also brings the perception that this loving, holding quality is intrinsic to the fundamental ground of all existence. The more she experiences this loving manifestation of Being, the more her basic trust develops, and the more her faith in reality is restored.

Reappearance of the Self-Identity Structure as Another Empty Shell as Being Continues to Reveal Its Reality More Forcefully

Realizing the omnipresence of Being allows the experiences of unity and oneness of existence. As we stay with this process, however, we continue to realize ever more profound implications of the truth of our identity with pure Being. The next steps in the relentless evolution towards complete clarity and precision continue to expose deeper and subtler dimensions in the experience of the ego-self. Being continues to reveal its reality more forcefully, and this brings back the ego-self; the latter can still restructure itself because of the lack of understanding of some of its subtler underpinnings. The self-identity structure reappears at this point as yet another empty shell, with even deeper elements illuminated. The empty shell appears at this time, as specific tensions around the head, indicating the concentration of the structure of the shell at the head. The student feels he is an empty shell, and his head is the thickest layer of the shell. Thinking becomes obsessive and speedy, and the empty shell feels more and more dry and abstract. Slowly, with patient inquiry into this
manifestation, the student begins to realize the mental nature of the empty shell. He begins to see quite directly, and in lived experience, how his sense of self originates in his mind, how his familiar identity is a product of a mental network that is perpetuated by a mental process. He can see sometimes how mental his experience of himself and the world has been, even when he is quite emotional or physical. The more he understands the mental quality of his life and world, the more he begins to feel empty, meaningless, superficial, and dry. The mental shell becomes emptier and flimsier when he begins to see how he used ideas, mental postures, and concepts to define himself.

Self-Realization will Challenge not only the Self-Identity Structure but all Structures that Support it or are Related to It

In the realization of the Essential Identity, it is useful to discriminate the self-identity from the self-entity; it is specifically the former that replaces the Essential Identity as the sense of self-recognition. However, Being will challenge all structures of the ego-self, and self-realization will challenge not only the self-identity structure, but all structures that support it or are related to it. The most significant of these is the self-entity structure. This structure supports the identity in many ways. It becomes increasingly challenged as Being reveals its more profound dimensions. This aspect of the process manifests initially as the arising need for more primitive forms of idealized and mirroring selfobjects. Specifically, the student recognizes his need for a merged relationship that provides support and mirroring. He begins realizing his need to depend on the self-object, to know his experience of himself, and to value it. So he expects the teacher, or significant others in his life, to know how he feels and to satisfy his needs, without him having to communicate them himself. This exposes the need for the merged mirroring self-object, which may also manifest as seeing the self-object as an extension of himself, which has no value or existence independent from him. He becomes hurt and enraged if the self-object does not act solely to please and serve him, if she acts in an independent way that neglects his needs or does not make them her only concern. The absence or loss of this merged self-object allows him to feel an emptiness characterized by the lack of a sense of identity and by loneliness. In this state, he feels the loss of both himself and the other; he is lost and also lonely, indicating the loss of both mirroring and the merged connection.

Self-Representations Included in the Self-Identity Structure

The nuclear self, the core of the bipolar self as defined by Kohut, is related to what we have been describing as the self-identity. Our discussion of identity has shown that in addition to ambitions and ideals, the identity itself is a source of initiative and action. The self-identity structure includes self-representations which underlie ambitions and ideals, but it also includes other categories of representations which are important sources of action and initiative. We do not need to go into detail here, for it is a common understanding that people have other motivations, like compassion, love, self-expression, or aggression, that impel them to act.

The Self-Identity Structure is Constituted of the Representations of the Self that the Self Knows, Partly Because they Were Mirrored

There is a curious puzzle in the psychological understanding of this phenomenon. Why does the self need its identity to be seen if the identity has developed mostly through the integration of the elements of the self that were mirrored? The self-identity structure is constituted of the representations of the self that the self knows, partly because they were mirrored. Why is there a need for something to be seen when it has already been seen? Our view is that this manifestation is a distortion of the natural need, which is distorted by its passage through the filter of the self-identity structure and its history of inadequate mirroring. The structure of self-identity is inherently vulnerable and shaky, and mirroring provides it with the cohesive glue that makes it feel more solid and real. As discussed in detail in Chapters 11 and 19, the identity is shaky because it is incomplete and distorted. The cohesion that results from the mirroring of the normal sense of identity is not lasting, so there results the chronic need for mirroring that we recognize as normal.

Transformation of the Self-Identity Structure is a Process that Takes Many Years

Only in the process of genuine development toward self-realization do we recognize the need for mirroring as the hunger of essential elements of the self for the light of awareness and recognition. Of course, for most students engaged in our work, this recognition is mixed with the need of the normal self for validation. The student will continue to identify with the normal self-identity structure, the transformation of which is a process that takes many years. However, as the process of self-realization puts pressure on this identity structure, exposing its emptiness and weakness, the student inevitably experiences increased narcissistic sensitivity and need for mirroring. It takes a lot of sincerity and precise understanding for the student to discriminate between the need for mirroring for the self-identity structure and for the real qualities of the soul.

Vulnerability of the Self-Identity Structure

We can see from this example how the disruption or loss of the mirror transference reveals the underlying vulnerability of the self-identity structure. The first reaction is that of feeling not seen or not seen adequately, when the teacher says something that is not precisely attuned to the student, gives a reflection that is not totally accurate, expresses an attitude that can be interpreted as not completely approving, or behaves in any way that could indicate even a slight lack of empathy. Sometimes it is a matter of saying or doing too much, sometimes too little. At this point in the student’s process, the vulnerability of the narcissistic structure is so near the surface that it is waiting for the slightest sign of narcissistic deprivation for it to explode into the scene, with all its painful and conflictual object relations.

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