In my previous post, I explored how purpose and wholeness are related. Living a purposeful life involves living in integrity. Increasing wholeness means becoming less fragmented, which means doing shadow work to integrate your unruly parts. But why are these parts sabotaging you in the first place?
We start out our lives being completely vulnerable. As young children, we’re completely dependent on our caretakers for our survival. We would simply not be able to make it if we were to be abandoned at that age, so we unconsciously develop a persona that does everything it can to ensure our membership in the tribe.
This persona consists of a fragmented collection of subpersonalities. Each of these try to numb our anxiety, shame, and anger in scripted ways. They tend to seek comfort and the satisfaction of our basic needs. While that can be useful in itself, it often relies on attempts to control others, and to control how other people see us.
In Latin, ‘persona’ means mask, or character in a play. Our persona masks our true nature in an attempt to adapt to our environment and protect us from our vulnerability. It is therefore both a mask and a protective armour.
In adulthood, when we become powerful enough to maintain healthy boundaries, this armour has outlived its usefulness. More than that, it gets in the way of living a purposeful life. Having the persona in place has several consequences:
When showing up as we truly are, and become vulnerable, our persona kicks into high gear as it is programmed to protect us from feeling shame and fear of rejection. This feels highly uncomfortable.
Our defences operate continuously, and keeping our armour up consumes a lot of our energy.
The processes that make up the persona now become patterns of sabotage, and form the primary obstacle in our pursuit of purpose.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
— Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
The word ‘vulnerable’ comes from Latin vulnerabilis, meaning ‘wounding’. Being vulnerable means being willing to get hurt, to take the risk of getting injured, facing uncertainty, or incurring a loss. Being adults means that we are strong enough to take a hit every now and then, knowing that that doesn’t kill us. It takes courage to show up and be seen, and to embrace imperfection.
We were all wounded in some way early on in life. Our persona functions to prevent us from getting wounded again in the same way, because of an unconscious belief that we could be annihilated if it happened again. While this might have been true for the child, it is not true for the adult.
This is why our defences kick into high gear when set out to lead a purposeful life. It’s why we need to embrace discomfort to grow into our true selves.
Embracing integrity means taking responsibility for doing our own shadow work, instead of blaming those who have wounded us. Our caretakers usually did the best they could.
Practicing vulnerability and integrity brings you closer to your own center, which is where your power is. It’s about learning from failure, never about perfection. It’s a step-by-step process, and each step requires the courage to deal with the emotional discomfort.
Guess that’s why they call it the Hero’s Journey.