Just to clear up an important point, by divided I don’t mean those mental agonies that gets whacked with labels beginning with bi-, split-, schiz- or borderline-something-or-other.
I want to look at another divide that can and does happen deep within our core.
We all have a greater vision of ourselves, the one that most of us are too wary to voice because we’re afraid that it will sound too showy-off—a case of inflated magical thinking. And this is not the version of ourselves that’s about fame, fortune or power—the ones about starting the unstartable start-up, or running a town, a state, or a country. It is not the ambition to be regarded as the greatest of your generation, the brightest, the best, the richest, fastest, sexiest, kindest, prettiest, or even the meanest or cruellest.
It isn’t any of these.
This is the version of ourselves that stems from the core beliefs that we hold, the integrity that resides far enough inside that sometimes we forget that it is even there. These are internalised convictions. Some of them may have been inherited or, by contrast, formed in reaction to the belief systems or religion that we were born into. Others may have formed slowly, little by little through study or practice, by seeking out something that gave us a sense of meaning or purpose. Some may have been fire-branded into us in a single moment, a lightening strike of truth experienced in the face of death, violence, birth, joy, or sadness. Whatever the route to these beliefs that are, in their very essence, our very personal sense of what is right, and what is wrong.
That is the centre of self that I am trying to describe, the one that is our ethical foundation. It is that ‘still small voice’ that tries to speak to us when we know we are about to do something that we do not believe in, that we know is wrong, and yet we justify it. We tell ourselves that we have no choice; that we will lose our job, our relationship, or our position in society, if we do not do this thing that the core of us knows is wrong. It is the same quiet voice that also tells us the right thing to do, and yet we ignore it, or override it with the loud noise of justification.
This separation from the self has the capacity to destroy us. Sometimes it happens slowly, one small transgression against self at a time. Or it can happen in a second of fractured time—a trigger pulled, a button pressed, a sentence yelled, a dream crushed, love trampled, innocence destroyed.
The greater the separation, the harder the journey is back to the self.
If it’s been just a few mean things said to friend in a moment of jealousy, then it’s not that hard to fold up the ego and apologise, with that true sense of ‘I am sorry’. But if the divorce from the ethical core has been huge, played out from a position of power, one from which lives were destroyed, the deaths of countless and faceless people ordered or enacted, how can any human being find their way back from that? Is redemption possible, as in a return to an earlier sense of self, the one that once had a cleaner understanding of what was right and where wrong began?
To strip this right back: if we do things that we know are wrong, and contrary to what we believe in, we lose ourselves.
Once we are beginning to get lost it takes a very particular kind of courage to face the truth of this.
And with this realisation comes another moment of bravery, the one when we reach out for help because we know that we are lost and we’re not sure if we can find the way back alone.
All of this runs into the dangerous territory of sounding preachy. It is not intended to be.
Within my own experience and work this just keeps leaping out as a major aspect of mental health that is rarely talked about. I’m not sure if, in part, this might be because it is a form of hard won empowerment—that of taking personal responsibility. This is something that can fly in the face of the prescription pad and indeed some of the mainstream therapeutic methods. I just do not really see that any therapeutic healing and recovery journey can be made without this link back to our inner value system and sense of purpose.
With it comes an aspect of control and responsibility for our own lives, and so of course it is something that I champion.