The Power of Wholeness

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness week, I wanted to share some thinking.  It comes from the sense of difficulty I see clients facing, a way of thinking and an approach that has helped people I work with as well as myself.

Life can be tough, and it sometimes feels overwhelming.  The research is clear; the pace, complexity, uncertainty and challenges we face now, are set to increase.  This can be incredibly difficult at times – leading us to feel stuck; we may end up backing out of the opportunities we desire or creating conflict and difficulty that thwarts our success.

Several things happen when we face pressure, most of it under the surface.  The difficulty shows up in our behaviours and responses; and it exacerbates the discomfort that occurs beneath our consciousness, leading us to feelings such as anxiety, being conflicted, angry or confused.

The role of ego

Ego is the Latin for ‘I’, and you can find many descriptions for what it is. Often thought of as the drive we have to be front and centre – to be noticed, heard or achieve recognition, leading us to act in certain ways.  Carl Jung saw the ego as the thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The ego is largely responsible for feelings of identity and continuity.

The drivers of our ego occur mostly below our level of consciousness.  It’s derived from our needs, beliefs and values; the stories we hold. Psychologists understand that when we are born, we do not have an ego as such.  The way a baby experiences the world is free of judgment and interpretation.  Babies see things for what they are, with great presence and mindfulness.  In this way, their ego is unformed, and this is when we were at our most whole.

It was the gaps in our care that formed our ego, our painful experiences created the need to impress, shy away or attack situations.  In part formed to protect the needs humans have to belong, feel safe and keep their dignity.  Our experiences have taught us the patterns that we come to embody and carry forward into our lives, forming our behaviours and thinking.

The ranges of experiences that generate ego responses are immense: being the last one to be picked for a sports team, unavailable or overinvolved parents, or being humiliated by a teacher’s comment could do it…  Many are well understood – middle child syndrome, the responsibility placed on the eldest; or the clown-like fights to get noticed of the youngest child, are just some examples that inform the people we are to become.

Ego’s impact

All these experiences form a felt sense, around where we feel safe, who we are, and how we identify ourselves alongside our peers and in society.  The psychologist Eric Berne said that we have formed the story of our identity and its worth by the age of eight.

Our ego plays a significant role in driving our needs too.  We may have needs around respect, being listened to, affection or being in control. Often these needs are the antithesis of the situations that created our layers of ego.

Our ego develops, wrapping itself around the sense of ‘wholeness’ we once had, creating counteractions; casting a shadow.  Unchecked, it covers up our true sense of self, detracting from our balanced and healthy level of belief (creating over or under confidence) in ourselves.  We encounter egos every day of our lives, those that cannot be wrong, those that always believe they are wrong, those that need to please or don’t wish to please at all; who fail to complete for fear of making a mistake or drive through others at their expense to be a standout success.

Ego and presence

Our egos inform how we create presence. How we carry ourselves; respond, approach and engage with others.  The decisions we make, the way we think about a problem and the choices we think are available to us.  Science now shows that we hold and carry memories of our past in our bodies, as well as our brains.  Making Albert Mehrabian communication pie all the more powerful, with 55% of communication happening through visual stimuli.  We embody our unconscious memories in powerful ways. As a result, others sense our internal belief systems and respond accordingly.

Get to know your ego

In my coaching journey, I came across the ‘whole person approach’, and it resonated with me, but it wasn’t something that I fully understood at the time.  Initially, without seeing my own ‘wholeness’, it was a concept beyond my thinking and development level.  For some, these words will not connect, but if you can recognise the challenge and discomfort I’m talking about, I would encourage you to read on.

There is a strong relationship between our wholeness and our ego; a crucial link is our ‘shadow side’.

Shadow Side: “The ‘shadow’ is the side of your personality that contains all the parts of yourself that you don’t want to admit to having. It is at first, an unconscious side. It is only through effort to become self-aware that we recognise our shadow. Although many infer the shadow is ‘negative’, this is not true.”

Without awareness, your shadow means that much of the way you operate is below your level of consciousness. Developing awareness of your shadow brings an understanding of your needs, how you see the world, and what drives you.  And with this the opportunity to work with, release and also accept yourself and what challenges you.  Awareness is curative!

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side, if I am to be whole.”  Carl Jung

The use of whole person coaching helps you see yourself more truly.  In working this way, you see the moment you retract yourself and your ego unfolds. With practice, you can reduce your potential to fold inwards on yourself, to have an internal collapse in which you lose your potential.  It enables you to see your strengths and weaknesses and with perspective make choices.  Your light and shadow sides create the power you have to move forward and redevelop a secure identity and acceptance.

Without work

Without wholeness, you get stuck in patterns.  Your shadow side of needs, ego, beliefs unmanaged grows in power, particularly in difficult times. Times that as we already know are becoming more common. You risk becoming the leader who loses it with their staff.   Leadership is a dangerous role when no one can tell you when you have a terrible idea, for fear of the reprisal arising from an unconscious or unmet need.

Without wholeness, you limit your potential; not understanding your actions limits your choices.  When you have unresolved issues, they grow; they show up in your patterns, triggered by deep-seated memories.  When the same old stuff keeps happening to you; it’s a sign that you have a destructive pattern seeking your attention.

Respond V react

When you maintain your sense of wholeness, you see others actions as theirs, resulting from their world.  You respond from a place of wholeness and no longer personalise or catastrophise events.  In a state of wholeness, you believe you are enough.  The jagged edges of your ego are smoothed and with a deeper understanding of yourself, you can catch and evaluate your responses.  You stay present and can become grounded.  When challenged, you can think more clearly and under pressure, you work with others in a connected way, rather than alongside driven by unconscious needs.

To conclude…

We have the potential to write our own stories. However, the pressure and complexity of life can tie us up in knots. We live in a time with incredible opportunities for success.  BUT we are also living with the increasing pressure of a world at a breaking point.

Humanity needs love, respect and vulnerability – people are continually fighting for growth, wellbeing and opportunity. As individuals, we each need to change the lens in which we see our lives and ourselves to achieve our deeply held intentions.  It is no longer about black and white, but about grey, and in grey we have to be open and accepting of others. And while this is incredibly challenging, it holds immense opportunity…

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Jemma Barton.
Director & Coach