It takes a lot of skill to nurture and care for our personal self without being confined by it. In a sense we need to have the right amount of “Me”— not too much and not too little.
The Problem of Too Much Me
You may think Too Much Me is primarily a problem of narcissists, although it goes far beyond that. But to pause there briefly, what we need to remember about narcissists is that beneath the narcissist’s need for adoration is a wounded, insecure self that doesn’t feel half as good about itself as first appears. It becomes an issue of Too Much Me because a healthy sense of self that could more easily “share the space” was never established.
I have also noticed (and experienced in myself) a self-absorption that results from trauma. In this case there is somewhat compulsive self-tending. Am I safe? What do I have to watch out for? Will my needs be met? Not just trauma per se, but any wobbly sense of self can lead to this self-tending.
There are also cultural factors affecting whole generations. There’s been a cultural shift away from community-mindedness toward just this kind of dedicated self-interest. “Generation Me”, the Millennials, have been taught to put their own needs first and to self-promote and feel confident. The “Me Generation,” the Baby Boomers, were also criticized for a Me-focus, stemming partially in reaction to the self-sacrifice and conventionality of the generation before them.
Then there is the fact that for nearly all of us, our habitual mind states tend to be self-absorbed. I was reading an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn in which he spoke eloquently about shifting out of this “always about me” personal narrative maintained by our thought stream to “a much more body-centered field of awareness that doesn’t have to have a narrative or doesn’t have to believe its own narrative or take it seriously.” Ah! Can you feel the spaciousness of that? A holiday from yourself! I’ll take two.
This desire to get out from under our rather suffocating self-concern fuels much spiritual practice. Untethered by self-tending, you can at last rest in the larger background awareness.
Learning to drop out of thinking mind and into this larger field of awareness is an important way to escape Me-preoccupation. There are other options as well. Focusing on someone else’s needs, for example, can give you a break from focusing on your own.
The Problem of Too Little Me
Of course if you become co-dependent, the balance gets lost in another way. You become over-focused on how someone important to you is feeling and don’t know what you want or feel.
Those who are numb and lack self-awareness also suffer from the problem of Too Little Me. Then the legitimate needs of the personal self don’t get attended to. And a fragmented sense of self without a definite and solid sense of Me makes it difficult to navigate in the world.
The Problem of the Wounded Me
Most of the problems with Too Much and Too Little Me revolve around a Wounded Me. We’re stuck monitoring Me because we haven’t known enough safety or had enough mirroring to feel comfortable in ourselves or we are so embarrassed by a deficient sense of Me that we would rather not be here.
I quite firmly believe it is easier to “flow beyond” a flexible, healthy sense of self than a personal self that is quite wounded. I was reminded of this in the past week working with a middle-aged man who had spent quite a long time sidestepping the personal Me and hanging out in a larger awareness where this Me was absent. Yet it was frustrating and inconvenient that his Wounded Me kept getting triggered by everyday life events. The wounded personal self doesn’t change by stepping out of it, only by stepping into it to help clear the imprints. Only then can it return to its original sky-like nature without getting jerked back by someone stepping on your psyche’s sore toe.
The Solution: A Healthy Me That Can Come & Go
A healthy sense of self is flexible and doesn’t need to hold onto itself. We have a personal narrative, but we’re not totally entranced by it. We have an ego self and an identity, but we are also free to drop them.
I’m teetering on the edge of a nuanced conversation about the nature of self (which I’ve written about elsewhere) and will instead return to the practical.
What You Can Do
I suggest you find the situation(s) closest to yours and do a little practice.
1. If you find yourself self-preoccupied, can you notice the gist of your worry (needing attention, approval, safety…) and hold the one who is so concerned?
2. If you tend toward Too Little Me, can you imagine holding the Me (often a smaller version of your current self) that gets “shorted” in terms of attention? Give it a little kiss.
3. If you’re flying around in the ethers, out beyond a personal self, can you take a moment to look back at how your personal self is doing? Is it healthy and relaxing or does it have a lot of “stuff” jammed up inside that could use some attention?
4. If your Me feels deeply wounded, can you give it some professional attention? You’d take your body to a healthcare practitioner; can you take this wounded self to a psychotherapist to help you get on better footing?
5. If your thought-stream is so ever-present that you hardly sense your body or your environment, how can you get more vacation time from the world inside your head?
6. If you identify with being caught in a generational surge of accomplishment, image management, and getting ahead, how can you broaden your sphere of concern beyond limited self-interest to include interests of others who live on a different part of the planet, are a different color, or are four-legged rather than two-legged?
What does your Me need in order to become healthier and better balanced?
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