Article: Georgios Fragakis
Psychologist – Person-centered Psychotherapist
Translation: Elena Tsirigoti
Our strongest need as people is that to connect to others. The phrase ‘it takes two to tango’ comes to mind. Like you are in a narrow confined space and you let your body touch someone else’s, to feel it, to travel it, to listen and reshape it. In other words you want to move from your ‘me’ space into the boundary of ‘you’. How simple is such an approach though?
As we stand opposite each other, observing one another, one’s gaze, body posture and expression, we feel the inner need to approach them, to invite them to dance a different kind of dance with us… A lot of the time though, something strange occurs inside us. Like an invisible figure that takes over with audacity and immobilises us, stopping us from taking the necessary steps, it comes between and distances us. What is our relationship with that figure, which influences us so much and what does it really ‘want’? Does it want to ‘dance’ or does it fill our road to someone else with obstacles?
Our self-image, to a large extent, is created not by ourselves, but by the people around us. In an attempt to be accepted and positively regarded, we either distort or almost completely deny our inner being. People do not learn to listen to themselves, to see what they need from their environment, but we accept whatever is implanted as a feeling or opinion from elsewhere. In that way we are cut off from all interactions with our inner world, we stop listening to our bodies and our visceral experiences. The need for positive recognition and acceptance is so strong that it counteracts any inner sensation. Sometimes though, as if from a colosseum of deserted selves, needs and wants, the deserted parts of ourselves disappointedly come to the surface to remind us that they are always a part of us.
Sooner or later people get tired of playing conventional roles which are beneath them. They start to realize the incongruence between what they feel and what they are seen to be feeling. The realization slowly drives them to the conclusion that for one to have meaningful contact with another, they must first find the way to be ‘in-contact’ with themselves. This process is like going on a trip in my eyes. A trip that starts with seeing me in the now, but as living in the ‘then’; the moment I became my authentic self. What does it mean though to be authentic to one’s self?
Carl Rogers (2006) defines authenticity as one’s need to come into contact with another as a ‘face’ and not a ‘mask’. This unfolding begins when one truthfully and fairly encounters all of his pieces and deciphers what he sees and hears from them. When my feelings or the attitude I have are recognized by who I am today, then surely I will become whatever I am, allowing who I was to search for the truth inside me, opening up and seeing my own experience. I am no longer threatened by other beings and I am not scared of losing myself. This is the only way the trust between someone else and I will become strong. When I allow myself to be open to all my experiences, this means I will be open to all my vulnerable parts and when I recognize my neglected parts, I can then accept someone as they are, without trying to change them or alter their perception of reality. After all, one who allows himself to be creased learns to be whole at the same time.
Is authenticity enough though? Maybe. Sometimes it may need a co-pilot and I have often observed that that is self-acceptance. Through self-acceptance one can re-determine their values, which have burdened and misguided them through deeper, inner cohesion. By self-acceptance I don’t mean approval or agreement with imperative needs of the past. I mean creating an environment of trust between the parts of me and I, so as to explore, safely from now on, ever more sides of myself without having the need to defend myself. This leads a person to slowly embrace, accept and embody all his experiences in his present self-image. Nevertheless, acceptance for someone else begins with wholeheartedly accepting oneself. It is through authenticity and self-acceptance, through knowing one’s biases and values, that we become accepting towards all of our parts. That way we are not in danger of losing oneself or being confused when faced with behaviours that bring out our weaknesses or differentiate from the pattern of our lives.
Self-acceptance enhances my attitude towards me. It helps me remain open to seeing and listening to all that happens inside me. In other words, it helps me trust myself and stops me from trying to steer myself where I think is best. Nor does it allow me to judge my behaviour based on what others have taught me, but I let myself, as a whole, be heard and flow throughout my life. When I accept my parts I show trust in the abilities my self has to develop, progress and move towards becoming whole as a person.
Through authenticity and accepting all of our parts of ourselves we can leave the past to rest safely and for the first time recognize where we stand, and where someone else I want to come into contact does. To stand complete, so as to comprehend what they say, to be empathetic towards them. Because it is only when one knows how to stand in their own shoes that they can experience other’s feelings, thoughts and experiences.
It is in that way that I understand that for me, a first encounter is when I bow carefully and with understanding to whatever is unfolding inside me. When I appreciate myself as a whole experience that needs me to be present and open to understanding my emotions. To behave with empathy, is a distinct quality, that each time is redefined firstly by my idiosyncrasy and secondly from my contact with others. That is the only way I can go through life with trust in my abilities. To stand next to myself as a trustworthy companion, that is constantly helping me understand my experiences. The times that I embrace the parts of myself with authenticity, acceptance, empathy and care, are the times that I am able to be embraced by others.
Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable