Question: When we do deep feeling oriented therapy, I have the fear that we will somehow lose our identity and become someone else. Have you found this to be true?


by Paul Vereshack M.D.
(Notwithstanding his M.D. Dr. Vereshack is not a licensed physician)

Answer: When we speak of "identity", I think different people see it as different things.

First, lets talk about identity as personality. Personality could be thought of as a set of processes that allow us to handle our world, the one out there, and also the processes we use to handle our inner life.

For example, if I am a charming person, that process allows me to draw others to me and allows me to convince them to do and be what I want them to do and be. It brings me friends and smooths my way through life.

In addition to personal traits such as charm, there is a whole system of beliefs within us that underlies those traits and supports them. For instance, if we have been raised in the North American belief that what we acquire in life gives us worth, then charm becomes valuable and we are pleased to have it as part of our "identity".

The same could be said for many of our personal traits, namely that they are skills we have acquired to bring us the material success and the love we wish for. Whether we are capable or incapable, most of us come to think of our identity as the sum total of all our personality traits, and the beliefs that support them.

In addition to all this, how we defend against the deeper things within us, that cause pain, also requires a set of processes and beliefs. For instance, if I have been molested in childhood I may avoid sexual things later in life. I may become someone who crusades against sex on TV and thus a hidden early hurt will set up a belief system and that in turn will cause us to behave in a certain way. Much of what we believe and how we are in the world is determined by processes within us which are hidden from our conscious awareness. Many people would derive their sense of identity and hence their self worth from these processes.

Now other people would say that our identity is more than the sum of our defenses and personality skills. They would say that under all these things there lies an essence or spiritual existence which is eternal and in the psychological sense, if we use one plane to refer to another, in the psychological sense, they would say that this essence is pure, uncontaminated, and separate from the devices that we use to gain our way in the world.

It is a belief of mine that while this spiritual picture may be true, most people consciously create this belief in order to avoid their pain and the low self esteem which follows from it. Thus, sadly, their spirituality is itself a defense.

When we do deep feeling work, the hidden processes within us come forward into our conscious awareness, and are greatly moderated in their effect upon our personality.

Thus we may come to see how our charm, has been a defense against a deep seated belief that we are not really wanted, since for instance we may face and work through the fact that our own parents didn't really want us. Now as we deepen in our growth and become less terrifeid that no one can love us, we may find our charm becoming less and less necessary. We may come to see that our charm which we so highly valued in our pre therapy life, is in fact quite dishonest. Seeing this we may drop it from our personality style to a great extent.

Thus our so called "identity" starts to change along many different paths. As we move in the direction of greater integrity, people may say that we are not as "nice" as we used to be, and they will lament that our identity has changed for the worse. Deep inside ourselves however we will feel better and better about who we are.

The fear that we will lose our identity and become something else, is I think partly our fear that we may lose our ability to get the love we want. We fear that if we give up who we are, we will die helpless and alone. It is in that sense an "ego" oriented fear.

It doesn't occur to many people that in fact what they will lose is a false set of values, based upon a dishonest attempt to get the love they were denied in the first place by their parents. They don't know that they live dishonestly. They have no idea that the house of cards they have built themselves can be replaced with something that they will come to value infinitely more. They will no longer have to live in terror.

Now unfortunately, living in an essentially dishonest culture as we do, what all this means is that the man or woman with a new level of integrity, may be more and more at odds with their world, their families and their friends. This will then give rise to changes all through their lives which will not be easy.

For myself, if I have to be in pain in my life, I would rather it be the pain of becoming honest than the pain of being a "lost" person in a lost world.

The pain of becoming honest carries a kind of hope, a kind of cleaness of "spirit", which makes the journey very worthwhile.

And speaking of "spirit" or "essence", as we heal and become more whole I have found in myself and in my clients a new kind of connectedness to Universal Processes. This new "spirituality" feels grounded to me in ways that pretherapy spirituality simply does not. There is all the difference in the world between spirituality as a defense, and sprituality as a bipoduct of increasing personal depth.

For me one is believable. The other is not.

So to return to the question; Do we lose our identity by doing deep feeling oriented therapy........

I certainly hope so.

Paul Vereshack M.D.

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