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My Dysfunctional Relationship with the Self-Concept

CC Background
Table of Contents
The First Step - Acceptance
From There - A New Perspective
The Trip
Reflections
Around age 2, children begin to develop a sense of self, an integral part of their social-emotional development. Their self-concept grows as they learn more about themselves, build confidence, and begin completing tasks independently.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties. Always practice good set and setting when exploring any psychedelic compounds. We have a fantastic article looking into this subject you can read here.

The First Step - Acceptance

The last few days have been surreal.

For as long as I can remember, ever since I was a small child, I’ve had a relationship with myself that I would describe as uncaring at best and abusive at worst. At some point, when my self-concept was first emerging from the animal-like consciousness of a newborn, a core belief rooted in me that has fundamentally shaped my internal relationship with myself and, subsequently, my relationship with the external world.

The belief goes something like this:

“You’re not okay. You’re broken and unlovable”.

This maladaptive self-concept has resulted in myriad dysfunctional behaviours – people pleasing, neediness, addiction, compulsive escapism, lack of self-care and healthy boundaries, etc. The list goes on.

This problematic behaviour is something I’ve been aware of for several years and have been working to overcome. I’ve also come to understand that my core beliefs about myself are likely at the root of these issues. This negative self-regard is something I’ve been aware of and wanted to change, but rationalising these things can only help you locate the door; it doesn’t give you the key.

While meditating last weekend, I had a psychological and emotional breakthrough where I experienced a complete acceptance of myself. At that moment, I looked inwardly at myself, the whole maladapted mess, my walls of resistance melted away, and I accepted every single bit of it. I was even able to see a kind of beauty at the root of it all, despite all the layers of muck and grime that have built up over the years – a light was there, that was sort of me, and sort of something else, and it was valuable and beautiful.

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.” ― C.G. Jung

A surprising (to me, at least) secondary effect of this was that I was suddenly able to access my emotions – something that, except for fleeting moments, I’ve been unable to do for most of my adult life. I could suddenly empathise with my mother, father, brothers, sisters, nieces, friends, girlfriend, etc. I felt an overwhelming outpouring of emotion when I focussed my attention on any one of them. I could see the enormous weight on their shoulders, the same weight I carry – the isolation, the worry, anxiety, guilt, shame and fear. To an outside observer, perhaps I usually appear empathetic, but this outward appearance results from a rationalised empathy, not a felt experience. This was an experience of true empathy, and while painful, it was also incredibly life-affirming and meaningful.

From There - A New Perspective

In this state of acceptance, I could perceive a huge ocean of unprocessed emotions within myself to which I usually have no access. This ocean has been filled one drop at a time since my childhood, always reflexively suppressed and filed away, hidden from my conscious awareness. It immediately struck me as necessary to experience as much of this ocean as possible – to unburden my subconscious and lighten the load of my being. I have been numb for a very long time, which, in light of these events, seems to have been a response to how I’ve related to and treated myself since childhood. From this new place of self-acceptance, the obvious next step was to begin processing this previously inaccessible backlog of emotions.

“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate; it oppresses.” ― Carl Jung

I’ve been aware of the potential therapeutic benefits of LSD for a long time. Its ability to bring deep, usually inaccessible emotions to the surface, enabling you to process them, accept them, and move past them, is something I’ve been interested in and terrified of in equal measure. However, in the wake of this moment of self-acceptance, I finally felt ready to take the leap. I phoned my brother in tears (hopefully not freaking him out too much), explained what I had experienced as best I could, and told him of my intention to take LSD in an attempt to process these emotions. He wisely suggested that I don’t do this spontaneously, so I took his advice and waited until the next weekend when I made the following preparations.

My journal entry from the morning before the trip reads:

What are my intentions going into this trip?

Seek Truth.

Come from a place of love.

Accept myself and let go, surrender to the experience.

If faced with disturbing or troubling thoughts or experiences, I will reorient myself toward these concepts of truth, love, and acceptance.

I want to move towards my highest self. Self-love and acceptance are at the root of this problem for myself and everyone I love, and I now feel I must take this leap.

Once this is over, I will begin journaling regularly, tracking my habits, and microdosing LSD.

Nothing of value comes without risk.

I am willing to move toward the things that scare me most.

We began the trip shortly after this. I did my best to recount the experience in my journal in the days that followed.

Here is that journal entry.

The Trip

“Intellect takes you to the door, but it doesn’t take you into the house.” ― Shams-i Tabrizi

My girlfriend and I spent Saturday morning preparing for our trip. We were both expecting this to be a very intense experience and were uncertain if it were wise for both to trip at the same time, and discussed at length the possibility of one of us trip sitting for the other. However, my girlfriend wanted to trip with me, so this is what we settled on. In retrospect, I can now see the value of trip sitting and wouldn’t enter into another therapeutic LSD session without one of us being a sober, supportive “rock” for the other.

In preparation, we read some of the HANDBOOK FOR THE THERAPEUTIC USE OF LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE-25 on the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) website. This book describes commonly observed “levels” of experience in patients undergoing LSD therapy. The first four of which are categorised as “escape reactions”. These are commonly experienced types of resistance to the effects of the drug, and I recognised that my girlfriend and I would likely have to struggle with these to some extent. That being said, I knew that my levels of self-acceptance were high and that I was going into this with very clear intentions, so I felt confident I would be able to work through any resistance.

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” ― Carl Jung

We each took a single 225 mcg 1V-LSD pellet at around 1400 hrs. I put on the Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 1 on Spotify – a playlist developed for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for depression studies at Imperial College London. We both donned eye masks to obscure our visual field from distractions and focus our attention inwards. We lay down to meditate, and the effect of the drug slowly became apparent after around thirty minutes or so. I had mostly failed to meditate, as my head was swimming with the anticipation of the experience. Still, despite this, I felt very relaxed and ready to accept anything that presented itself. I regularly reoriented myself towards the three core concepts I had decided upon – truth, love and acceptance. 

However, as the trip began, the first visuals that emerged were a relentless slideshow of the most gruesome horror movie and semi-pornographic imagery. Buckets of bile, bodies being ground up, eyes gouged out, people fucking, fighting and killing, blood, vomit and piss. It was immediately distressing. However, it occurred to me that the dark parts of my subconscious (the Jungian shadow) could be unhappy with what I intended to do here, and so I made the decision to frame this visual experience as something like a temper tantrum by these darker aspects of my psyche. The accuracy of this framing is basically irrelevant; the important thing was that it gave me a conceptual framework in which I could accept the disturbing imagery while reorienting myself. I repeatedly said to the visions – okay, I accept you are there, but I choose to move towards the light of truth, love and acceptance.

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

As I moved through this unpleasant beginning, I became aware of my girlfriend becoming increasingly agitated. I had been anxious about us both tripping like this at the same time due to our intention to access our deepest, most painful hidden and suppressed emotions, and I was concerned about my ability to support her properly while tripping myself.

I went to her to make sure she was okay. My sense of accepting anything that came up remained strong, and I looked into her eyes, offering her reassurance and telling her that I loved her and that everything would be okay. Her eyes fluttered and breathed with spiralling geometry. I was acutely aware of the shifts in her mental state as her expression seemed to communicate each emotion in minute detail. I could see there was an intense internal battle taking place inside her. I began to make a joke of it – “Whatever it is that’s bouncing around your head right now, whatever the big mess of it is, the shame or regret or ugliness, it’s all okay. It’s literally okay. Relax. Breathe. Accept it. This is what our monkey brains do to us. It’s a big mess in there, and that’s okay. We all have it, it’s just how it is, and that’s okay”.

After a while we lay next to each other again, looking inwards, allowing the layers to peel back the way they seem to if you put your awareness on them for long enough. I quickly began to understand the wisdom of doing this with a trip sitter – or even alone, as there was a constant ebb and flow of tension between us as our awareness of and concern for one another interrupted our internal experiences. It was a self-defeating cycle for a while, with us pulling one another out of our experiences before we could go too deep. To be fair, I had no real idea of what my girlfriend’s internal experience was here, but my imaginings always pulled me towards wanting to be there for her, in case she was panicking or suffering in some unbearable way. The difficulty here is that, to a large extent, voluntarily moving towards our pain is exactly why we were here― to stay with it and experience it fully. But seeing her struggle and cry while I was tripping so hard was extremely difficult, so we pulled each other out of it repeatedly while trying our best to communicate and reassure one another.

“Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you. If you think ‘My life will be upside down’ don’t worry. ― Shams-i Tabrizi 

We were fully peaking now, and the entire room was vibrating with movement and energy. The space and every object in it breathed deeply, swelled and transformed in response to my internal thoughts and emotions. My brain would sometimes snap into negative habitual patterns – addictive, needy, anxious, etc., and my visual field would immediately respond with skittering geometric patterns and movements somehow echoing these dark and unpleasant thoughts. However, as I kept reorienting myself to my intentions of truth, love and acceptance, the room would brighten, colours become more vivid, and there would be a joyful and calm feeling to the space. I did my best not to fight or resist the negative thoughts and emotions when they came and went but simply acknowledged them and reoriented myself to my core intentions.

Over time I again became aware of how tense my girlfriend had become. She was pale and convulsing with tears streaming down her face. I felt acutely aware of the layers of negative self-belief and emotion tightly knotted inside her. I imagined her as a little girl, scared and alone, thrown into existence like all of us, who through the relentless march of her life has created a maladaptive self-concept to cope with her experiences. That this little girl had developed such negative self-regard instantly struck me as overwhelmingly sad. Such a kind, beautiful, and loving soul trapped in a perpetual state of self-criticism and dis-ease. The tears poured from my eyes as I have never experienced before. Every ounce of my being wished for her to untangle herself from the deep web of hurt and pain that her self-concept imposed on her. For her to accept herself, every last piece, as perfectly okay and for her to truly see and feel her beauty and value. I embraced her and we cried together for a while. I kept telling her I loved her and that it was okay. Whatever the mess was, it was okay.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ― Rumi

We were both aware of how we were pulling each other out of our experiences, and my girlfriend began to say she was concerned she was being a burden to me and preventing me from getting what I needed from the experience. I reassured her that she was no more a burden than anyone I love and that it was better to love and carry a burden than not to love at all. She said she wanted to go upstairs to our bedroom for a while, so we could both be alone to move deeper into ourselves. I agreed after reiterating multiple times that she could come down at any moment she felt the need. She left the room, and my heart ached as I longed for her to dig deep enough to find freedom and acceptance of herself.

Suddenly, quite automatically, I said to myself the same words I had been repeating to her. “I love you, it’s okay”. As I directed that emotion towards myself, it felt as though a small child inside me broke down. I repeated it again, directing it at myself, almost feeling as though it was coming from an outside perspective, and my inner child cried and cried. Part of me had really, really needed to hear that, and feel that, from myself. This was the first time I have ever been kind or spoken lovingly towards myself, and the feeling was overwhelming. It felt as though a floodgate had opened. I collapsed onto the couch into the fetal position and hugged myself, repeating it back again and again. I had never realised how alone and desolate it had been for me, to never hear an encouraging, positive or reassuring word. To have lived with myself for so long with nothing but harsh, uncaring words and derision.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ― Buddha

After several minutes of this, I began to consider my family and friends who share this burden of negative self-regard. My heart ached, and the tears continued to pour down my face as I thought about them one by one. My brother – one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, carrying so many burdens through childhood, growing into a strong, brave and incredibly capable man, who is full of love and understanding for everyone in his life except himself, who he is relentlessly harsh and critical of. The thought of his inner child, scared and alone, desperately needing a supportive and caring word, bludgeoned into numbness and dissociation, just like myself. I went through my family and friends one by one, considering each of them that might have this kind of negative relationship with themselves. I am quite confident that almost everyone in my family, and the vast majority of my friends, are also stuck in this state. I now wish more than almost anything for them to free themselves of it. They are each wonderful and valuable human beings who spend so much energy supporting the people around them – they truly deserve to turn some of that kindness towards themselves.

Around this time the doorbell rang, and I was aware of a man peering through the blinds of the window right next to me. I had a moment of discomfort before relaxing into it and feeling there was no shame whatsoever in my current state. So I went to the front door and opened it – a very friendly-looking man (with pretty wild geometric patterns skittering all over his face) handed me a set of new paper coffee filters for our AeroPress coffee machine. What a nice man to bring us filters so we could have coffee again! I gave him a big smile and thanked him. He looked slightly concerned – my face was dripping with tears and I must have looked pretty weird. Nevertheless, he nodded at me and smiled back. I went back inside and lay on the couch, toying with this very new and unfamiliar idea of being kind to myself. 

“Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.” ― Buddha

Reflections

I spent the remainder of the trip supporting my girlfriend to the best of my ability. I don’t feel I should go into much more detail here, as it is her experience to share if she wishes to. She has given me permission to discuss the events of that day here, but I still feel I should not disclose more than necessary to share my side of this experience with enough context for it to make sense.

It’s been a few days since this trip, and I still feel like I’m in a mild state of shock. I should be clear; this has by no means solved all of my problems. Far from it – I still have the same brain with the same habits and potential for negative self-talk. There has been a small but quite fundamental shift, however, and I am able to gently remind myself that I am on my side and to offer a kind word in response to harsh criticism. I’ve been finding it easier to focus on work. Cooking, cleaning and tidying the house have been less of a chore. I now want to eat healthy food, get good sleep and exercise so my body can be strong and healthy. To what extent this will continue is yet to be seen, but I’m feeling more hopeful and positive about my life now than ever before. Given the state of the world and the mess inside my head, I never would have thought it possible.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” ― Rumi

Finn Mertens | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective

Finn is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at matt@chemical-collective.com

9 Comments

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  2. Great article. I’ve been keen to begin a similar journey. The first step always seems the hardest to take. I’ve been avoiding it for years actually. Reading this has definitely given me reassurance that it’s possible, no matter how deep rooted, you can help yourself out of the dark cycle we have tormented ourselves with for most of our lives.
    Keep us updated of your progress, look forward to it.

    1. Thank you mate, I really appreciate the feedback. I had been avoiding this for years as well. It’s hard to overstate how much the prospect of it terrified me. I’m really happy to hear this experience has given you some reassurance. Yes, absolutely, we can all overcome these cycles! Best of luck to you in your own journey my friend.

  3. This is what it is all about. How incredibly beautiful and inspiring it is to hear your story. Our inner child needs the love that it has forgotten. These experiences teach us to remember what we forgot; that we are worthy of love, and acceptance of the highs and lows and that we are all walking each other home. Kindness, love and acceptance is the answer to these questions. Also the understanding that life is happening for us and not to us. Beautifully said.

    1. I was unsure to publish this at all because it is so personal, but these responses have been very reassuring that it is worthwhile to put it out there. Thank you for such lovely feedback, I really appreciate it! ❤️

  4. What an amazing story! And so beautifully written. I must admit I had a few tears in my eyes. I wish you all the best; love, kindness, insight/truth and FUN 🙂

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