When I first read about British child analyst D. W. Winnicott comparing each one of us to a bubble, I became very excited. Here was a psychologist writing in 1955 using terms that described our energy field and how it operates and is affected. Referring to our early childhood experiences, he says if the pressure from outside of us adapts to the pressure within, then the bubble is the significant thing for the infant self. If, however, the environmental pressure is greater or less than the pressure within the bubble, then it is not the bubble (the infant) that is important but the environment, and the infant has to adapt to the outside pressure.
Winnicott goes on to explain, if a young child has too much to deal with, then she is forced into a reactive mode that removes her from her own experience, forcing her to cope prematurely with the needs of another. This interrupts the child’s own continuity, producing gaps or breaks that Winnicott calls “threats of annihilation.” The result is a disruption in the flow of the child’s authentic self , what he calls “going on being” and the child develops a caretaker self that responds to the needs of the parent. Instead of being free to have his own experience, his self-awareness, spontaneity and self-discovery is given over to reading the surroundings for signs of how he is supposed to be. He becomes good at figuring out what is expected of him, reading the environment for clues, but he has trouble staying with his own experiences.
I remember a healer once saying to me rather bluntly that I was like an empty house with vagrants that had moved in. I remember flinching at his words, feeling completely bewildered and dismayed. After a few moments I managed to question him, “Vagrants?” He replied simply that that is what happens when houses are abandoned, others move in. Years later I understand his analogy was a way of describing the disruption of my own going on being. Instead of my thoughts and awareness’s, I was allowing other’s thoughts and ideas to intrude and impinge upon my own sense of self. From my disrupted bubble of awareness, I had learned to be attuned to others and their needs and desires, at the expense of my own. What I wasn’t able to understand for several years was how early in life the abandonment of myself had occurred.
Another consequence of this disruption of being is that the infant ego, in trying to understand and manage this experience sees it as a choice of either being “something” or “nothing”. What happens when we think we are somebody is we react in one way and when we think we are nobody we react another way. This disturbed ego gets in our own way, interfering with healthy contact, leaving us feeling inadequate and unsure. When we understand the origins of these feelings of lack, they can actually become windows into our lost potential.
In my undergraduate days as a student at Barbara Brennan School of Healing, I often saw and felt this duality as my fellow classmates and I struggled with the painful images that we were either somebody or nobody. The consequences of thinking we are nobody is that we annihilate ourselves and thinking we are somebody energetically kills others off.
This tendency to see ourselves as either great or utterly worthless, needs to be addressed in order for our spirit to become free to allow our authentic self to shine through. Our freedom depends on awareness but awareness can be cultivated, and it can be used to examine both our feelings of nothingness and our grasping to be somebody.
When we learn to retrain the patterns of response and reactivity that we learned so early in life, we find a middle way where we can use our spontaneous being-in-the-moment to recover our true capacity for being. We begin to take possession of ourselves, to inhabit our energetic body, our bubble, not through identification with being somebody or nobody but through acceptance of who we are right now. Instead of reading the environment for signs of how we are supposed to be, we begin to be ourselves. We stop identifying with the gaps and holes that disrupted our ‘going on being’ and start to dwell in our own awareness’s; we learn to be ourselves. When we are attuned to our own awareness’s we become free to discover ourselves anew as life unfolds moment by moment. And, as in my own personal case, we can finally move in and inhabit our own home.