What does it mean to live our lives authentically?
How does self-empowerment help us lead an authentic life?
Christine (Chris) Vargo, LCSW shares her journey towards self-empowerment and how this process, both personally and professionally has led her to find what effectively helps others to access more of their authentic self.
I started my own path to empowerment and living a more authentic life after several experiences forced me to reflect on my own contribution to my increasing unhappiness. I had been fired from a job in the last trimester of my pregnancy, struggled with postpartum depression, and was not getting my needs met in my marriage. I slowly started to realize how much of myself I had lost; in short, I was feeling disempowered and fell into the rabbit hole of low self-esteem and insecurities about who I was or what I wanted. When I think of empowering the self, I imagine having the autonomy to make small decisions, i.e. choosing what to eat for dinner, to deciding larger life decisions like when to buy a home. When someone feels empowered in their daily lives, they begin to strengthen their own capacity for self-awareness, which creates the space s/he needs to make life decisions with mindfulness, intention and from a place of self-trust and authenticity. Author and Social Worker, Brené Brown, PhD defines authenticity as “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” This practice resonates with me deeply as I strive to live each day from an empowered and authentic place.
After deciding to return to clinical work, I interviewed to be a clinical support person for a weight loss group. This is when I first heard of Gestalt therapy. Within two weeks I began post-graduate training at the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training. Gestalt therapy utilizes an embodied therapeutic approach that incorporates experiments to integrate the mind, body, and spirit to enhance a client’s awareness of the self. Participating in this intense, three-year program afforded me the opportunity to realize the patterns, or defenses that I had developed throughout my life to avoid conflict, discomfort, and the experience of my own negative emotions or the negative emotions of others. I had become accustomed to subconsciously manipulating my experiences to minimize conflict in my relationships. I became aware of my own defenses, referred to in Gestalt therapy as creative adjustments, developed in childhood. The work in my training and in my own therapeutic process began to shine a light on my history of struggling in romantic relationships, friendships with poor or limited boundaries, my propensity for passive aggressive behavior and indirect communication skills. I realized I had abandoned myself in the process of subconsciously trying to protect myself from pain. In her book, Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle describes her experience of self-protection as showing up as her “representative,” which was a version of herself that did what was needed to fit in and avoid the vulnerability of the pain she felt throughout her life. I relate to this analogy because I hid inside the shame of my past within my friendships, my family relationships, and my marriage and even within my developing relationships with my children. Through the intense work of the Gestalt program, along with my ongoing and ever evolving learning from the vast and valuable research of Dr’s. Brene’ Brown (The Power of Vulnerability), Daniel Siegel and Bessel van der Kolk, I was required to uncover and process my deepest secrets, insecurities and patterns. This was extremely intense, difficult, painful, and necessary for my overall health and well-being, both as a human and as a requirement for me to be able to witness and support my clients within the therapeutic relationship. It is with this experience and my own personal growth and self-awareness, that I recently created the group, Self- Empowerment & Authenticity: Finding Creative Pathways Through Protective Defenses at Present Moment Psychotherapy.
In my clinical work as a therapist, a parallel process is occurring with my clients as we start to uncover the patterns and creative adjustments no longer serving my clients. We work to identify when they had traded their authentic selves for safety. Seeking therapy for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief, my clients and I began working to integrate a daily practice of self-care, mindfulness, somatic awareness of feelings, and self-compassion over judgment. As a result of their work in sessions, my clients often report their individual sessions are proving to be impactful and beneficial for their overall well-being. As one client reported to me recently, “I want to take a moment to acknowledge how your approach and curiosity as my therapist has challenged me to own my actions and question how I am participating in my life experiences.”
I believe the most important and the most difficult actions humans can take is to give themselves the time to develop self-awareness and the capacity to reflect on their own behaviors. My goal is to create groups that are a community that facilitate learning and support for members to find their individual voice. This creation of vulnerable, supportive community also inspires the collective voice of the authenticity and self-empowerment, which is greatly needed both within us, and in the world.
“For more information on Chris and her Self- Empowerment & Authenticity: Finding Creative Pathways Through Protective Defenses click here“