7/19/21: New YouTube video:
The story behind the video:
In my house, we listen to the Frozen 2 soundtrack a lot. Our favorite song is “Show Yourself.” The first time I heard it, I cried. I cried with the instant realization of my entire life’s purpose. Not exaggerating — in that moment, my whole world made sense. I am here to facilitate my child’s self-actualization, a role I am uniquely equipped to do. And in that moment, I actually had the surreal thought that I actually knew how I might do it.
“Why are you crying?” my 4 year old asked.
“Because this song is so very sad, and so very amazing all at once.”
“Why is it sad?”
“Because Elsa made it all the way to being a grown-up without knowing who her True Self was. She always had to wear her gloves and hide her true self, and pretend she didn’t have her powers. Her parents thought they were keeping her safe by making her hide her true self, but really it ended up making Elsa feel really confused and lonely and overwhelmed. But now she’s discovering her True Self, and now she can live happily ever after.”
“Yay Elsa! But wait… what’s a True Self?”
Some brains naturally on their own discover vague abstract things about life. Some brains benefit from deliberate instruction. Some brains do something in between. Some brains grow up fully confident and self-assured. Some brains superficially “know” a version of themselves, but then become easily persuaded by peers/society to act opposite and then overall kind-of lose track of which version they are/should be. Some brains cover up their true selves as a survival strategy, as a consequence of being “othered” in a world that invalidates them. Those brains end up as the kids, teens, and adults in my office who are so profoundly struggling and need a lot of support to discover, or re-discover, their True Selves. So while there is much I cannot control in this world, I was determined to give it a go to prevent my sweet little love from this fate.
My son and I both like “systems.” When I preparing to present a system to him, I usually first begin by “squirrelling” — gathering all the “acorns” of information out there in the e-universe, so that my system represents all available information. So I read a ton. I read everything I could get my hands on about theories of the (neurotypically biased) development of “self” in childhood. I then read about self-concept/identity formation vs. disruption for non-neurotypical brains. It was important to me to build a system that could try to be inclusive of all brains. Something simple that might be useful to my son, my patients, anyone looking for a little structure. It’s nothing fancy, but here’s what I synthesized:
True Self, as presented to a 4 year old:
- What do I like?
- What do I dislike?
- How/what do I play?
- Where do I belong?
- With whom do I belong?
Likes/dislikes seem straight-forward, but not necessarily. These can vary dependent on context — i.e., I like broccoli but only when it’s roasted; I like green tea but only when I haven’t already had 2 cups of coffee. Play — an individual brain’s pursuit of joy: what types? what themes? what settings? what styles? (i.e., some brains prefer “side by side” or parallel play throughout their lifespan — it’s a total myth that these play stages are hierarchical and get “aged out of”). We talk a lot about “belonging” and “connection” in my house. Attachment/connection with people and places are part of our sense of self — because when we are in settings and with people where we feel comfortable/safe, the way we think / play / communicate is much more likely to be authentic.
Sounds intense for a 4 year old. Maybe. But for this 4 year old, it worked perfectly. We introduced the concept by interviewing all the Disney princesses (here’s part 1: Ariel) about their True Selves, then a few months later expanded to talk about ourselves. With so much of parenting far from straightforward, it’s humbling how intuitive some things actually are sometimes…