An excerpt from The Relationship Handbook by Shakti Gawain
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, my books were selling well and I was getting to be very well known. I traveled all over the world speaking, teaching, and leading workshops. I loved it. I had great passion for my work and found working with my students and clients very rewarding. Unfortunately, my work also consumed my life. Too much of my awareness was centered on, connected to, or based in my work, and I started to sense a great imbalance in my life.
My personal life had taken a backseat to my professional life. I was having difficulties with my romantic relationships in particular; I found that difficult patterns were increasingly repeating themselves in those relationships. This became a painful process for me, and I was longing to find a true partner. I wasn’t finding the intimate connection I was looking for or the partner I thought I was ready for.
Of course, I only thought I was ready. I had done a lot of work on myself, which included a lot of emotional processes. I studied with different teachers, read books, participated in workshops, and went to therapy. But old patterns kept coming up, and in a certain way I felt stuck. The tools that had been working so wonderfully in the other areas of my life didn’t seem to be working in the relationship arena. It seemed that a whole other level of my process was being revealed; a deeper level of consciousness was trying to emerge.
Finding myself in this challenging place, I began to visualize some new guidance and direction. I was eventually led to a couple who are therapists and teachers, Dr. Hal Stone and his wife, Dr. Sidra Stone. Through their work, they discovered we have many “selves,” aspects within us that act as individual selves with their own ideas, opinions, likes, and dislikes. The Stones developed a technique to dialogue with these selves in a way that brings consciousness to this ongoing process inside us. Their body of work is called “the Psychology of Selves and the Aware Ego,” and they call the technique for “talking” with the selves Voice Dialogue. They quickly became my teachers and mentors and now are my dear friends.
When I began to do Voice Dialogue work, I became much more conscious of all the things that were going on inside me. I became more aware of what I was feeling, and I discovered all these different parts of myself that I hadn’t even known existed.
Concerning the partner issue, I discovered that I was only in touch with the parts of me that wanted a committed relationship, and so I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening. I was certain that I wanted a relationship and believed I was ready for one. I kept wondering why all the men I was attracted to were unavailable or inappropriate — or lived thousands of miles away! I kept thinking something was wrong with them. But, as it turns out, there were some parts of me that I was unconscious of that weren’t ready for a partner or didn’t want one at all.
All of this seems so obvious now. I was traveling the world teaching that one’s outside life reflects what is going on inside, and here I was longing for the right relationship and it wasn’t happening. Of course this had to do with a process within myself. When we truly want something and it isn’t happening, a part of us is blocking it. In my case, some inner conflict was causing a great deal of ambivalence about relationship and commitment.
I knew I was struggling, but I didn’t understand what the struggle was. I developed much more consciousness about what was happening through working with my selves. I began to explore and understand the parts of me that did not want a relationship or were fearful of it. For example, I had always been a strong, independent woman. I was close to forty, and a part of me didn’t want to give up my independence or have to compromise with someone else. Another aspect of myself that I discovered was my Caretaker self. I feared, unconsciously, that if I were in a close committed relationship, I would just end up taking care of someone else, and I wouldn’t know how to get my own needs met. I had been in a number of relationships where I had been in this role, so I had good reason to fear this would happen.
On a deeper level, there was a child in me who feared opening up and getting close to someone. This aspect, or self, was afraid of being hurt and abandoned — especially because of the pain I experienced as a child when my parents divorced. Other parts of myself were also involved, but these parts were the most dominant in my process.
Now that I had discovered some of the different voices in me, I could clearly feel the ambivalence of these conflicting selves. One of the wonderful things about the Psychology of Selves is that it allows us to be with our ambivalence, acknowledge it, and really hold it. Most of the time, most of us are trying to choose one side or another. We think one part of us is right or that there is a right way to be. We decide we want to be one way or another — “I want to be like this, and I don’t want to be like that.” Or, “I want this part of me, and I don’t want that part of me.” This black-or-white way of thinking doesn’t work because all parts of us exist, and we can’t just wish them away. You can bury and repress them, but sooner or later they come forth, often during a relationship upset or a health crisis. We need all of these parts in order to experience true balance in our lives. We need all these selves, although we may not know it.
Voice Dialogue work is about developing consciousness and creating awareness of all of the different selves within us. It’s about bringing them all forth and getting in touch with them. When we are aware of the different forces operating within us, we can work with them in different ways. I worked on acknowledging and experiencing — we often call it “holding” — my own ambivalence about relationship, reaching into each part of myself and feeling the parts of me that really wanted partnership and feeling the parts of me that really didn’t want it. I didn’t need to fix this ambivalence or change it; I just needed to be deeply present with it.
Shakti Gawain is the author of The Relationship Handbook. A bestselling author and pioneer in the field of personal growth and consciousness, she cofounded New World Library with Marc Allen in 1977. Visit her online at www.shaktigawain.com.
Excerpted from the book The Relationship Handbook ©2014 by Shakti Gawain and Gina Vucci. Published with permission of New World Library.