Forming our Selves (Snippet 27)

In addition to ensuring our survival and protecting our vulnerable core, the selves we summon may serve the purpose of keeping us psychologically close to these important people from our past. We achieve this by modelling the characteristics of a specific self after people and relationships that mattered to us. The actual modelling appears to be done through three copy processes: Identification (we behave just like he/she behaved), Recapitulation (we behave like we did around him/her, as if he/she was still in charge), and Introjection (we treat ourselves just like he/she treated us).

Anyone who ever had anyone tell them, ‘You are just like your mother’ or, ‘Don’t treat me as if I was your father’ has likely experienced someone else reacting to a self created through one of the three copy processes. The copy processes are completely normal developmental learning processes, indifferent to the content of what is being copied. They are simply tools that allow us to translate recurring external events (how we were treated by important others) into internal patterns (how we interact with the world and ourselves). Luckily, since the copy processes work in all directions, positive messages we received from important others are also patterned into our personality.

The psychologist Lorna Benjamin calls behaviours formed through a copy process a ‘gift of love’. According to her, gift-of-love behaviours allow us to maintain a psychological closeness to important people in our past. More specifically, these behaviours are gifts of love to the internalized representations of important others that we have created within ourselves. These internalized representations are somewhat like imaginary friends or ghosts of our subconscious who can comfort or haunt us;

Even if my parents are no longer alive, I can still be locked in a pattern of pleasing my mother, show the same submissive behaviour I learned in order to be acknowledged by my father, or criticize myself with the same harsh language my grandmother used with me.

Behaving like them, behaving as if they were still around or treating ourselves like they treated us, is our (futile) attempt to finally gain their love, approval, and validation. However, positive behaviours and attitudes that we experienced are written into our internal dialogue the same way; if I was loved and acknowledged, my internalized representations will love and acknowledge me. If I was treated with good spirited humour, I will be able to laugh at myself. We simply create copies of what we experienced to be true at the time — and we will go to great lengths to replicate these early experiences throughout our lives.

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Nadjeschda Taranczewski

Coaching CEOs and founders to re-invent their organisation as a Conscious Tribe | Engaged employees | Executive Coaching: