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December 15, 2021

Wild vs. Socialized Self

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Many years ago I read two books that had a profound impact on my thinking and my life: Robert Bly’s Iron John: A Book about Men and Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. When I read them I was in my early forties, had just left my career and calling as a minister and didn’t know what was next for me in most areas of my life. I was experiencing a combination of terror, uncertainty, excitement, clarity, confusion, exhaustion, depression, hope ……a full range of fairly typical mid-life emotions.

These two books introduced me to the idea of a wild self. This wild self was not something I knew or was experiencing. If I had a wild self, he was, like the wild man in Iron John, locked in a cage in the basement. I didn’t know where the key was or if I was even willing to go look for it.

Up until that point in my life I had lived mostly in and from a socialized self. From the time I was little I had learned to look outside myself for validation, direction, connection and meaning. I had, like many others I’ve known, taken on a code, a set of rules, a way of being that gave me both a structure and a way to live. It also gave me a sense of belonging with a group who shared the same code.

My particular version of a socialized self was built around Christianity, codependency and being an Enneagram type 2. Like all socialized selves mine simply wanted to fit in, to belong, to have certainty and avoid the unknown. My socialized self had served me well in many ways and been useful to many others. Socialized selves make many positive contributions to our lives, both individually and collectively.

Over the years I’ve coached many socialized selves. Some are the polar opposite of mine. Instead of a Christian codependent “be a good boy” socialized self, others take on a socialized self that is a rebel contrarian, an iconoclast, an artist, a materialist, an analyst, a go-along-to-get-alonger, or a seducer. There are countless kinds of socialized selves. Many who proclaim to be free from a socialized self and to be authentic and wild are actually just socialized around a different code. 

Almost everyone has a socialized self. This is not a problem. What is also true is that most of us have lost touch with the wild self. This is part of the hero’s journey, finding our way back to our wild self. 

One way to begin to see your socialized self is to ask yourself questions like these:

  • If I weren’t trying to be nice, kind, polite, respectful, accepted or appropriate, what would I have said during this past week I didn’t say?
  • If there were no consequences to me or others (including regret, guilt and shame) what would I have done in my life that I didn’t do?
  • If no one would judge, criticize or blame me, what choices would I make I’m not currently making?
  • If I just let my body do what it wants to do, what would I do?

Wondering about these questions will allow you to begin to see what you have been doing and being instead of being connected to your wild self.

Tune in next time for Part 2: Liberating Your Wild Self

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