My search for what I call The Enchanted Self1®began 17 years ago when, after many years in private practice, an urge was building within in me to learn more about how the messages girls receive in childhood about whom they should become interface later with their sense of self in adulthood. I wanted a first hand sense of how ordinary women handle a profound array of messages given to them in childhood. I anticipated somewhat despairing findings having worked for many years with women in my private practice who reported negative and destructive messages from family members, lovers, husbands – messages that were in dissonance with a woman often fragile sense of self.
For example, I’ll never forget the strength of emotion behind the voice of my client as she talked about her husband who would squelch every good idea she brought up by saying, “And that and five cents will get you a cup of coffee.”
To do this project I developed a structure interview, which I administered to 18 non-client women, ranging in age from 35 to 75. I took extensive notes during each interview as well as audio taping each survey participant. All of them were white, middle to upper middle class; Christian or Jewish. Several had psychotherapy; most had not.
This was case study data done by myself at my own expense to give me a broader sense of women’s development. I did not attempt to have a statistically random group of women but, rather, worked in a reality situation where friends recommended other friends who might participate in the structured interview.
My interview questions were geared toward gaining insight into how the messages girls received in childhood about the role they were to play in society influenced their adult development. I was also interested if a woman was, or had been, married, whether she had experienced criticism in the marriage relationship and how this experience influenced the way she felt about herself. I had initially included a question geared to asking the women when she felt most whole in adulthood. However, as I interviewed the women and became increasingly aware of the enhanced reports they were giving me of good times and feelings, new questions emerged. My structured interview evolved to include other questions such as when the woman felt most whole, most centered, in girlhood. The major questions were:
1. What messages did you absorb in girlhood about the role you were to play in society as a grown up woman some day?
2. What were some of the unspoken, perhaps secret, but understood messages you absorbed in girlhood about women? How did these messages affect your girlhood?
3. Talk about your family life as you remember it from girlhood. How did the family operate emotionally? What were some of the family rules, messages, and what part did each member play?
4. What were some of the times in your girlhood when you felt most centered, when you felt a childhood sense of wholeness, well being? Tell me about some of these memories.
5. Can you reflect on times in your womanhood when you have felt most whole, flowing, integrated, alive – when you know that you are following your own inner sense of well being?
6. Can you link in any way any of your adult times of enhanced self with earlier moments when you felt whole, centered, in a special flow? …
It was gratifying and exhilarating to discover that without focused production time and without any public recognition – both essential values in the American concept of “success” these ordinary women had found so many ways to have an enhanced adult life experience. These ways were often secret, at least in the sense that these women did not typically think of talking about their heightened moments or creating artistic forms around them. These women were too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, and too worried about a multitude of tasks. However, some by conscious decisions, others by what seemed to be unconscious process, had permitted their enhanced selfhoods to emerge whenever it was reasonably possible to do so, without jeopardizing the other tasks they considered essential, such as mothering, providing an income, being a wife, etc.
This unexpected finding surprised me. Yet, I found myself captivated by the theme of personal capacities for well-being and pleasure. In fact, I was more captivated than by the original thrust of my investigation.
As a therapist, I was developing a new hypothesis: many of our clients may, in spite of the destructiveness of the cultural environment, have experienced times of adult enhancement – moments and/or periods of time when there is a return to some sense of self-worth, a feeling of joy, a sense of bliss. This is a special place within one’s self that each person can recognize, although it is easily overlooked. I began to call this place “The Enchanted Self.” Later, as I used the term in writings and in teaching and in the treatment room, I was told how appreciative women often were that I had given a name to this special place within ourselves that is so often ignored, dismissed and/or devalued.
Further definition emerged. The Enchanted Self is a unique reservoir of wellness that resides in each human being. It is specific to that person’s memory bank and unique experiences. Once tapped into, we experience a state of well being that may include positive feelings, thoughts, sensations, both cognitive and in the body. The woman may become aware of a sense of integrity and self-integration. Some times we experience this place while alone – other times while in connective experiences. This place permits a profound sense of feeling centered and whole. When we are there we recognize it I remain convinced that girlhood messages are profoundly important in terms of adult female development, at times in clearly dysfunctional ways….
I’ll continue this article at a later date. Bringing the material in this article up to the present moment, you can see why I am so adamant about helping girls grow up strong and sure of themselves. The Truth Series and now the second book in the series: SECRETS: You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine… maybe, is my way of addressing some of the dysfunctional messages we all absorb in one way or another growing up. Girls can not always free themselves of the dysfunction that may create damaging messages in their lives. But they can be taught to recognize how special they are and given ways to hold on to the best of themselves. That is what I am busy doing, via fiction, in The Truth (I’m a girl, I’m smart and I know everything) and now SECRETS. I can’t wait for you to read and share SECRETS: You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine…maybe! I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .