Traversing the Inner Terrain

The search for the Authentic Self.

Right-Sizing the Super-identity

From Super ID to Adult

The Super identity is based entirely on the idea of being Super. The child who puts on a Super identity is doing so to match his or her fears. The bigger the monster under the bed, the bigger the Super identity. The popularity of the cult classics like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Bat Woman, Super Girl and others is a testament to our need for the Supersizing of our humanity.

So, when SuperWoman dons her cape and tights to run faster than a speeding bullet and leap tall buildings in a single bound, she is doing so to compensate for fear. As we said in the previous blog, SuperWoman often grows up in a family dynamic in which she was held responsible and accountable for not only the quasi-well-being of family members, but of the appearance of well-being to the neighbors and school personnel. The fear was that if others found out what was really going on in the home, there would be a horrible consequence, such as the splitting up of the family and the placement of children in foster care--or just some vague unknown sword of Damocles. Of course, there are degrees of dysfunction that can build to a Super identity.  Some children just grow up in homes where parents have very high expecations of them, and they don the mask and costume to prove their worth.  Whatever the exact source, now Superwoman carries a long-ago buried fear that if people figure her out, or find out how "weak and inadequate" she really is, there will be some terrible consequence, and she dons the cape and tights to forestall the doom. She knows she can do it, and so she does.

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The truth is that the shadow side of every Super identity is a small and frightened child, whom the Super identity is trying to protect. The problem is that the protection is so solid that eventually it becomes a gigantic wall. The child is now no longer protected; he is smothered, contained, controlled and even abused by the Super identity. And it is this child that absolutely must be heard from if the Super identity is ever to become right-sized.

As healthy adults we live in a world in which there are some things over which we have control and others over which we are utterly powerless. Healthy adults can accept this reality and they choose to take responsibility only for the things over which they have some say-so---namely themselves. But Super identities don't want to know that there are things over which they have no control. This frightens them terribly. And so, they try to control it all.

The reality that control cannot be had over all things simply does not occur to the person with a Super identity. And if the subject is broached, she will fight tooth and nail to maintain the fantasy that she has control. While it is definitely true that she can get amazing quantities of work done at a fairly amazing speed, the quality of her life suffers. And for a while, she may not even be aware of this. But eventually, the tale begins to be told---very often through stress-related diseases.

Sometimes the Super identity just simply crashes into a deep depression relative to a job loss or a divorce, and he can't seem to move. Yet there is this hypercritical mantra inside that is yelling at him all day long, while he is laying there in the bed, calling him lazy and stupid and telling him to get up and DO something. But he can't. And he can't figure out why he can't. What's happening here is the existential crisis of opposites. The Super identity crashed and left the small frightened helpless child standing there quivering. He can't make a decision, he can't even think straight. He's paralyzed.

What works when either the crash or the health issue brings the Super identity to its knees is to recognize and begin to honor the voice of the frightened child. The fear must be seen for what it is and then, rather than putting back on the cape and tights, the adult hiding under the Super mask must begin to take really good care of that frightened child---informing it of when it's fears are irrational, and listening when the fears are rational. The child was never meant to be shushed, silenced, dammed up---she was meant to have a voice, one that the adult can hear, one that can participate in the life.

Too often we therapists think that when this child comes out into the open, he will take over leaving the client in a fragile state. And, indeed, we believe this because the child who speaks to us does feel very fragile. The child's voice can seduce us into the idea that there is no adult. But the adult has been there all along, it just has a growth disorder. It grew to giant-size in order to cope with the child's fears. But if it can grow to giant size, it can also right-size. When we ask the Super identity what it would do to take care of this little child now that it has become aware of it, the Super identity can be very adult about it. In fact, he very often knows exactly what to do. And now, it's just doing it.

Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., is a Cognitive and Transpersonal Therapist, internet radio show host, and author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self. more...

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