Freud and Lacan, those seminal figures of psychoanalysis, both conceived of the psychological structures that form our Self as a language. While perhaps not an image that is immediately intuitive, a closer examines reveals similarities. Our perceptions of our environment and ourselves are primarily a series of ordered symbols. We, as we conceive of our Selves, are a series of relations to family, community, friends, work, affinity groups, the future we wish to actualize, etc.
The familial relationship is the primary means by which a concept of the world and our Self is transmitted and due to the reliance of the child upon parents for survival is one readily adopted for fear of rejection and death.
Whether with conscientiousness to the effects that human interactions and language has on the child or not, this provides the basic grammar for a child’s future behavior. How an adult will deal with stress, determine whether someone is an enemy or an ally, what they aspire to accomplish or seek to avoid are just a value of the many values that form the language of human psychology.
It is extremely difficult to understate the impact that these early lessons have on the foundation for future character traits as well as physical and mental health.
As maturity increases into adolescence children gain more autonomy and this language becomes more plastic. Once firmly established as adults they are, normally, no longer dependent on their parents in order to live and this combined with different experiences with various social groups allow them to broaden and determine their own views.
Continuing the metaphor of language, then, personal development is a movement away from the limited, parochial familial or cultural language of what the Self is to one that is more self-styled. For example, perhaps some grew up in a setting that was emotionally muted and expressions of need were met with reprimands or denial. In this case it could be worthwhile to develop one’s connection to one’s feeling as well as learning more The Art of Communicating those feelings with other people. Perhaps those consistent repressions of emotion lead one to bottle up their emotions and then injudiciously express them inappropriate situations. in this case one would want to learn to deal with their Anger. Perhaps one’s early family was all around inhibitive of those admirable traits of human character, in this case it could be worth learning how to turn those negative experiences into strengths via Reconciliation and Healing the Inner Child. Reading, however, is not sufficient to adopt this new language. One must also include other practices. For instance one can decide to respond to writing prompts about the material one is reading such as “How does this relate to what I learned growing up?” or “What would it look like if I’d practiced this today instead of relying on my old habits?” or “Why do I struggle to embody this particular idea?”. This prevents learning from being merely intellectual and being a lived part of the Self. This is not the only obstacle one must face when in the process of adopting this new self-chosen language of the Self. Here are some others, by no means all inclusive, that are also well suited to the language metaphor used by Freud, Lacan and other psychologists and psychoanalysts.
First, just like a new language that one intends to learn, if one does not daily commit to daily practice than the knowledge once consumed does not become as readily accessible. Put more succinctly – if you don’t use it you lose it. For example, several years ago I had enough skill to travel Europe with ease and find temporary employment as a bi-lingual hostel employee in Budapest after having intensively studied German for three years. Now I can only remember and apply a small fragment of the knowledge that I’d once poured over.
Secondly, in order to continue to develop this language of the Self one must re-order tens of thousands of hours of accumulated experience. Consistent actions alone – such as reading a book – is not enough. Language (like the Self) is a social medium and requires people, be it a recovery community or caring partner that has expressed willingness to talk to you about your journey, are needed in order for those new words of the Self to be sounded out. Such places provide a safe space to try on new tonalities of character, inflections of thought and modulation of habits. It allows you to understand other people’s struggles and transitions and thus more accurately determine what sort of future and better Self one can be while also receiving acceptance during the inevitable period of plateau and backsliding inevitable to such a giant task.
Thirdly, it’s best to steer clear of those people, places and situations that evoke use of that first, inherited language. This means avoidance or cessation of relations of those that bring to mind the Self that one seeks to avoid. One can’t learn a new language if one is always listening to speakers of the one already known. As it relates to situations, for a lot of people this typically means avoiding places centered around consumption of alcohol as this was a component of maladaptive behavior and thought acquisition. For many people in today’s economy this can be problematic. More and more millennials are returning home and for those there this have a devastating on their quest for self-betterment.
Without consistent practice of new habits beyond mere consumption, maintaining regular socialization with people aligned with one’s goals, and avoidance of those restimulative people, places and situations a kind of atrophy sets in which leads not only to a reversion to old patterns but oftentimes a denial of them. Denial itself is bad enough, but in the light of the old Self, those that once had helped to facilitate the acquisition of this new language of the Self can come to be seen as enemies. After all the Ego, always seeking always to be right, superior and unharmable, sees such people as a threat because they can recognize the hurt and pain underneath the composed exterior.
In the path to self-betterment, it is important to be committed and honest with oneself when one is temporarily unable to work to acquiring the new language of the Self. Committing to the daily work and remembering whom one’s allies are can certainly be difficult – however being honest means sometimes listening to those that have already gone through like or a similar struggle and thus not allowing that old language of the Self to come back. Additionally one must truly commit to this path for there are no half-steps possible. Commitment to a new conception of forgiveness or love, for example must mean that one TRULY acts in accordance to this new language. It is the only way that fluency will be achieved and the old language can be refuted and unlearned.