You know how you can have a friend who is nice to be with but not electric? You enjoy that friend’s company but you are not very stimulated. But you notice, over time, that after you spend time with that person you feel a little better, you are more motivated in healthy directions, and you are optimistic about the future. There is some implicit connection that is constructive, even though you may not be aware of it in any kind of introspectable way.
You might also have a friend who is a lot of fun, or interesting, or stimulating, but you notice over time that after seeing that person you are somewhat dissociated from yourself, not incredibly motivated, and mildly low energy for a while. Our relationships affect us in ways we do not even notice in any conscious way. This person who is well intentioned and yet has a regressive impact may be estranged from himself (or herself of course).
Intimacy with oneself is not a cognitive knowing. In some respects it is not even an introspective knowing. It is the familiarity, acceptance, and compassion that develops over a long-term relationship. In this case, a long-term relationship with oneself. It is developed through introspection and reflectiveness over time, but it begins to become a way of being with oneself without effort.
Our missteps, annoyance, and rage at the outside world are really merely reactions to the ways we are treating ourselves internally. A garden variety misunderstanding underlies much of the obstruction to our experience of our own expansive selves. This misunderstanding is the notion that we are damaged in an unacceptable way.
It is not that we do not get wounded. We do. It is not that different people do not get wounded in different degrees. They do. It is that, at some central core, we believe our imperfections make us unacceptable–even to ourselves. Our own unique development is a movement toward knowing ourselves deeply, stopping the endless judgements, and having compassion for the genuine whole persons that we are.
Long-term therapy is not the only way to promote this development, but it is a very good way when it is working well. It need not be a response to damage and defects so much as a partnership on a trip. It is the pain that forces us to do something, but it is the metaphorical embrace that makes it work.