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Integrity, Self-Image, and the repeated Bifurcation of the Self (Part One)

Introduction: Exploring Integrity and Self-Image

There comes a time in our lives when we must ask ourselves about the meaning of integrity in relation to self-image. I frequently discuss the concept of an integral self-image, which entails embracing all aspects of oneself.

However, it's crucial to delve deeper into what this truly means and entails. I think that a lot of it we can figure out by reverse engineering some of the problems that we encounter when we're fractured in our self-image, or fractured in our representation of our self in the real world.

The motivation behind addressing this topic today is the approaching Pride celebrations in numerous cities worldwide.

The Trans Movement: Exploring Identity and Integration

As we enter Pride Month, I extend warm wishes to all individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ or queer in various capacities. As someone who identifies as queer and holds spiritual beliefs, I've contemplated extensively on the complexities of self-image, the dichotomy between perceived and actual selves, and their interrelation. Let's begin by examining the evolution of the trans movement in recent decades. 

Over the past twenty years or so, this movement has gained significant momentum, highlighting the concept of gender dysphoria.

This condition, to my understanding, is that the felt sense of what these individuals are in terms of how they see themselves, how they feel themselves, how they know themselves, is fundamentally different from what it is that they see in the mirror, or what they see when they use their fingers to gain information about their body. Individuals experiencing gender dysphoria often grapple with the incongruity between their subjective perception of themselves and their objective appearance.  This causes a disconnect between the sense of self that is built up subjectively by the consciousness and the sense of self that is built objectively through sensory observation…because this disconnect is so great, because the disparity between the two ‘selves’ is so great, they experience psychosomatic distress, which is then remedied by bringing the objective truth of their physical forms closer to the subjective truth that they feel and know themselves as.

Now, this is an extreme example of the type of discomfort that I think we all experience in terms of a disconnect between who we feel we are and who we are in reality. And for trans individuals, I think that we can see the evidence of the integration of their physical selves with their imagined selves, or their felt selves, or their known selves, to the extent that we can reliably observe positive changes when those two selves are brought closer together.

Understanding the Imagined Self: Perception and Reality

I want to clarify at this point that when I say "imagined self", I don't mean that it's some kind of fantastical fantasy version of you that you've made up in your head. It's not the same as imagining yourself as Clark Kent or imagining yourself as Spider-Man, but it's the version of yourself that you see when you close your eyes, the version of yourself that you know as you.

To illustrate this concept further, consider a simple exercise: 

  • Please begin to pay attention to where your ears are.

  • And begin to pay attention to where the back of your head is. 

  • And begin to pay attention to where your nose is. 

  • The nose and the back of your head give you an indication of where the center of your head is, and the ears on each side give you an indication of the length of your head from ear to ear. 

  • So if I could ask you now to please begin imagining without touching, just imagining the distance between your left ear and your right ear. 

  • And try to imagine how long that line is and to visualize how long that line is. 

  • And now please put a finger on each ear so that you have a physical sense, an objective sense, using your senses, your sensory input, as to the distance between those two. 

  • And very slowly, doing your best not to alter the distance between your fingers, bring your hands in front of your face and look at the objective distance between your ears. 

  • Does it match exactly what you imagined? Or is it larger or smaller perhaps than you imagined? 

  • Repeat this several times and you'll begin to get a clarity, a bit more of a sense that your imagined self, the distance between the ears that you imagined initially, can correlate with the objective self that you can find with your senses.

This is the type of self I’m referring to when I refer to the ‘imaginary’ self.  The self that we see ourselves as when we introspect or when we visualize.  This is a good entry point into the discussion because of the amount of awareness that the trans community has been bringing forward lately to help others understand what this sensation is like and how damaging it can be for the individual.

Childhood Freedom and Societal Expectations

Now I'd like to back up and look at the opposite, look at a case of complete freedom.   This could just be my subjective self or it could be my memory, but I remember sleeping much better as a child than I do now as an adult. 

Simultaneously, I feel that a lot of my friends and family, particularly those who are going through large life changes or who are struggling financially, have this similar issue that they're up until past midnight, sometimes nearly sunrise; they describe that their mind is racing and they can’t slow down enough to sleep. 

I'm trying to analyze within myself, within others, to the extent to which that they're willing to share with me:

What is it that happens within us that keeps us up that long? 

What is it that we're analyzing? 

What is it that we're trying to figure out? 

What is it that we're trying to bring forward or manifest that's not happening in reality that's somehow a part of us?

Examining childhood experiences provides valuable insights into the formation of self-identity.  Children, unencumbered by societal constraints, exhibit a remarkable freedom of expression.  They navigate the world with a sense of safety, unrestricted by the inhibitions that often plague adults. As children interact with their surroundings, they engage in uninhibited exploration, expressing themselves authentically without societal filters. It's almost like they live under the constant assumption that they are safe and that reality is safe to live in…and so they simply go around doing things. They express themselves vocally. They express themselves physically.  That is, I think, what adults refer to when they talk about acting without thinking or speaking without thinking or being faultless or being careless or having no filter. Children have no filter.

However, as they encounter societal norms and parental expectations, a gradual divergence occurs between their authentic selves and the personas deemed socially acceptable. This process, observed in various cultural contexts, underscores the tension between individual freedom and societal conformity.

The First Bifurcation:

In my view, the first sort of divergence between who I am and who I want to be (or who I need to be) comes during these very free explorations where children are acting without sense, they're acting without filter. As they are putting it all out there, just doing whatever comes to mind, eventually a parent or an adult comes along and says, "You can't do that." Or, "That's not socially acceptable." Or, "We don't do that here."

What happens next, I think we've all observed, is that children begin to test those limits that they've been given.

If you put a constraint on them that they can't be loud in public, they'll begin to figure out either where they can be loud. So, in other words, they're trying to suss out the definition of the word public. Or, they'll use varying amounts of volume, varying amounts of noise, different sources of noise. In other words, trying to suss out the definition of the term loud.

These constraints that are put upon us by adults have no meaning to us until we make meaning of them ourselves. Therefore, just like a child's apprenticeship in movement, where they try many different things and many different orientations to eventually come to crawling, to standing, to walking, they try many different things and many different orientations to try to understand and make sense of the constraints that are put upon them by adults.

Regardless of how those limitations are built up, I think that what happens in broad strokes is relatively universal. I think that there is an element of a child that becomes the well-behaved child. And this is an image of themselves that they start to build up consciously or unconsciously within their nervous system. A set of behaviors that mean being a good child. A set of behaviors that mean being on their best behavior.

Some of this is culturally dependent. When my grandparents were children, children were to be seen and not heard, and in many cases, they weren't to be seen unless absolutely necessary. In some generations, it was expected that children would be outside until a certain hour. In this generation, it's expected that children only go outside at certain hours. All sorts of variations on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable evolve culturally.

An example:  

I saw a girl, probably about two years old, who was toddling behind their mother, and there was a downspout…it was something to do with a sewage system. It came up like a candy cane out of the cement and rested just at her chest height, the opening. To the toddler’s perspective, I think it looked very much like a hand sanitizing dispenser. She went up and put her hands under it as though to get her hands sanitized. 

Her mother did a double take, realized what her daughter thought the pipe was, laughed and dragged her daughter along. 

…this is one of those moments that got me thinking about what's normalized for us growing up, and what we define as being the thing to do in order to receive praise, acceptance and recognition.

Rediscovering Self: Reconnecting with Freedom

In essence, it’s my belief that when societal expectations begin to be put upon a child of how they should behave, there's a bit of a bifurcation that happens in the self-identity.

This bifurcation is between the child that they can be when they're free and they can let loose – which is at home or in the backyard or in a friend's house or for some kids off in the forest where no one's looking – and this other child that is the child that they are when they're on their best behavior.

I think that a lot of what happens with childhood trauma is to do with children that don't have the ability or freedom to express or manifest their truest self in the real world.

When I was young, I had friends that grew up with me in my neighborhood. We were into video games, but we were also very into outdoor activities; there was a forest that backed up right against our houses, and we like to create fantastical universes because we didn't see any reason why reality had to stop at the basic facts of reality. We liked to imagine, we liked to explore, we liked to play. When we would play a video game, what we were looking for was battle animations… attack animations that would inform our movement explorations. Then we would go out into the backyard and we would recreate fight scenes or choreograph our own fight scenes using the movements from the scenes that we'd observed in the video game or the anime or the cartoon. 

There was a freedom with which we could express our interpretation of that movement, a freedom with which we could improvise in the relationships of the characters that we created. They were us if we could be a hero, us if we could feel like we were empowered in our reality, us if (and I think this comes back to the child before expectations begin to be placed upon them) reality were safe for us to live in and where we can have the assumption that anything we do is safe to do. I remember that my friend's parents used to gather by the windowsill and watch us play, his mother would say that she loved watching us because we seemed so free. 

I still remember the day that my friends decided that they were too old for that, that they weren't going to go into the backyard with me anymore and explore, that they weren't going to go into the backyard anymore and pretend that they needed to be in reality grounded. They had more important things to worry about. To me what that means is that they subscribed to the self-image that has been created for them by society, by their parents, partially by themselves guessing at what society and their parents want. Subscribing to that self-image, because that's the self-image that will give me acceptance, that's the self-image that will give you recognition, even if that's also the self-image that inhibits my freedom, creatively, intellectually, physically.

The more that I interact with the seniors community, with people that are retired and have (to quote them), “stopped giving a shit”, I think that a lot of those people have found their way back to then.  I feel that a lot of seniors have discovered that the real pretending, the real imagining, was the pretending and posturing and posing in the personas that they created to survive in the adult world as long as they did. When they retired, they finally had the freedom once again to look at themselves, to look inward, to get quiet and to wonder about how they can feel safe and empowered in their world. 

Now, not all of them wound up back in their backyards swinging wooden swords, but many of them wound up joining dance classes, yoga classes, late in life, in order to try to reclaim a sense of self as well as a sense of magic. 

That last part is maybe my interpretation, but I think all of us miss the magic of childhood, and I think that a lot of that magic comes down to freedom.

The Persona and Self-Integration: Navigating Society

For my purposes, the term "persona" encapsulates facets of the self, comprising strengths, weaknesses, desires, and insecurities, shaping a versatile mask for different roles. Individuals adept at multitasking often juggle personas, each with distinct skill sets and behaviors.

It is my experience that as we continue to mature and engage with society, our self-image evolves, giving rise to different personas tailored for various contexts. I think this is as a result of the brain’s love of categorizing and labeling things … as well as a consequence of a desire for recognition and acceptance. 

For each aspect or facet of the self (if we imagine the self like a many-faceted diamond) can be recognized by different positions and roles.  I think that the nervous system stores these sets of functional organizations as different personas that can be utilized at different times.  One such persona might excel in focused tasks like programming or transcribing, characterized by detail-oriented efficiency. Yet, this same persona may not serve well in customer service, where social cues and adaptability are paramount.

Training these personas creates a mental "senate" where diverse voices vie for representation, guiding actions in the real world. For instance, a salesperson persona masters persuasion and urgency, while a diplomat excels in conflict resolution, albeit sometimes manipulative.

Politicians advocate for change, customer service workers prioritize satisfaction, and repairmen, teachers, and parents each embody unique contributions to society. These personas impose both freedoms and limitations, delineating boundaries of conduct and ethical practice.

Compatibility between personas ensures harmonious integration, as exemplified by a holistic practice that satisfies diverse aspects of the self. In my Feldenkrais Practice, I've crafted a method that caters to the businessman, the marketer, the salesperson, and the customer service agent, blending together elements of my various personas. This approach allows me to tap into different skills and fulfill different aspects of myself.

In personal relationships, finding a partner who complements various facets fosters a sense of fulfillment and representation. For instance, in my relationship, my partner supports my creative, caring, and vulnerable sides. His presence helps me navigate and integrate different aspects of myself, providing a supportive environment where all my personas feel acknowledged and valued.

Navigating compatibility versus incompatibility between personas is an intricate dance. While some personas seamlessly align and reinforce each other, others may clash or create tension. For example, a diplomat persona's focus on de-escalation and harmony may conflict with the assertiveness and agenda-pushing nature of a politician persona. Understanding and managing these dynamics is essential for maintaining coherence and balance within the self.


I feel that’s enough for today.

In the second part of this article, we’ll take a step back…I’ll be looking at my experiences and understanding of some situations in which a person might not be able to get that expression of some facet of themselves and what that might look like and the damage that it might cause.

Expanding our awareness of the parts of ourselves that feel integrated into our self-image is a huge undertaking, and I’m looking forward to learning and sharing more.

Thank you for reading, please subscribe, like and share. 

If you haven’t done so yet, please claim your free quest at and book a movement adventure with me, I look forward to exploring with you really soon!

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