I’ve probably written about this on here before (I don’t recall because I wrote about it on Quora too), but the concept of “the witness” has really supported me in terms of working to consistently be in integrity. In light of recent discussions this group has had about the ground rules and being in integrity, I thought I might share about this concept since it has had a big impact on me and my relationship to my word.
The idea is this: We all have an inner self — you can call it your subconscious, or if you’re more spiritual, maybe your inner essence. This inner self witnesses EVERYTHING we do. Every commitment we make — and every commitment we break. It forms judgments and opinions of you based on what it sees.
You know that saying: “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”?
Not totally accurate. The truth is, someone is ALWAYS watching. Your inner self, what I’m calling “the witness.”
What your inner self sees matters a great deal in terms of your sense of self worth.
Here’s an example.
Five years ago, on a typical weekday morning, I would probably be groggily waking up in someone else’s bed, my head pounding with a horrific hangover. I likely met the guy the night before, or maybe we’d been having casual sex for a month or so. I would be waking up around 10 am, realizing I had to get up if I had any prayer of making it to work that day. I’d then wash my face and throw on some makeup in his bathroom, find a McDonald’s nearby to get some greasy food in my stomach to treat the hangover, then roll into my job around 11:30 am, hoping no one would notice I was wearing the same black dress as yesterday and that it was pretty wrinkled. Then I’d leave work early, have a greasy dinner because chances are that hangover was so brutal it lasted all day, and flop into bed early to store up to do it all over again the following evening (probably with a different guy).
My inner self watched me do all of this, routinely. It watched me sleep with someone I hardly knew (and someone I cared nothing about), fill my body with alcohol to the point of causing myself significant pain (and lord knows what damage), treat the pain with fattening food, then blow off all of my work commitments (and any other inconvenient commitments I may have to friends or family) to make sure I could continue this lifestyle.
If YOU were watching this person, what would you think of her?
That she doesn’t value herself. That she doesn’t value others. That she doesn’t value her relationships. That she has a job at a top law firm making top of the market pay but is a complete ingrate. That she’s manipulative, self-centered, and going absolutely nowhere in life.
Maybe you’d be kinder, but, that’s what my inner self thought of me. That’s what it thought for a long, long time. Even after things changed, and I changed, I carried a great deal of guilt and self-blame and shame that weighed me down and kept me from receiving the good things in my life.
Fast forward to five years later, this morning.
My inner self saw me wake up at 5:50 am. Brodie was up, and ready to eat. I silently retrieved him from the crib, not wanting to wake my husband, who had stayed up until midnight to do the boys’ late night feedings. While Brodie’s bottle was heating, I took him out of his sleep suit, changed his diaper, and got him dressed for the day. As I fed him with one hand, I used the other to email my new boss at my new job about when I’d be getting to Boca Raton for my first day of work. When Brodie was done, I heard Jayden waking up. I did the same routine with him. Once I had them settled (Brodie went back to sleep, Jayden wanted to play with his jungle toy), I did a quick home workout routine. Then I made myself organic oatmeal with a glass of water, starting the percolator so I could take my coffee to-go on the train. I showered (with Jayden, he wanted to watch), put on fresh clothes from the dryer, then washed and made bottles to set up Jimmy for the day. I grabbed my pre-cooked lunch out of the fridge (ground turkey, brown rice pasta and green beans), poured my coffee in my to-go cup, and gathered up my healthy snacks for the day. I then woke up Jimmy, who got dressed and drove me to the train station (to catch the 9 am train) after handing off the boys to Grandma.
What would you think, watching this person? It’s probably safe to say you’d have a very different — and much higher — opinion of her.
My inner self does, too. Here’s someone who values herself, her family and her job.
The impact of not feeling worthy is, of course, huge. Five years ago, when I got a good opportunity (because sometimes I would, despite how I was living), I usually squandered it — whether it was for a new friendship, a relationship with a good man, or an exciting career opportunity. Why?
Because an opportunity would come around, and I would think to myself, wow I really want that. But then my inner self would say: “You? Get THAT amazing opportunity? Ha! Look at you. You can’t even get up before 10 am. You drink yourself to oblivion on a regular basis. You sleep with strangers. You don’t take care of yourself, and while your job may look impressive from the outside, we know the truth: you’ve thrown in the towel. This opportunity is for someone who has their act together, not you.”
In contrast, when you DO feel worthy, it’s an entirely different experience. The amazing opportunity comes along. You tell yourself wow, I want that, but I’m not sure I have what it takes. But then your inner self chimes in and says: “What are you TALKING about, of course you do! You’re amazing! You take care of yourself and the people in your life, you do your best to always be your word, you’re always there for your family, you get up and do the work even when it’s hard. Of COURSE you can do this! This opportunity was MADE for someone like you!”
Night and day.
This is why, to me, being in integrity is absolutely critical. It isn’t about your alarm going off at 5am and you press the snooze button. It isn’t about going through the motions at our upcoming meeting and agreeing you’ll blog once a week then never doing it.
If you don’t get up at 5, the world won’t end. If you don’t blog, the group won’t implode.
But what will “the witness” see, and how will that impact your self-worth? You can tell yourself “I don’t really care if I get up at 5 or not,” “I don’t really care if I blog or not,” but, the witness cares. The witness saw you make the commitment as if you meant it — then break it.
You might say: “Well, I didn’t get up at 5 because I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. I don’t actually care that much about hitting the gym and getting fit.”
The trouble is, what your inner self hears is: “I didn’t get up at 5 because I decided I wasn’t worth it. I don’t actually care that much about myself.”
I honestly believe, from my own personal experience (and this is an opinion, as is this entire post), that the only way to have a solid sense of self-worth is the lesson we all learn day 1 of the Basic: be your word.