Not Feeling Real Or That You Exist? Do This!

By Marshall Burtcher.

The feeling of “not being real” or “existing” comes from being massively neglected – specifically being neglected in attention, play, and being engaged by the parents in your life. 

Children develop their sense of realness and personhood initially from how they’re engaged with by parents, siblings, and close family and friends.   This shows up as:

  • Parents, siblings, and community being curious about the child, their thoughts, feelings, wants, experiences, needs, and such
  • Being regularly included and engaged in playful and educational activities
  • Being guided and parented with boundaries, discussion about actions, and being shown how to do things effectively
  • Being protected, sheltered, and cared for in times of pain, fear, and hurt
  • Having play time and adventure together
  • The child being supported in discovering their own likes and dislikes and taking on chosen adventures for themselves

When this is not reliable, intermittent, or scarce, the child develops a gap in their internal awareness of themselves.  They feel a sense of “void” or “nothing there”.

This leads to them struggling to know what they want, don’t want, like, and don’t like, as well as understanding their body’s sensations and signals.  They are not able to identify or articulate boundaries very well, and often require time and space to sense into and detect what they want or need.

Any abuse that was involved also trains the individual to believe they’re in danger if they do take the risk to be themselves.  It is not safe enough to be themselves and they also don’t know how to reliably know themselves. This creates a complex trauma that requires very gentle, very persistent healing work.  

I start this work with nervous system care and regulation.  This becomes the foundational skill that helps it become safe enough to explore and take tiny risks in becoming one’s self.

The next step is to build awareness. I use a technique I call, “Pause-Acknowledge-Observe” to help students understand what’s happening in their awareness.  

Basically, I have them practice pausing whenever they become aware of a sensation, behavior, or feeling.  I have them acknowledge and name what they’re experiencing so it makes it a bit more real.  I encourage them to describe the sensation, its characteristics and its location in their awareness or body, and then I have them observe it for 10-30 seconds.

This observation step allows them to practice presence with what they feel and watch what changes or shifts in their experience.  This builds their internal tracking skills, empowering their sense of self-knowing and self-awareness.

This is building “realness” in their awareness, filling in the gap they’ve been carrying.

Their next step is to begin occupying space. 

What does this mean?

To occupy space means to:

  • Notice that they’re taking up physical space, energetic space, emotional space, and mental space in some form
  • Deliberately choose where they will focus their time, energy, and attention in their life (not someone else’s life)
    • Examples:
      • This can be them allocating time and energy to their priorities first before someone else’s desires
      • Prioritizing their money for their benefit first
      • Putting boundaries on their emotional capacity so it is directed to what matters for themselves (this leads to saying no to things that aren’t aligned)
      • Using their body according to what they desire

This is where one becomes more and more real to themselves, and when done in tandem with proper support and celebration by community, they come to know themselves and be real to themselves.

Where do you want to take up more space in your life?  Where do you want to feel more real to yourself?

Use the steps outlined above to help you discover more of you in those areas.

Time, practice, and persistence are essential ingredients to this process.  I practice daily these things to know myself more, as I walked the neglected path for over 30 years of my life.  

Remember, to heal codependency, you must become yourself.  Becoming real to your own senses is essential to this.

Go gently with this work and see you next month!

Marshall Burtcher is a Codependency Transformation Expert. He specializes in helping codependents accelerate their freedom, peace, self-love, and belonging by healing the core rejection trauma that drives their codependency. Learn how to make this real in your life in his free workshop here:

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