Dr. Shefali on Radical Awakening and Unleashing One’s Authentic SelfOct 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen and Diane Eaton
In her latest book, A Radical Awakening, clinical psychologist, international speaker and Oprah-endorsed, New York Times bestselling author Dr. Shefali Tsabary teaches women how to break free from culturally imposed, limiting self-concepts and unleash their authentic selves. We sat down with her to find out more. [Lightly edited for clarity and length.]
You write about the many layers of a deep, pervasive and invisible cultural conditioning that women are taught to identify with in today’s world. It’s a conditioning that is designed to obscure their authentic selves. What do you mean by “authentic self”?
The authentic self is not defined by what culture tells you that you are. So, culture tells us that who we are [as women] is about who we marry or how many degrees we have or who we mother. The authentic self is the self that is not any of those roles—those labels. It can stand on its own in a manner that is worthy, complete and empowered, and not reliant on the roles that we have been trained to play by culture. The only way to find the authentic self is to peel away the layers of the inauthentic self.
When you talk about self-love, you say that the love we get from ourselves is more valuable than the love we receive from others. Would you say more about that?
I think one of the greatest spiritual, emotional and psychological challenges we have is to embody self-love. From an early age, we have been acculturated and trained to purchase our sense of identity and love from external sources. Our parents loved us in a conditional way, and we learned early that in order to receive their love, we had to become something—often somebody that we were not. So we learned to get approval, validation and love from others—not from ourselves.
The ultimate act of courage in this life is to embrace self-love. Because when we rely on ourselves for that approval, validation and praise, we not only take back the power we have given so freely to others, we also learn that we are reliant and autonomous and we are capable of fulfilling ourselves. And that is such a liberating prospect. When you free the other from filling your inner cup, and you make yourself the replenisher of that cup, how beautiful that is.
In the last section of the book, you discuss several areas to “embrace” —including boundaries, accountability and compassion, among others—to help awaken from the matrix of the what you call the toxic patriarchal culture. Looking more closely at boundaries, what would you say are the top three areas women are most in need of them?
First, women need more boundaries around their lack of self-care so that they can take better care of themselves and claim their rest and their leisure and their pleasure. We women have been conditioned to be martyrs and victims and not to rest or have leisure or pleasure—but it’s our right. [Second is] relationships. Women are typically conditioned to be the giver, the pleaser, the eternal caretaker. And in doing that, they often reach extreme exhaustion because they’re serving others and forgetting that they need to have some self-assertion and some self-governance.
Third is careers. Again, women are traditionally acculturated to not feel worthy of asking for money or to ask for what they’re worth and to play the good girl. They suffer in corporate boardrooms [due to] an internal battle between “Should I be a good girl or should I be a badass?” Men don’t have that struggle. You know, men don’t even think, “Should I be a good boy? Should I be nice? Should I be pleasing?” Men don’t deal with that struggle. But women have an internal instinct that tells them to take care of other people first, so they don’t speak up, and they lose the opportunity to shine, they don’t ask for a raise, and so forth.
As women learn to put themselves first, is there a danger of them swinging all the way over into narcissism? Of getting lost in “me-me-me”?
It can be confusing at first because in our overzealousness to say “no” and to get free of our boundaries, we may go too far and become so self-focused that we miss the point of the boundaries and saying “no,” which is to foster connection with the other. Those boundaries foster connection because they help both [self and other] to stay healthy. But narcissism is about fostering disconnection and only serving the needs of one—me. So, in our initial confusion, the pendulum can sometimes swing to extreme, and that’s normal. So we have to come back to the healthy middle to discern if the boundary is actually fostering greater authentic wholeness for both.
What how about being able to tell the difference between giving too much and acting out of genuine compassion?
Again, it’s a muddy distinction, and it’s okay to falter on one side or the other. But you come to the center as you get to know yourself better. So, as you’re giving, you have to ask, “Am I giving out of a need to receive validation and worth, or am I giving out of true compassion?” Many people-pleasers and overly empathic women that have been trained to identify as the giver give because that’s their role; they’re unconsciously giving to get worth. But then, as they evolve and keep checking in, they realize they don’t need to do that anymore, and they can discern when and where to give out of true compassion.
You often mention that one of your core practices is meditation. How does that help the cause?
Meditation is a powerful catalyst for change because it teaches you to go inward and disconnect from the external attachments you have and the cravings you have and the dependencies you have on the external world to meet your needs. And meditation teaches you to pause and be present. And when you enter presence, you immediately enter a nonjudgmental appreciation of where you are. It is a very powerful technique to help women blossom into their own sense of who they are right here, right now, separate from the external world.
Practices of clearing subconscious, limiting beliefs that don’t serve us have been around for a while, often focusing on a few of the most damaging—such as not being good enough or not being lovable. Yet you specifically call out the entire matrix of beliefs that disenfranchise and disempower women specifically. Do you find that grouping them in such a way is powerful for people?
Yes. Yes. When you realize that you’re living in this matrix whose main agenda is to foster unworthiness in you, then you breathe a sigh of relief because until then, you might be thinking that only you had that problem or it’s your fault that you’re not better. But then you realize it was in the water you drank from childhood that systematically sensitized you to self-loathing or self-deprecation. You realize you were just systematically trained to do that, like a fine-tuned instrument, not knowing you were following the script. “Awakening” is to wake up to the script that you didn’t even endorse but you’ve been following like an obedient puppy dog.
Our culture seems to have adopted a very masculine sense of what power is. Even the women who have climbed to higher echelons of political or corporate power emanate masculinity more than feminine power. We seem to be quite lacking in models of the power of the feminine. To you, what does feminine power look like?
[In our culture today,] we believe feminine power is a version of masculine power. It’s so sad that the only way we think of power is domination and assertion and aggression. Feminine power needs to become its own pedestalized goal that [expresses] relatedness, compassion, connection and empathy. The ultimate capacity of a human being is to feel whole in their being—not relying on the doing. But that’s why our world is so messed up—because it’s all about conquering, dominating, subjugating. And we’ve taken over the oceans, the skies and outer space because of that masculine, driven model. It is beautiful, but it needs to be tempered by this feminine principle, which we don’t see. And it’s why the Earth suffers.
Since freeing our authentic self involves peeling away layers of our enculturated identity, does grieving become a part of the process?
Yes. One of the key practices of this path is letting go. It is a tool that we must be ready to employ because part of embracing the authentic self is letting go of all our false selves, our false attachments and who we were. And that can be quite challenging. But it is in the shedding of the old skin that we come upon a new rebirth, a new potential of who we could never have even imagined being.
So it’s worth asking, “What can I let go of that may not be who I truly am?” Many of us live our entire life not daring to ask because we’re so scared to discover who we will be without [our false identity]. What stops us from changing is our attachment to our old self. We all crave change on some level, but to change means you have to die unto your old self.
Is there, then, a need to forgive oneself?
There’s no need to even forgive because the “self-betrayal” is part of the agenda of the [patriarchal] matrix… because we were actually very good at doing exactly what we were trained to do. We got an A grade because the agenda was to betray ourselves. So, awakening doesn’t mean looking back with regret and guilt and shame. It means to understand that we can only awaken at a certain stage in our life. So, of course, we look back and look at the wreckage and wish we had woken up earlier. But we cannot wake up earlier because the function of awakening involves a lot of life pain.
What can someone expect to learn and experience at your Evolve weekend?
Evolve is a four-day, immersive experience into the layers of ourselves—from the inauthentic to the authentic. I take people on a journey to uncover their obstacles to inner empowerment, self-love, and relational harmony. It’s especially for parents who want to become more conscious in their parenting journey and create more connection with their children. It’s also profound for people who are not parents. ❧
Dr. Shefali is bringing her sixth annual four-day Evolve summit to Atlanta October 21 through 24. For more information, visit EvolveWithDrShefali.com. ❧