An Invitation To Gentleness, part 1

An Invitation To Gentleness

Part 1 – The Shadow’s Triad Or The Struggles To Be Gentle



               All my life, I have been reflecting so passionately on personal development that I became a Counsellor. Notably throughout lived and witnessed experiences, trainings, received and given therapy, books and TED Talks, I have been reflecting on why our struggles manifest. Beside what life throws at us, is there a determining factor common to all of us? Is there a key to unlock the struggles of existence? As a Counsellor, I personalise the therapy I provide to each client, because I strongly believe that everyone is and has a very individual and rich network of complexities. That being said, I found a constant: an attitude.

An attitude is always present. Our attitude toward ourselves, our thoughts, feelings and sensations, the ones of others. Our attitude toward who we are, what we do, who people are and what they do. Our attitude toward the world, events and situations in it and in our life; or toward a topic. Our attitude is pretty determinant in what we struggle with, and how long and how much we struggle. How could it not be when it is a constant factor, embedded in everything we are and do? We can’t always choose what happens in our life or in the world, what we think or feel, but I trust we always can try to reflect and work on what attitude we want to adopt toward them. So, I wondered: is there one attitude better than others?


Recently, as I was reflecting on my counselling practice, I realised that I keep on inviting my clients to adopt a certain attitude. One I came to believe is at the core of the therapeutic healing and growth: gentleness. Certainly, there are other attitudes to add up to create a healthy and dynamic life such as curiosity, enthusiasm, optimism and playfulness, but gentleness feels like a priority to me.

Google says gentleness is: “the quality of being kind, tender or mild-mannered; the softness of action or effect; lightness”. It is fairly obvious to me, - and it takes one to know one -, that most of us tend to lack gentleness toward what we think, feel, do and haven’t done. A lack of gentleness toward who we are and where we are in our journey.

As I was trying to write an article about the rules of gentleness, I realised two things. Firstly, where there are rules there is space for more gentleness; - hereby the title of this article being an ‘invitation’. Secondly, before reflecting on how to adopt and practice gentleness, I needed to explore what may prevent us from being gentle with ourselves. Once again, though there is a multitude of specific reasons and consequences for each individual, I tried to find some archetypal reasons for this general lack of gentleness.


               Working with a widely diverse range of clients, I certainly verified what I was taught during my training. The first source of self-loathing and harshness toward one self is our primal wound1. In our early years, we all experience many forms of fractures with our surrounding, where we are treated more as objects than as beings, where we experience conditional love, and many variations of neglect and abuse. Firman and Gila1 notably explain that those fractures create disruptions in our connection to our self, and from those traumatic disruptions result feelings of emptiness, loneliness and isolation. We are not seen and loved adequately. This is the first wounding to which we react unconsciously by throwing ourselves “into addictions of all sorts, - from sex, romance and drugs to wealth, power and violence”1.

Our primal wounding extends to our entire upbringing, where implicit and explicit values are transmitted, - such as the infamous catholic guilt. We are taught how to consider and treat ourselves. Harshly, poorly, dismissively… This becomes our attitude toward ourselves. Our fundamental truth, - that our being is good enough to be and to be loved unconditionally as it is -, is denied. We then deny our hurt and anger that we bury in the shadow of ourselves, from which are sourced all kinds of acting out and dysfunctional patterns.


               That shadow has been continuously analysed and conceptualised, notably around Joung’s work on ‘The Shadow Self’2, - this unconscious field of so-called negative or dark urges, feelings, impulses and desires. Thinking psychosynthetically3 around subpersonalities, - those different parts within us -, I conceptualised a ‘Shadow’s Triad’ blocking us the access to gentleness, being its nemesis. A Triad composed by an Inner Critic, a Control Freak and a Perfectionist. Indeed, it seems to me that most of us have variations of those entities within ourselves and that they prevent us to access for ourselves that gentleness we may be able to provide to others. I would insist here for the last time that as per everything else, those parts differ from an individual to another. I also believe therapy is one of the only spaces where this can be explored, understood, unfolded and resolved, - and in consequence of which individuals can heal and grow.

               Why is this Triad, - in my opinion -, preventing us from accessing and practicing gentleness with ourselves? I think it is all about misplaced and/or toxic energies and messages that overlap. We are lost in that self-depreciating Bermuda triangle of the psyche. The Inner Critic and The Perfectionist create a sea of ‘should’ we try to navigate without compass, seasick. We should do more, we should be less, we shouldn’t ask for what we want, we shouldn’t have done this, we should have done that. We don’t know why we are not good enough, but we sure know we aren’t, so we work at it, harder and harder.

The Inner Critic tells us “you’re rubbish” and The Perfectionist echoes with “you’re not and will never be good enough”. They are incarnations of conditional self-love, with conditions always out of reach. Self-love and self-esteem become something to deserve throughout unrealistic never-ending expectations. If I get this promotion or diploma, complete this project, buy a house or get married, then I will be able to be proud of who I am and what I have achieved. But as soon as one goal is reached, another takes its place with the same conditional on hold self-love. And how can self-respect, acceptance and self-compassion, - qualities of gentleness -, can occur if self-loathing is at play? Because be sure that as some attitude the energy of love is always there, and if not in its positive form, in the other side of its coin: loath.


Indeed, in Psychosynthesis, we believe in two coexisting energies that drive us continuously: love and will4. I trust gentleness to be one fundamental attitude of love. But when those energies of love and will are misused by our shadow, we come to carry ourselves in life with an underlying sense of self-loathing and worthlessness. How can we then find our salvation? I have witnessed that for many of us, the embodied belief of worthlessness pushes us to find our salvation in sacrifying ourselves for the sake of others. Isn’t it in the occidental world the main heritage of Christianity? We are good and humbled if we sacrify ourselves for others and punish ourselves for who we are. This is what we call in Psychosynthesis a distorted good will, where we ignore the detrimental impact on ourselves our good actions toward others can have. This isn’t goodness, and this sure isn’t health or sanity. Good will is about the wellness of everyone, including ourselves. Because what the Shadow’s Triad makes us forget is that our first duty, our first loyalty should be to ourselves. I strongly believe in “put the mask of oxygen on your face first”. I believe in a healthy selfishness, narcissism and self-indulgence, reminding ourselves to put self-love5 first, and then combining it with good will and a drive toward togetherness as a motto to practice a healthy happy relational life.


But our Inner Critic and our Perfectionist can create a storm of self-loathing dynamics that fuel a continual feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that our Control Freak comes to torture us with. We try to control our appearance, how we are perceived, how things happen at work, in our relationships and in all single aspects of our life. In our selfie FOMO6 make believe current society, we over-expose ourselves to the world with more pretending than ever before. We become distant from our own reality, our true self. So much energy spent, so much pressure and stress endured hoping to “fake it until we make it”. Anxiety confuses our judgements. We are no longer able to distinguish what matters to what doesn’t, or our priorities. We may no longer differentiate our needs from our wishes. We may even lose track of why we want what we want. We withhold our breath and forget to be who we are.

We misconnect to others with our false selves and our list of should, and continuously go back to feeling this primal emptiness and loneliness. We don’t understand why as we have people around us. So, we run away, escape, try harder, work harder, push ourselves into those “addictions of all sorts”1. We tell ourselves that everything is failing. The Triad make us believe it is because we are failures. “I am not good enough” or “I am a failure” are the most common and damaging self-limiting beliefs. We try to resist them. So, we push and push, crush and crush always furthermore who we are throughout intoxicating and desperate doings. We may even chaotically change again and again our work, our relationship or the city we live in, in an existential despairing attempt to find this mythical ‘greener grass’ elsewhere. And as any chaotic agitation of one in the water, one drowns; forgetting that they simply had to breathe and be mostly steady, grounded to survive.


It all sounds quite dramatic and as if I am catastrophising everything, doesn’t it? Consider though that it all happens over time, mostly unconsciously, and in many subtle ways. More and more researches and articles around the world describe the increase in people affected by anxiety, depression and mental illnesses. This is not coincidental. Decrypting how and why it happens, how to make it stop and create healthier behaviours is at the core of the therapeutic work and research. This is also what I thrive to do in my writings7.

This first part of my ‘Invitation To Gentleness’ might feel like a stodgy and obscure piece, leaving you with no clue yet on how to invite gentleness into your life. But if you think of any medical condition you might be affected by, you can’t start treating and curing something you haven’t examined the symptoms of. Simply putting a plaster on a bleeding wound will most likely be inefficient. Exploring and noticing the symptoms of a lack of gentleness and well-being is the starting point. This is the crucial power of awareness, one at the core foundation of Psychosynthesis8. Awareness is what gives a greater ability to choose how and where to direct our will to build up and nurture a healthier and happier life. Without awareness, we don’t have enough clarity to fully get in the driving seat of our life. Any growth process or change requires patience, practice and resilience, but firstly awareness.

What I tried to do here is to create some reflective awareness on our shadow, what blocks us the access to gentleness. Because if gentleness is about lightness, emptying our back pack from the rocks of worthlessness and powerlessness our shadow makes us carry seems like a good start. And in that start, we can already wonder what gentleness means to us, and what a gentle exploration and noticing of the dynamics in our life and within us could look like. Just wonder, gently.














1              The Primal Wound, J. Firman & A. Gila




3              Psychosynthesis, R. Assagioli














I want to create here a non-exhaustive and evolutive alphabet of well-being.


Non-exhaustive because well-being is a limitless field and so can be the alphabet of it. I will quote, evoke or refer to some concepts, some books, some TEDs where so many more could be mentioned or explained. I will try to find a good balance between explanations short enough to be absorbed and long enough to invite more curiosity and exploration. I will also try to refer only to things I read or watched myself to be sure I actually support those references. Therefore I can only admit beforehand how incomplete this alphabet and its references will be.


Evolutive because this will be written and re-written on various occasions, and my reflection and knowledge are evolutive themselves.


Nonetheless, I want this alphabet to be like an encyclopaedia of mottos and concepts we can remind ourselves to practice on a daily basis or whenever we feel like it. I say whenever we feel like it because I often hear clients, friends or even myself being so harsh on ourselves for not practicing frequently enough meditation or mindfulness or sport etc. If what you do for your well-being become a ‘should’, then you are distorting its value and you are potentially harming yourself with the same tool meant to heal and comfort you. Be attentive to sensing what works for you at which time, and the attitude you adopt when practicing well-being.


I want this alphabet to be a space of inspiration, a space where we can ground ourselves, breathe and reflect. A reflection on how to better cope with adversity, how to better nurture what we need and what we want, and a reflection on how to integrate more love, joy and peace into our life.


I think of life in a multi-dimensional way. We live in a three-dimensions-world: our inner world and our intrapersonal relationships, others and our interpersonal relationships, and the world itself both as a multi-conceptualised societal phenomena and as nature with here again our relation to it.


Life is such a complex and rich world with so many elements, layers and perspectives. That richness can create overwhelm, overload & anxiety, especially since internet and the medias have been exposing us to more than we can process. That richness though, if taken with care and moderation, can create nurturing, meaning & fulfilment. I hope this alphabet to be an assisting tool to focus on benefiting from that richness instead of being consumed by it.


I also want this non-exhaustive and evolutive alphabet to be an invitation for all of you to create your own alphabet. I strongly believe in customising everything for ourselves. We are unique so why not creating a unique life for ourselves? As a Counsellor, this is in that spirit that I always try to customise my therapeutic interventions and suggestions for homework with my clients. I invite you as I always invite them to allow yourselves to be surprised by the ideas popping into your head. My suggestions, - though already customised for my clients -, are just suggestions. Nothing is mandatory. Nothing is set in stone. Same here.

No matter the advice or inspiring idea you read, hear or watch (here or elsewhere), please allow yourself to customise it for yourself if that is what emerges in and from you. Of course, if you sense that it is good for you as it is, just welcome and practice it as it is. As for everything, customisation is only healthy if it isn’t distorted by an extreme.


Because it is already such a heavy work to create a first draft with every letters, I will actually post my progress little by little. Maybe one letter at a time, maybe just one word of one letter at a time. I don’t see the perks of discouraging myself with trying to produce a final product about something I know to be limitless. Why would I submerge myself like that? One thing at a time… here is a good motto to start with and keep for the rest of it.

Please also note that I won’t necessarily respect the alphabetical order, because a creative order is more my style and offers more flexibility about what I want to talk about on a specific day. Finally, the flexibility will also be about allowing me various lengths from very short to very long posts. I need to practice and mirror here for you what it is to let go, to accept that nothing I will write will be complete and perfect.


I need to focus on my goal here: an invitation for reflection and exploration. An invitation doesn’t have to be a thesis…


So, today I will talk about…






Everything starts with awareness! What we think, feel, sense, experience, desire/want/wish, need, act upon or react to can either come from the unconscious or our consciousness. Awareness is everywhere, whether it is lacking or not.

In Psychosynthesis and I would say in any other therapeutic model, we believe that awareness or self-awareness is the key of healing and empowerment. The key in itself and also the key in what awareness provides to us.

Paraphrasing largely Assagioli, we are dominated by everything we identity with and everything we are unaware of, but with awareness we can disidentify and take a relative control over those elements within and beyond us.

The first control I would say is about healing. With awareness of our wounds, dysfunctional patterns and other dynamics within us and with others, we can better process our healing and better avoid repeating the same mistakes and getting hurt again.

With awareness also comes the power of choice. If we are to make the best choices possible in our professional and personal life, we need the awareness of our drives, challenges and needs, and the awareness of what surround and compose the situation we want to make choices about. We can’t control in a healthy and productive way what we can’t perceive.

We also can’t become the best we can be without the awareness of what we may be.

Now, the question of ‘How to cultivate awareness/self-awareness?’ is a different topic in itself. As a Counsellor practicing counselling & psychotherapy, I definitely encourage the path of therapy because it gives you a space and an alliance to seek, explore, discover, understand, heal, decide and so much more. You don’t have to do it alone. A trained ally and guide within a safe and grounded space can allow you to support yourself with, through and toward anything important and/or relevant to you.

There are other paths than therapy as well, of course but I won’t discuss them here. If you choose therapy, it is crucial that you listen to your instinct and find the right Therapist for you. For some of you, maybe it will be me… Contact me if you want to find out..



1 Psychosynthesis, Roberto Assagioli

2 Life Choices, Life Changes, Dr Dina Glouberman

3 What we may be, Piero Ferrucci

   On Becoming A Person, Carl R. Rogers

   Unfolding Self, Molly Young Brown




Nowadays social media tend to dictate trends. So-called challenges like the #IceBucketChallenge continuously fill the web. Sometimes, though created for a good cause, they put people’s health at risk. If we add to that a modern culture of alcohol, smoking, drugs, chemsex and of a toxic obsession about body image & weight, it seems to me neglecting or abusing our Health is unfortunately trendy. I write Health with a big ‘H’ as I see the wholeness of mental/psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual health to be the equation of Well-Being.


We live in a society praising more than ever unrealistic role models and lifestyles with unreachable body proportions and egomaniac stardoms of people who have no other talent than being self-absorbed. When you look online for health advice, the trend is to be a vegan gym addict obsessed by food and weight. Is this healthy? Isn’t it the other side of the same coin of those unrealistic role models? Doesn’t it create or reinforce shame, body image issues, eating disorders, lack of confidence and self-esteem for individuals who can’t or don’t relate to this modern archetype of health? I wish not to dismiss the perks of gym and veganism but to highlight a concern about associating health with body image, food and weight obsession. Like pretty much everything in life, Health is about quality & quantity, the quality being about attitude & perspective whereas the quantity is about regulation & balance. As a Counsellor, I believe self-love is a necessary focus for Health.



I already hear the critics about the danger of our society being already too selfish, narcissistic and that self-love is the focus of this toxic societal coin I just criticised. But self-absorption, unhealthy narcissism or unhealthy selfishness are nothing but distortions of self-love. I associate self-love with self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-respect and self-esteem which I like to perceive as an integrated whole called self-care:


How can we consider self-love without self-care? Can we love ourselves without caring for ourselves, and vice versa? And how can we love and care for ourselves if we don’t accept, respect and value who we are while being compassionate about our psychological & emotional experience, struggles, mistakes and failures?


I believe self-love is the key to self-realization (1). Self-realization is integrating consciously all our personality components as a whole, to come to terms with and accept who we are; acceptance being a component of self-love (2). On another hand, it is realising our soulful potential, our Higher Self (I mean that in a non-exclusively religious spiritual way). This might not be the only meaning of life but I share the belief of humanistic and existential psychologies that we all have ‘an inbuilt propensity toward self-realization’ (3) which represents a universal life meaning and purpose. As a Therapist, I consider facilitating self-realization for my clients as one of my core functions, helping them notably to become aware and remove obstacles (4). I don’t see how any self-realization would be possible without self-love, nor what could be healthier than realising our life meaning and purpose while and by loving ourselves.



With that in mind, I wish to challenge common conceptions about narcissism and selfishness. Through various contents and conversations, I noticed how narcissism and selfishness are strongly pathologized and only considered as negative toxic behaviours or personality types to avoid or “cure”. Though I wouldn’t contest that in some extreme cases they can become pathological, I think seeing them only in unhealthy extremes is a widespread misconception that focuses on distortions of self-love. I believe both narcissism and selfishness aren’t necessarily unhealthy and might even be desirable for our mental health. I would suggest that heathy narcissism represents the quality and healthy selfishness the quantity of self-love.


In my practice, I often invite my clients to reflect on, practice and nurture what I call healthy narcissism and healthy selfishness. It took me years of personal & professional process and witnessing others to articulate a non-definitive and evolving conceptualisation of those as spectrums, with at their core my model of ‘Self-Care equals Self-Love’. I need to empathise that those spectrums aren’t to be considered as a rigid way of perceiving someone’s identity but more as an invitation to reflect on the constantly evolving behaviours of one individual and how those behaviours are sourced by and impacting on their evolving identity and environment. Every human characteristics can be conceptualised into flexible and mutable spectrums within which it would be desirable to develop and nurture our unique healthy balance.





I believe well-being requires the healthy balance between the unhealthy ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’ self-love; hence my Narcissism Spectrum below.


Note I didn’t create the vulnerable and grandiose types of narcissism (5), qualified as narcissistic disorders by the DSM (6). I suggest to consider them as the two opposite extremes of the Narcissism Spectrum. Healthy Narcissism is self-consideration and humble confidence as the balance between the ‘not enough’ self-devaluation and the ‘too much’ self-idealisation.


Though quantity is involved, for me healthy narcissism is the quality of self-love because it is about learning how to love ourselves properly and to give ourselves the consideration we deserve. Partially caused by the inheritance of religious guilt, it appears to me that “I am a good person if I beat myself down” is a collective unconscious belief of what humility and self-esteem should look like. Auto-flagellation is self-hatred. Self-hatred isn’t humility. Owning everything we are, feel and do is. Healthy narcissism is owning both our strengths, weaknesses, qualities, flows, mistakes, struggles, failures and achievements, with the same ‘unconditional positive regard’7, empathy, respect, acceptance and compassion. Learning when to praise ourselves and when to face adversity with openness is real humility.


Healthy narcissism is letting go of our fantasies about who we should or would like to be, and learning to love ourselves for who we truly are and could become. It is knowing when and how to look and focus inward, outward or both. A healthy narcissism allows empathy and selflessness, because it is about balance and because self-love isn’t exclusive but intricate with loving others.





I see healthy selfishness as the quantity of self-love because it is learning to know when and how much to give ourselves, others or both in terms of time, treats and efforts. Healthy selfishness is our existential freedom that stops where the freedom of others starts8. It is about healthy self-indulgence and interconnectedness. Here again, no healthiness without balance and regulation. If we constantly behave too selfishly, we might fuel egomaniac/narcissistic tendencies. We may push people away, not receive love and end up not loving ourselves. Like for many extremes, we might adopt them alternatively. And not enough selfishness is also harmful.


Healthy selfishness and good will9 are inextricable. Good will is about aiming the welfare of others and/or humanity without being detrimental to ourselves. Too often I see individuals putting their sense of self-esteem and self-worth into devotion and self-sacrifice. Note that helping others solely to value ourselves may demonstrate a misplaced ego and unhealthy narcissistic tendencies potentially inherited from guilt, religious or not.


Self-sacrifice, - no matter how pure one’s intentions can be -, is a distortion of good will and by extension a distortion of self-love through a lack of selfishness. This lack is the unhealthy selfishness I often work on with clients identifying with being ‘The Loyal Child’, ‘The Dedicated Parent, Partner or Friend’ etc. I try to help them learn to use the qualities of being responsible for and loyal to someone for their own benefit. I facilitate their reflection by questioning them. Don’t we need to be loyal to ourselves? Responsible for ourselves? Wouldn’t it be preferable or even necessary to be responsible for and loyal to ourselves before others? If we see ourselves as the tool helping others, how can we help them with a damaged tool and how will we help them if we come to break it? Would a Driver neglect their car? Would a Therapist neglecting their well-being be able to take care of their clients’ well-being? (That is a funny one.)





Now, finding your healthy balance of narcissism and selfishness to develop and nurture a healthy self-love can be very difficult and challenging. As evoked, both narcissism and selfishness also require a certain quality and quantity to constitute the same traits for a healthy balanced self-love. It entails trying, experiencing, failing, finding a balance, evolving, losing that balance, and working on finding a new one. It necessitates a constant and renewable introspection, exploration and regulation.


A regulation that can be facilitated by communicating with our Inner Critic. A negative and controlling self-devaluating and self-sabotaging Inner Critic is incredibly common if not universal. By communicating adequately with them, we may reduce their negative impacts.


We need to learn to listen to our Inner Critic without considering they tell the truth, hear what they have to say, and through introspection and exploration get to understand them and the value their messages might hold.  Sometimes what they hold is why and how fragmented our self-love still is. Listening to them with a compassionate and empathic dialogue may well be the key to restore our self-love. I say restore because we are born with it and it gets wounded even before we realised we had it. It is a very hard practice to listen to our Inner Critic without taking on board their negativity. I encourage my clients to listen to their Inner Critic, thank them for what they had to say, and tell them if and maybe even why they won’t be taking something on board.


When The Inner Critic is too loudly negative, refuses to be dismissed, I sometimes invite my clients to tell them to “F*** off”. My clients generally report how empowering the latter can be. Note that dismissing quietly or with the latter after an active listening is completely different from repressing or denying our Inner Critic. It is facing them, controlling what we do with them, whereas repression and denial are a good guarantee of being controlled by them; hereby the importance of dis-identifying from them through awareness10.


Hopefully, a healthy communication with our Inner Critic will allow us to grow, turning negativity into constructive feedback, but also discovering their positive side. Note that positive and healthy are interchangeable adjectives that we talk about Inner Critic, narcissism or selfishness. I hope by now positive narcissism or selfishness won’t feel like an oxymoron. As a Counsellor, I seek for my clients to become partners with their Positive Inner Critic in their quest for self-love and self-realization.



I have so much more to say about the stigmatising conception of self-love, narcissism and selfishness, and I am aware I haven’t given any practical tips on how to develop them in a healthy way, and develop this regulating and enriching partnership with our Inner Critic. I will say it is a personal journey, with or without a therapeutic support. I just wish here to make the challenge of self-love an everlasting health trend. Well-being through self-love and self-realization, wouldn’t it be the greatest challenge of all? Let’s practice self-love as our daily self-care hygiene. #TheSelfLoveChallenge.




1 A Psychology of the Spirit, by John Firman & Ann Gila.

2 Loveability, by Robert Holden.

3 & 4 The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin D. Yalom.

5 The Psychology of Narcissism, by W. Keith Campbell

6 “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.” Definition by The American Psychiatric Association. [].

7 Psychosynthesis: Counselling in Action, by Diana Whitmore.

8 Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, by Walter Kaufman; lecture by Andy Blunden [].

9 Unfolding Self: The Practice of Psychosynthesis, by Molly Young Brown.

10 Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings, by Roberto Assagioli.