Saturday, August 15th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Finding your own phonebooth


'A man cannot be comfortable
without his own approval.'
     - Mark Twain

There are some of us who have been so deeply wounded that we do not let ourselves be vulnerable. We try to stay invisible with our thoughts and needs. One of the reasons we created this defense mechanism is to protect ourselves in an environment where it was not safe to say our opinion or disagree. What made it unsafe was that when we did expose the private self we were criticized and felt rejected. To protect that 'private self' we developed a 'public self.'  In last month's article we called the public self 'Clark Kent.' While this defense protects us, it also prevents others from getting close to us.

In the early Superman shows, Clark Kent would run into a phone booth to change into Superman. The phone booth gave Clark permission to let his true self out - the one he had been hiding beneath the disguise of Clark Kent. It was in a phone booth where Clark Kent was transformed from being a mild, passive, clumsy, fragile person to Superman, who was strong, assertive, and confident.

Our question is, 'What is our phone booth? What would it take for us to believe in ourselves and let the true self emerge?' Our task is to find our own phone booth by asking ourselves, 'What has to happen for us to give ourselves permission to drop the Clark Kent disguise and allow ourselves to be who we are?' and 'What would it take for us to accept who we are?'

An external phone booth where we try to accomplish, compete, and be successful does not work for us because it reminds us that we do not measure up. This thought is expressed by a coach in the film 'Cool Runnings' when he says to his team, 'If you're not good enough without the medal, you won't be good enough with it.'

Our phone booth has to be an internal one - where we feel good about who we are from within. This statement reminds me of what happened to my father. Toward the latter part of his life, my father was searching for something special he had to do. Then it occurred to us that what Dad was saying was that he was looking for something he could do that would make his life significant. He was looking for that external phone booth.

A year later, he had two major heart attacks back to back. This experience turned out to be a spiritual event for him. People visited him in the hospital to tell him how meaningful and how important he had been to them. He realized that his meaning came not in what he did, but in who he was. The internal phone booth was telling him that his being was the gift.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700