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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Becoming a substantial self : a case study Brunton, Kathy


The phenomenon of becoming a more substantial self was investigated using the case study method. The co-researcher, Mary, was interviewed to elicit her experience of the phenomenon. Understanding was built up through collection of data from a variety of sources including early recollections, a diary, and interviews with friends and associates. The data were analyzed and Cochran's dramaturgical method was used to discover the coherent pattern of meaning. A rich, detailed description of the case was then written and summarized. It was found that, for Mary, substantiality involved childhood experiences of powerlessness, incompetence, and lack of social acceptability. In response to these experiences she had formulated the position that she must defend against those painful vulnerabilities by presenting herself as strong person. Implicit in this was the assumption that she was powerless, incompetent and unacceptable and, as a result, dependent on external support. At the age of 33, Mary reached a point where her life circumstances defeated the viability of this position. She felt humiliated and defeated and could see no solution. It was then that she had a supportive spiritual experience and, at the same time, an experience of gentle confrontation from a supportive authority figure. This was the beginning of a 7-8 year transition period which involved two central processes. One process involved a kind of letting go or opening up, the other involved a movement forward involving risk, effort and action. Through many and various experiences Mary experienced that if she let go of her social mask of invulnerability and accepted herself as she was, with painful feelings and imperfections, she arrived at an experience of harmony with herself, other people and the world in general. Profoundly interwoven with this was the process of risk, effort and action. In supportive contexts, Mary began to apply herself and to discover her capacities. She began to take larger and larger risks until she came to experience herself as a competent person capable of pursuing her goals. The emergence of the substantial self was marked by the experience of the self as a capable social being and a harmonious spiritual, physical, and emotional being. Mary's life is no longer oriented around protecting vulnerabilities but around using her full capacities to accomplish social goals while staying in touch with her spiritual self.

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