Who do you spend most of your time thinking about? How much of your inner dialogue is taken up with reviewing what you said / what they said / what you and they will say / what they might think of you / do they like you / have you done the ‘right’ thing? In short, how much of your time do you spend ‘thinking’ about yourself? Quite a bit, I would guess, one way or another …
Who we think we are is a mixture of many things based upon our early conditioning – who we were told we are growing up (by family, friends, media etc), who we want to be (our aspirational self), our experiences and who we have judged ourselves to be – positively or negatively – over the years, who we have tried to be to fit in/ be liked/ be loved / be safe / fulfil expectations/ avoid “failure” … No wonder we are constantly having to try and adjust all these different perspectives in an attempt to find consistency!
On top of this conditioning lies the complication of our current mood and the impact of recent events. Sometimes the story is told through the bright light of love and success, “I’m great! I’m really useful and valued”… at others, through the gloom of rejection and loss, “I’m useless. They don’t like me!”
Sometimes we author the story of ourselves – at others, the story ‘trigger’ is so strong that it tells us who we are and we cannot stop it …
Underneath all of this there is our inner/true self, the unique self indicated by Maslow when he talks of “self actualisation”, for instance; the self sung about in the great songs and the self that is the goal of all the hero’s journey myths and films. The self the mystics, the inner paths and great traditions speak about. This is the self we have known and lived at times of fearless presence, fearless action, fearless connection … times of ‘Flow’ when there is no story, only deep connection with all that is in each passing moment.
Sometimes, we can hear and listen to this voice with all its transcendent knowledge and perception, beneath the babble of our fearful self-obsession. Whether we make the effort to tune into and “listen” to this self, to attempt to connect with it and live it, is each individual’s choice, of course …
In my experience, we don’t know who we really are – we are always trying to conceptualise who we are and put a good story together, And all of these stories are too small, too rigid to encompass all that we may be or may become – how can we truly know our potential at any time when our self perception is a function of the past projected forward? Someone once said that we are ” not human beings, we are human becomings”, which sounds pretty good to me.
Self realisation is a process, the proverbial ‘journey’ on which we cannot know the destination – we can only sense the next staging post, the next ‘caravanserai’ on the way. Every time we create or want a ‘definition’, a coherent story of who we are, we should know that we are limiting ourselves and short-changing our potential.
True, our stories are necessary for our social selves, our external selves – who we are as a professional, as a partner, as a parent, etc. Just as the ‘costumes’ we wear for different social occasions and environments changes, so does the story of our identity for that situation. Where the story doesn’t match, we have tension and internal/external conflict – have you ever expressed impatience with your family when you get home from work in the evening because you are still living your professional story instead of your parent story?
- Why is the question of who I am/identity important to me?
- What triggers my self-defensiveness/aggression … and what am I protecting?
- ‘Who’ and ‘How’ do I wish to be? And why is that important to me?
- How much of who I think myself to be am I prepared to let go of to see “who” emerges?
- What am I afraid of losing?
- What do I hope to gain?
- Are my ‘self-stories’ predicated on my highest aspirations, my deepest values?