I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.– Carl Jung
What is the self? I realise this is a huge question that we can ponder indefinitely, but I’d still like to look into it with you.
I believe that we become what we think. Our concept of self comes from the stories we tell ourselves about who we have been and should be, or what others expect from us. Our basic values dictate the life choices we make, and it’s those choices that reflect who we are and what’s important to us.
Difficulties arise when we lack a coherent sense of identity, especially as we have a large number of roles; parent, child, partner, sibling, friend, etc. Each of these roles has a unique meaning and comes with a set of expectations. A clash of priorities or demands from others can potentially put us at odds with our true self.
To gain clarity on our true self is one of the most challenging tasks we can ever undertake. The ultimate goal is to develop and nurture those life choices that are consistent with our ‘authentic self’. The compelling reason to undertake this challenge is that it allows us to live in harmony with our true desires and create more happiness. To deny the authentic self is to deny the best within us, which leads to suffering.
Here are three suggestions to gain clarity on your authentic self:
1. Discover and develop activities that ‘feel right’ and that you are naturally good at.
The easiest way to approach this is to create a mind map. A mind map is a diagram in which information is represented visually, usually with a central idea placed in the middle and associated ideas arranged around it (see example below). The idea is that you note down everything, no matter how silly it seems. The trick is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. By doing this, you will formulate your thoughts and build up a picture of possibilities over time.
Some activities are more obvious than others. There could be things that you are naturally good at but don’t enjoy. This requires some reflection, and you’ll have to decide whether you want to continue with them or not.
These are a few questions to ask yourself: As a child, what did I want to be when I grew up? What natural abilities do I possess? What do I feel passionate about? What interests inspire me? Is there something I’ve been longing to do but just haven’t had the courage to put into practice? If there were no restrictions at all, what would I be doing?
To think outside of your perceived boundaries is surprisingly helpful. You can be as creative as you want. As adults, we tend to lose touch with our childlike imagination, but it is crucial to recapture this spirit if we want to ‘think outside the box’ and transform our life experience.
2. Decide on what you would ultimately like to achieve, i.e. your life purpose.
Consider what would get you out of bed in the morning. I’m talking about being genuinely motivated here, not doing things out of obligation. Yes, there will always be mundane tasks that are required of you, but why should they take up more time than necessary and get in the way of your joyful living?
These are a few questions to ask yourself: What was I put on this earth to do? What is it that burns within my heart? What causes are important to me? What do I find myself being naturally drawn to? What would I like my legacy to be? How would I like to be remembered when I’m gone?
3. Find opportunities to implement your activities and purpose within society.
Once you know the answers to the two points above, you can start investigating how you can put your uniqueness to good use in the world. This can feel a bit scary at first because suddenly, your true self is exposed for all to see.
Be confident, because your liberated spirit has boundless energy and resourcefulness. I found that a renewed faith in myself busted through every challenge that arose. We’re so much stronger than we think we are. When we are motivated by true passion and belief, there really is nothing that can stand in our way!
These are a few questions to ask yourself: Do I know anyone who already does this? Reach out and talk to them to find how they did it and what advice they can give you. Are there organisations I can work with, or charities I can volunteer for, whose mission and values I relate to? Do I need to create my own service to offer the world? What training or self-development work do I need to undertake to feel more confident about my talents and gifts?
Bear in mind that the self is never static. It continues to evolve over time. Being open to change and receptive to new ideas is key to overcoming mental blocks. When you’re doing what you think you should be doing, it increases your self-esteem and reduces anxiety and depression. By contrast, when you present yourself in out-of-character ways to gain approval from others, this behaviour will feel unnatural and be exhausting.
The Model of Understanding the Self
We all know pictures speak a thousand words. Therefore, I have created my own model of understanding the self, which came to me as a flash of inspiration. Thank you for indulging me!
Layers that radiate from my central being out to the external environment:
Ultimately, how I interact with others in my external environment. The quality of connections is determined by the amount of self-mastery achieved.
• Basic Needs
How I operate out in the world at a more superficial, instinctive level. There are things we all need to survive, such as food, shelter, and safety. These need to be in place before self-transcendence is possible.
• Mindset & Emotions
If I’ve developed my conscious mind effectively, then I choose which emotions and behaviours are appropriate to display. However, if there is confusion or trauma, then my inner judge, mindless chatter, and anxiety might take the lead.
My point of view and attitudes. These are shaped by what I’ve learned and experienced as I go through life. My intentions and motivations shape my mindset and, ultimately, my behaviour and actions.
• Beliefs & Values
Overlaying the authentic self is my faith or confidence in that which I consider true and important.
• Authentic Self
The very centre and deepest part of who I am. Here lives my higher consciousness, soul, and heart energy. The inner wisdom intuitively guides me to what I need to achieve my life’s purpose.
Is it selfish to focus on ourselves?
Not at all! How can we positively impact others, if we don’t first come to terms with who we are and what value we can offer.
You’ve heard the announcements on the plane before take-off, haven’t you? ‘Please place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.’ If we don’t learn how to take care of ourselves first, our capacity to care for others will be limited.
Lightbulb moment: Becoming self-aware, building confidence, and making conscious life choices has kept me on my right path.
Useful resource: Practice Makes Happy: A Guide to Conscious Living by Helen Edwards