Oscar Wilde once said, “be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
Committing to finding a ‘sense of self’ is hard; it requires you to be introspective, and perhaps admit to yourself that you have issues; you must put yourself in vulnerable places, outside of your comfort zone, where you can discover your likes, dislikes. You have to ask questions, observe, and uproot everything you may know about yourself.
For me, finding a ‘sense of self’ began with yoga. At the root, yoga is about a mind-body connection, and paying attention to how your thoughts manifest themselves in physical ways. It’s about stripping down the ego to find an awareness of the self, and through this awareness, we find how the self works. For example, I never realized how competitive I was until I noticed that, anytime we do standing splits, I watch my leg in the mirror to make sure it is higher than everyone else’s (in turn, I compensate for correct body posture, which often results in me pulling a muscle. But, don’t worry, as long as my leg is the highest….)
Off the yoga mat, you can find a ‘sense of self’ by simply paying attention to your reactions.
‘Sense of self’ also begins when we ‘try on different identities’ and ‘wear different masks’. I see this happening in my high schoolers all the time; first, this kid is an athlete. Then, he wants to be in theater. Now, he holds a job and just joined student council. And through trying on all of these different personalities, and shedding the ones that don’t fit, we learn about ourselves. I think it works through figuring out what does not work for us (the post-structuralists talked about this); we know that green is green, because when we put it up to blue, it is NOT blue, and therefore, must be something different.
Finding a ‘sense of self’ is hard. But, like most things in life, the best things never come easy, and I am inclined to think that going through the work to find a ‘sense of self’ can be incredibly rewarding. Because, when you have a ‘sense of self’:
You understand your thoughts, behaviors, and motivations: By understanding why I do things the way I do, I give myself agency. If it is a behavior I don’t particularly like, I can choose to change it. Or, if it’s something I don’t care too much about, when people point it out to me, I don’t get offended, because “that’s just the way I am”. For example, if you walk into any of my siblings’ or my house, you will find we hoard toilet paper (kind of like Great Depression era people). This is because when we were growing up, you could never be certain that the house had toilet paper (and, nothing is more traumatic than sitting down to use the bathroom and oops, time to be creative). To protect ourselves from experiencing this trauma ever again, we just buy a lot of toilet paper. When my friends come over, and they open a cabinet, and rolls fall all over the place, and they make fun of me, I don’t really care, because I understand that is just the way I am.
(And, if the toilet paper thing was a big deal to me, I can target the trauma, do some cognitive shifting, and change my ways)
You know when things aren’t yours to have: I used to have this completely irrational thought that I needed to save the whole entire world. Perhaps you already know this, but saving the entire world is nearly impossible. When you develop a ‘sense of self’, you understand what events are yours to partake in, and which events belong to someone else. For example, I know that I am a really good resume editor (my resume editing services now have a 100% job placement rate). So, when someone comes to me, and needs help with a resume, I know that is a job for me to take. However, as everyone knows, I have quite a tiff with cooking. When someone asks me to help them bake a wedding cake, I know that is not my thing to take, and I don’t feel any guilt, any remorse, any resentment toward myself, because I know that is not mine to take.
You do things for yourself: I am sorry to say it, but I write on my blog for myself. I am so grateful that you, as the reader, have stumbled across it, and are still reading my rambling, but at the end of the day, I write because I want to. Now, there certainly is a difference between doing things for yourself, and being utterly selfish. Doing things for yourself would be going to Monday night yoga class; being selfish would be taking the front spot in yoga class so the instructor touches YOU the most and. Doing things for yourself would be going to Chick Fil A because you are hungry; being selfish would be blocking everyone from the parking lot so YOU can get your food first. My grandma always says, you know you are ‘cured’ when you can drive to the mountains and sit on a rock for six hours, by yourself. In finding ‘a sense of self’, you realize that the only person who is worth doing things for is yourself, and everyone else comes secondarily. That way, if someone doesn’t read your blog, or they don’t compliment you on your cute outfit, or you don’t get recognized for that good deed you did, it doesn’t really matter, because the reason you do stuff is for yourself, and that purpose has already been fulfilled, and anything else becomes an unexpected added bonus.
You can better regulate your emotions: I believe that 99% of our reactions to other people are projections of our own emotions; if I get mad at someone for “not inviting me somewhere”, I am probably actually mad at myself that I didn’t invite them to my outing first; if I get mad at someone for getting a better spot than I did, I am probably actually mad at myself for not working hard enough to deserve that spot; if I get mad at someone for going on a trip, I am probably actually mad at myself for buying that new pair of boots and eating out all the time rather than save up to afford to go on my own trip. But, when I have a ‘sense of self’, I understand these things about myself, and rather than make everyone else suffer for my bad mood, I can take a step away. I know that when I am feeling overwhelmed, and too stressed, and really upset, I lose my appetite, and therefore, stop eating (I think this is conversion–as an introvert, since I don’t share anything with anyone, my anxieties manifest themselves in physical ways). So, when I find myself in these predicaments, and I find myself in a bad mood because I am hangry, I know that it’s probably time to slow down my life a little.
You no longer seek outside sources to validate your existence: When I know why I am on this earth, and I know what purpose I fulfill everyday, I no longer have to seek empty-identities. You see, it is when we feel a lacking in ourselves that we try to seek outside sources to fill those voids. These could range anywhere from food, to drugs and alcohol, to unhealthy relationships, to internet addictions, to scheduling your life with unfulfilling activities. But, when you have a ‘sense of self’, you realize that the self is enough, and you limit your time to self-fulfilling things. For example, my newly found ‘sense of self’ actually despises going to the bar (unless, of course, I have a dancing itch I need to scratch); I am NOT meeting my future husband there, it’s TOO loud to engage in meaningful conversations, and it’s a WASTE of my resources to look for a parking spot. So, when I am planning my weekend, I know which vacuous events to stay away from, because I am no longer searching for, and trying on different identities. I know my identity.
You careless what happens to other people: Of course, I believe in living a selfless life, and always extending care and compassion and empathy towards others, and should celebrate accomplishments, and offer support during obstacles, and that our role as humans is to put as much good back into society as possible. But, when you have a ‘sense of self’, you understand that the things happening to other people are meant for them, and that you have your own shoes to tread, and therefore, you shy away from any envy or jealousy that would naturally ensue. It’s probably going to happen that my long-term boyfriend will get married before I do. But, in developing a ‘sense of self’, I actually could careless, because what is happening to him is happening for him, and what is happening to me is happening for me, and those things are different, and my newly developed ‘sense of self’ knows he was an absolutely terrible match for me anyways, and so therefore, I could careless what happens to him.
You have confidence in your decisions: There is nothing more attractive than a person with confidence. When you have a ‘sense of self’, you stop doubting your decisions, because you understand why you do the things you do. For example, I know that my brain is incredibly analytically and logically inclined; anything it comes up with usually falls under these categories. Before, I would ruminate extensively about making decisions–which car to buy, how to build my class schedule, what restaurant we should eat at. And, inevitably, contemplating these decisions for so long usually ended up in me making no decision at all, and then being upset about that, too. But, with a ‘sense of self’, I am confident that anything I decide to do, whether I spend a long time thinking about it or not, will probably be analytically and logically funded, because that is just how my brain is wired, and so I don’t necessarily need to second guess myself; I can trust my intuitions.
Your long-standing foundation is unfalterable: Of course, this is life. We will experience tragedy and obstacles, emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, things will happen that call you to question your identity. But upon discovering a ‘sense of self’, you never steer too far away from those tracks that are inherently YOU. Something might happen that might shake the foundation a little bit, but it won’t be long until you come back, because you know yourself.
In discovering a ‘sense of self’, what you uncover is probably nothing new, but rather the same person you were the entire time. You will probably have what you feel like are these HUGE realizations, and the people around you will simply shake their heads and say, “We know”.
Discovering a ‘sense of self’ is scary; it’s hard, it’s taxing on your ego, potentially damaging to your self-image, but I believe that nothing worth doing is easy; like a forest fire, we get rid of the junk, the excess, the history, and we emerge a better, more beautiful, stronger version of ourselves. And for that, it’s worth it.