Who Do You Think You Are?
Risa Bos, LMHC
It’s a philosophical quandary: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Centuries later, Pablo Picasso said “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” And Hunter S. Thompson cleverly wrote, “ ’Happy,’ I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood.” For centuries, writers, lyricists and philosophers have waxed poetic about the motivations of humankind, our awareness and curiosity, and the meaning of life. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of others’ thoughts; it’s what YOU think that matters.
What comes up when you ask yourself the question, “who am I?” Most people go through the standard checklist of traditional categories: occupation, family status (wife/husband, father/mother, etc), maybe astrological sign or religious affiliation… But what do those titles and categorizations really say about who we are, in the deepest recesses of our consciousness and in our fondest dreams of our best selves?
Check your look in the mirror: The alarm goes off and you awaken to a new day. Within your morning routine are the preparations that allow you to leave the house and embody your persona. Carl Jung defines the persona as the face we show to the world. It’s a desirable image we endeavor to present to others, in order to be perceived in a positive manner. I’ve been thinking a lot about the superficiality of this aspect of our society. Appearances. How much effort is spent editing, practicing, grooming and behaving in ways that are deemed appropriate and attractive? And how unkind and relentless can we be when analyzing, over-thinking and obsessing about something we said or did? Dr. Phil McGraw famously said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought about you if you knew how seldom they did.”
Cast a long shadow. Another brilliant Jungian concept is the shadow element of our consciousness. The shadow contains aspects of our personality, tendencies and thought processes that we judge as undesirable, and therefore hide from the world. Light cannot exist without darkness, however, so the shadow is just as important as the persona. What are the hidden parts of you that you can accept rather than judge? And how might those hidden aspects contribute to the whole of who you are? Ok, I’ll go first: I love hard rock music, and some of the lyrics are hideous! But there’s something cleansing about screaming along with JD from KORN during the bridge in Right Now. I also adore twisted horror movies, especially if I get startled and scream involuntarily. These preferences belong to my shadow, and I feed it regularly. The point is that our shadow provides contrast and dimension to our whole, expressed self.
Continually be constructing your SELF. We are not static, stationary beings, and the self is not a fixed component. Let’s do an experiment using imagery. In my therapy practice, I often utilize the “split screen” exercise. It’s a kind of before-and-after or then-and-now comparison. For the left side of your split screen, think of an image of yourself 5 or 10 years ago, or use some other threshold that illuminates the changes you’ve gone through. Contrast that earlier image of who you were, how you thought, even what you looked like with your “now” image. I’ll bare my soul again, for the sake of encouraging self-compassion. My left-hand split screen is an image of myself stumbling around drunk, saying any inappropriate thing that came to mind, and being bloated and red-faced nearly all the time. My “now” image is a sober, self-compassionate, healthy “me” who reaches over to embrace my “then”. The point is, we’re always under construction and we can make huge changes and little tweaks to feel better and move toward our best selves.
Create! Martin Seligman, the developer of Positive Psychology, identified “the flow state” as the feeling of effortlessness and engagement that is connected to being creative. Whether you’re writing, gardening, painting, cooking, dancing…find something you love that allows you to express yourself, and get lost in the flow of doing that thing.
The question of “who am I” is something we can begin to answer with “who do I want to be” and “how do I want to feel.” If you need help finding yourself, reach out to one of the experienced counselors at Life Skills Resource Group. You can schedule a free phone consultation with the counselor of your choice, and get started on your journey today!