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Who are you?

Something every human has in common is that we all come from somewhere. That somewhere is unique to every individual, as we traverse the experience of life which is marked by people, events, culture, and experience. In addition to our genetic components, who we are is the sum total of everything we have encountered, and our perception of our lived experience.

This perception of ‘the self’ is dynamic, and changes over the course of our lives as we have distance from these markers. Meaning that our stories are capable of changing over time, and by implication, our understanding of our own identity may also change.

As seen through a child’s eyes

Our first conceptions of our ‘self’ form in childhood, and through this lens, we make choices about our friends and interests, our dreams and our fears. Our sense of self is linked inextricably to those around us. We are shaped by them and they by us. Expectations of our parents, community, and society will sooner or later be introduced to us. Our decision to incorporate or reject these expectations may impact how we are treated by others. Making the ‘wrong choice’, may determine whether we are accepted or rejected, loved or left, feel safe or unsafe.  

Examples of these might be seen through the parent who tries to experience a life they never enjoyed, a dream never coming to fruition, and you—the child, are their gateway to that resolution. Perhaps your sense of value is strongly experienced when conforming to beliefs/ideals of your community, and adherence to that code of ethics is what provides you with a sense of belonging and identity.

Making meaning of our story

Beliefs we form about ourselves in childhood are not always easily identifiable, because they just ‘are’. They are the lens through which we see the world around us. What we choose to do with our time, who we spend time with, and how we talk to/think about ourselves is framed through this same lens.

Sometimes we accumulate limiting beliefs about ourselves that are neither true nor useful. I may have concluded as a child that ‘I am not good in groups’ and therefore stay away from anything that remotely resembles such, possibly resulting in missed opportunities to grow and have important life experiences.
‘I’m valuable only when I make others feel better’, may leave me hopeless when I cannot influence the mood of a friend who’s struggling.
‘I’m acceptable to others only if I present as a cheerful person’, might dissuade me from being vulnerable and connecting with others out of fear.

These narratives about our lives are often imperceptible and go unchecked. This can create a sense that we have far little control over our own lives and can live in frustration, resentment of others, and self-judgement for not making different choices. We might feel stuck and hopeless if our beliefs persistently get in the way of things that are most important to us.

Learning our story

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

To understand ourselves and to identify the stories we tell ourselves and others, is a pathway to making more informed choices about the direction we go in. Here are but a few suggestions to help access our own narratives:

Mindfulness practice

When taking steps to quieten our minds, and slow down, our brain often will fill in that silence with thoughts. There is a reason we distract ourselves and it is often with a fear of sitting with them, in case what we find is something alarming or evokes emotions with negative connotations, like fear or anger. Mindfulness practices not only help us identify these thoughts but help us regulate and tolerate more uncomfortable or distressing feelings.

Journalling

Journalling allows us to record and examine conscious and unconscious thoughts. Seeing them in writing, we are more able to assess their validity and worth. Understanding more clearly what holds us back during crucial moments in our relationships, jobs, or pursuits. We are able to map when thoughts occur and what the circumstances of our lives are around these particular thoughts/beliefs. 

Therapy

Therapeutic spaces can help us make sense of our stories and place them in their appropriate context. Having an outside person hear and validate our journeys can be an important stage in helping us accept ourselves and heal wounds which we have long carried. Recognising our thoughts, and emotions which accompany them, is useful and gets us closer to our internalised beliefs about ourselves and the world. Once identified, it is then easier to challenge the more unhelpful/unfounded beliefs which we have accumulated or had projected onto us by others.

Owning our story 

We are both the author and editor of our stories. It is our perspective that ultimately makes the difference between what we will and won’t do with our lives. 

By identifying where others have written a few pages or chapters, we allow ourselves to consider whether or not this information reflects how we feel about ourselves and the world. If these paragraphs were written by anyone else, we can decide on their value. We can incorporate them or cast them away. After all, we are the only person alive qualified to answer the question, Who are you?

David Sheppard MBACP Accredited, Therapist

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