Finding yourself. I’m sure you’ve heard this catch phrase before. But what exactly does it mean? Certainly, it implies that most of us don’t know ourselves very well. And it also implies that the self we think we know is not our truest self. This poses an interesting question. If we’re not who we think we are, then who are we? And how do we go about finding our authentic self?
Most us have been conditioned to look in all the wrong places for the answers to the questions posed above. As a result, we get a distored view of ourselves and our self-worth. We often appraise ourselves by the messages we get from others and the world around us. We judge how we’re stacking up among our peers. And we gauge our love-worthiness by how many show interest in us. In short, the world trains us to look outward for validation and approval. And sadly, this is inevitably a recipe for disaster. Sure, things can seem great when we’ve scored big, or get mounds of attention and praise. But things can fall apart in a hurry when we feel ignored, disparaged, or betrayed, etc.
Our sense of self and self-worth can never rightly depend on anyone or anything. Most of the time, that only indicates unhealthy emotional dependency. Now, there are exceptions to be sure. Certain narcissists neither care about the opinions and reactions of others or allow those things to sway them. These grandiose types are “legends in their own minds.” (see: pp. 85-94 in Character Disturbance.) Folks who do care, however can sometimes care too much about what others think. This, of course, is unhealthy, too.
You can’t love yourself without first knowing yourself. In fact, you can’t genuinely love anyone you don’t really know. And just as you can’t really know someone unless you’ve spent quality intimate time with them, you can’t know yourself without dedicating time to look within.
Life and love are all about relationship. And these days, too many relationships lack quality and growth potential. Some relationships are purely exploitative. Others are a matter of convenience. Some are predicated solely on need. And sadly, a few are rooted in pure fantasy and wishful thinking. Genuinely loving relationships are intimate encounters rooted in pure positive regard. They don’t just bring you something that feels good. They are inherently. And that includes the relationship we have with ourselves. If you can’t commit to understanding and treating yourself properly, you won’t have the wisdom to do so with another.
Learning to properly love has a lot to do with changing your focus. The world trains us to look outward. But all the answers to our deepest yearnings lie inside. Spirit-crushing experiences can give us a “sneak peak” of who we really are and what we really desire. Stripped of ego and broken in spirit, we can get a glimpse of our core. But it’s too easy to loose sight. And it’s too easy to back to our old externally-focused ways when we’re back on our feet again. That’s why sages throughout the ages have urged us to set aside contemplation time. Mindfulness is the key to self-awareness.
This week’s Character Matters podcast continues this discussion. And I’ll have more to say about these topics next week and on the upcoming podcast, too.