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Who Am I? The Never-Ending Journey of Identity.

“Who am I?” How many times have I questioned my very existence? I have asked this countless times

In 2006, when I was 38 years old. I was so caught up with the demands in life that I’d lose focus of myself and soon, I was lost in a world with endless demands.

This question of “Who am I?” Is it important? Because it is a question of our identity. Our identity relates to our values and beliefs that dictate the choices we make, it reflects who we are and what we value.

Our identity is about how we view ourselves, it’s a picture that we create from our subjective reality and it’s made up of certain conditions that we hold as our truths.  Our identity is made out of our memories, experiences, feelings, thoughts, relationships, and values that define who each of us is. It’s the stuff that makes up a “self.”

Many of us describe ourselves in terms of filling up a CV for an interview – gender, age, vocation, culture, etc. For example, I’m a Chinese middle-aged female working as a practicing psychotherapist, I am single and in my spare time, I like to cycle in the park, swim, and hike in the park. Is this a description of my true self-concept?

In the early development years, our identity tends to be measured in terms of tangible things

such as our looks, our height, our academic achievement, etc.

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are or, as we are conditioned to see it.” ― Stephen R. Covey.

When we are scared and afraid, the world is a scary place. If we are happy and filled with joy, the world is a beautiful place. But wait, how can that be the same world?

We see the world with our concept of self that has developed through our past experiences and interactions with others as we grew up. We begin to organize a set of characteristics that we identify as being unique to ourselves. Subconsciously we set up conditions to represent our worth. This worth that lies within us will distort how we see the world. Eg) I must be successful, I cannot fail, I must work hard, Rest means lazy, I should make people happy, etc

Where things happen because of the reason we come up with. ‍And those reasons are just a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. ‍How we truly feel about ourselves is repetitively reflected in the stories we come up with about what is happening around us. ‍When we feel good about ourselves, then wonderful things are happening to reward us. ‍Should we feel we are unworthy and bad, then the world is trying to punish us. ‍Both can be true, and neither.

Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. said: “Few people choose their identities. Instead, they simply internalize the values of their parents or the dominant cultures (e.g., the pursuit of materialism, power, and appearance). Sadly, these values may not be aligned with one’s authentic self and create an unfulfilling life.”

This is the real issue. Our identity was enforced upon us. This inorganic identity causes us to experience a tremendous amount of stress. Our identities that are damaging are causing us pain example someone who values themselves as quite a high achiever has now found that they’re in a situation where they feel that they just can’t cope, it creates a mismatch or incongruence and the person feels the psychological distress. Most of the time these damaging beliefs will be invisible to us. This conflict, coupled with the need to find our authentic selves, is the cause of much of our unhappiness. This conflict is called “identity struggle.”

When you have an inaccurate or negative self-concept or when you have no notion of who you are, you will experience the following feelings and behaviors.

  • Unnecessary self-protection;
  • Fear of rejection or abandonment;
  • Unwillingness to take risks;
  • Inability to address personal wants and needs;
  • Development of self-destructive thinking patterns;
  • Inability to form close, personal relationships or friendships;
  • Inability to address and solve problems.

The root cause for so many of our self-doubt, self-criticizing, self-limiting core beliefs is that we do not accept ourselves as we are. We feel that in order to really love ourselves we must have, be or do more, and better so that we stand out from others.

Doing more, and doing better will not make you feel better about yourself, it will never happen. How many times, you have achieved, you have promotions, won an award, and got all excited about it, the sense that you made it. But after a while, all the thrill and sense of being noticed, acknowledged, and admired, fades. All those feeling doesn’t seem to last or make you feel better about yourself.

“The curious paradox is, only when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers.

 On the upside, people who have successfully found their authentic selves are shown to be far happier and more content. This is because they can “live a life true to their values and pursue meaningful goals. Inner acceptance is about accepting your total you, you as a person with weakness and strength. It is not just about your performance or achievements.

So how can we figure out who we are? How can we separate our true identity from the one given to us by our family and what was shaped by society?

I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life at 38, I wrote in my journal the inner dialogues of my Old self, Mid self, and New self.

This book will help you ponder upon your life, and which self you can identify yourself with. It raises questions about the nature of your identities.

Here are the steps to how to rediscover ourselves, which is fully expressed in my book “The 3 S’Elves And The Long To-Do List in a simple picture story that is suitable for both children and adults.

  1. Reflect upon yourself. It means that you have to examine yourself. Actively engage with the reflection in the present. Be your examiner and get down deep to your core. Which areas of your life that you are unhappy about? What you could be better and understand where you are in the present – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
  2. Choose who you want to be. Remember you are not looking at being perfect, no such thing as being perfect. Just embrace the idea that there are things you want to improve, which is something you can do. Eg: I want to see myself healthy and fit.
  3. Make good choices for yourself. Don’t decide out of fear, desire to please, or out of convenience. When you decide to make good choices, it means you are taking action. Clinical psychologist Marcia Reynolds said “To activate conscious choice, you first have to do some work to determine what matters to you. What strengths are you proud of? What tasks do you most enjoy? What would you do if you had no obligations or people to please? Take time to sort through your desires.”

As soon as you know what you want, and who you want to be. You then take the time to make active, conscious choices that help you better yourself. What are these choices like? For example, Mid Self in my book, disliked her current work situation, instead of just being angry, she chooses to voice out, set healthy boundaries, and balance her life. Once she makes decisions that are in line with her values and what she wants, she starts to feel more empowered and find her true identity.

  1. Discover your true passions. The greatest part about discovering “who am I,” is discovering the parts of yourself you never knew about. To understand your passion is to figure out what stimulates your creative energies when you engage in certain activities. If you find singing gives you energy then go sing! The more you do what you like the more you master that skill. This helps you feel confidence and competence, which will eventually help you ground your sense of identity. Developing a growth mindset is a key component of exploring your passions.

Ignoring our needs to please others almost always ends up in feelings of estrangement from ourselves. We become like a stranger to ourselves. Learning to listen to our inner needs is a crucial part of the process of waking up. The ultimate value of the New “True” self is that we wake up to who we are.

“You can choose better for yourself because you are, after all the Master of your own life.” – The 3 S’Elves And The Long To-Do List.