It’s your name.
Weird isn’t it, how something that is so surely you is so rarely invoked by yourself and so frequently used, maybe even abused, by others . Can we escape the idea that our sense of Self isn’t purely of our own creation?
What we might call our identity, our Self, is actually created in partnership with everyone else in our lives. The obvious and important people like our parents, family, partners, and then also our friends, acquaintances, the person you just walked by on the street and may never see again, even the people that you’ve yet to meet. Admit it, you wonder how you’re perceived? What does so and so think about me? Is so and so correct when he called me arrogant? Was Dad right when he said I could never really amount to anything?
‘But what about who I think I am, doesn’t that count for something?’ you might ask. Of course it counts. How you think and what you feel is an intrinsic aspect of what you call your Self. But again, doesn’t so much of what you think and feel come about in reaction to the interactions you have with other people? It’s a confusing concept: who am I exactly?
There are many theories to help us understand who we are, lending us concepts where we separate out the differences between what you contribute and what others contribute to your sense of Self. In therapy we look at ideas such as Internalisation and Introjection, for instance, where part of our Self is created by the Conscious or Unconscious incorporation of the impressions, suggestions, values, opinions and ideas passed to us by others. These influences on our identity can be particularly powerful if they are offered to us by significant people like our parents, and so can be particularly painful and disruptive to our sense of Self if these influences suggest that we are not worthy or “good enough”.
Add to the mix the argument that on a deep level there is an immutable, essential version of us, our True Self, which can be stubbornly difficult to reveal but insistently provokes that niggling sense that ‘things weren’t meant to turn out this way for me’. Concepts such as how Authentically we are conducting our lives, which is to say how closely our life choices are made in accordance with our beliefs and desires, and the distinction of making life choices in Good Faith or Bad Faith (i.e. nearer or farther from that True Self) give us a frame by which we can understand these sometime causes of our anxiety or depression.
In our search for an understanding of our Self, there are other clues we can use, too. It can be quite a battle to hang on to a sense of our Self and often we instinctively use particular adaptations to make it easier on us. We likely all have someone in our lives we name as a narcissist (maybe even ourselves), someone with a grandiose idea of who they are and what they are capable of. In therapy we can understand narcissism as a defence against the pain of missing out on important stages in the natural development of our Self. Simply put, narcissism can sometime be thought of as a desperate attempt at building up one’s sense of Self when, typically in early life, others have tried to break that Self down.
In the ten years I’ve been practicing as a counsellor and psychotherapist, this question of ‘who am I (and why do I find it so difficult to be me)?’ has brought people to my door more times than I can count. It’s also a question I return to on an almost daily basis, as new experiences challenge my assumptions and new thinking reveals and deepens my understanding of what it is to be me. If you’re up for it, I welcome you to bring your conversation with your Self.