“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” –Carl Jung
Who are you?
Can you put a hand on your heart and answer that question fully and truthfully? Or are you still trying to figure it out?
Everyone wants to know themselves better, to Make Sense of Themselves. It’s the key reason people come to therapy.
Often they’ll have a specific problem. But, beyond that, they’ll want to dig down into how they roll in the world: their thoughts, moods, emotions, behaviors, fears, hopes, and dreams.
Getting to know yourself is a work in progress — for life. No one ever gets to shut their personal file and say: “that’s it, job done, I know everything there is to know.”
Because just when you think you’ve got yourself “sorted”, another test will come, revealing — often in surprising ways — more intel on the Person Within.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” — E.E. Cummings
Discovering who we are is often seen as a complex process. It can be when it comes to matters of the psyche. But people frequently neglect the basics — all of which are (mostly) within our control.
It’s important to remind ourselves that we have a good deal of say in who we are, that we’re not just stuck with ourselves — there are many things we can do to change or improve. Here are the top clues.
Your physical appearance is your shop window — perhaps not to the soul, but to how you frame yourself as a person. It’s an expression of your personality. It tells a story about you.
Here’s a test. Describe your “look” in a few words. Do you like what you’ve come up with? Does it feel like a fit? If so, great. If not, consider what you’d like to express outwardly. There are a million ways to tweak your look, from haircut to shoes to textures to jewellery to body art to splashes or clashes of colour. You don’t have to spend a fortune, either: throw out the rules and put your own stamp on you. This is your story.
I took a walk with a young client to try to “get” how he felt. At nearly 7 feet (2.1metres) tall, he was quite at home sitting on my couch. But when we hit the packed city street, he cowered. He became awkward and defensive as people stared. I could have guessed this, but it was powerful to witness it — and gave us more information to work with.
We express vitality and confidence (or lack) of it, in the way we move. But here’s the cool thing. We don’t have to wait until we’re confident to change our posture — we can do it the other way around.
Not just restaurants, of course, this is code for how you treat people who are employed to serve or help you. What’s your style? Are you loud and obnoxious in getting what you want? Impatient? Flirtatious? Passive-aggressive? Do you use basic manners? Do you treat people with respect, even when you are paying for service. Play this one however you want, but know you are broadcasting who you are in neon lights.
Have you ever watched people engaged in activities they feel passionate about? It’s as though nothing else exists. If it’s an art or show of craft, their focus, attention to detail — and the pride in doing so — gives you chills.
How do you engage in your favourite things? If you were watching yourself, what would you see? And do you like what you see? Here’s a clue: even if you don’t have a “passion” bring your whole self to whatever you are doing. You’ll get far more pleasure out of it.
The way you treat all people who are struggling matters, but it’s particularly telling with those you love and care about. Are you warm and empathetic? Do you take the time to listen? Or do you sit there, feigning empathy, while scrolling your phone and running your To-Do list in your head?
Empathy can’t be over-rated. Often, it’s just a matter of slowing down.
Vulnerability is having its moment — we all know it’s cool to break down the emotional wall, to be honest with our feelings. Mostly we assume these to be negative emotions, but it’s just as important to express yourself positively — to love, to laugh, to show joy and excitement.
I recall a man I worked with who couldn’t laugh. He’d shut off his emotions at 13 when his mum died and he was scared of “dropping his guard”. When he finally laughed, he looked utterly changed. He said it sounded like a “weird echo” but he couldn’t believe the flood of good vibes it brought with it. Laughing is vulnerability too. If you’re struggling, begin there.
No matter who you are, life will throw down the gauntlet. It’ll test you. It may even try to break you. Are you a person who tosses in the towel too easily? Do you freeze or become emotional? Do you fill up with rage, hold grudges, seek revenge, allow distress or disappointment to lock you in a cage, to narrow your life?
Or do you hang in there? Process. Pivot. Persist. Practice self-compassion. Wait till the seasons change, then rise up slowly and begin again?