People who are on a mission to “find themselves” are often mocked. I think that’s a modern tragedy.
Such mocking can only come from those who never understood this basic truth of life:
If you don’t know who you are, others will decide it for you.
You’re rarely taught to stand your ground in this society. You’re seldom encouraged to pause, reflect or check-in with yourself. No — the world demands actions and decisions immediately.
That’s how we learn to live reactively, rather than responsibly.
In the past ten days, I spent lots of time on my own. This amount of solitude reminds me that to know myself, it takes intentional effort. Realizing who I am doesn’t happen by default in a world that makes constant demands on my attention.
I need proper time to look at who I become when no one’s watching.
Without this, I’ll never be myself around others. If I don’t know what’s true for me, I’ll take other people’s truths as my own.
This is the story of my life: looking to other people for answers about who I am.
My inner compass was disabled most of my life. I grew up very attached to my parents, especially my mom. Without realizing, I accepted her perception of me as “the truth” for a long time.
I often heard that the way I dressed was not appropriate for a girl. That I should do something with my hair. That my indecision about my career was a path to failure.
All of these grew in my mind to become much more than just “my mom’s opinions.”
They appeared as accurate assessments of what was happening. And for the lack of a better narrative, I accepted them for way too long.
A similar process used to occur in my romantic relationships. I carried an authoritative father figure inside me. Then, I projected it onto my romantic partners.
As a result, the way they saw me became more important than how I saw myself. This was particularly obvious with one boyfriend who had deeply patriarchal views.
At the time, I didn’t see them as patriarchal. My tragedy was that I trusted that he “knew better” — and hence, accepted his views as mine.
I remember when he explicitly said that “women are, on average, less intelligent than men.” He stated it with such certainty that I didn’t know how to oppose. I felt there was something deeply wrong about this. But I didn’t say a word — which, in that case, equalled silent approval.
I could fill a book with examples like this. But that’s not the point.
The point is that if you don’t take the time to discover who you are and what you stand for, you’ll likely tie your identity to other people’s truths.
It’s hard to know what you think if you constantly consume the thoughts of others.
This doesn’t apply to just your friends and family. Consuming others’ thoughts also happens in the form of reading books, watching films and studying online courses.
There’s nothing wrong about getting inspired or educated by other people. But this is only beneficial up until a certain point.
Beyond this point, you need to pause, sit with yourself and ask: What do I make of it?
It’s easy to intellectualize your answers to the most important questions. It’s easy to paraphrase great thinkers and apply their truths to your life. If that’s the kind of compass you initially need, that’s fine.
But external advice is only so helpful. You can process a limited amount of information and ideas. Then, you start spinning in circles of all these theories on “how to live a better life.”
When this happens, try and source answers from within. For this, you need to consult your feelings. You need to check who you are when no one’s watching.
Other people can easily overpower us when we don’t know who we are without them.
Psychologically, we all need an identity. The ego isn’t the enemy. It’s a vehicle which allows you to find the middle ground between your internal and external experiences.
When your identity isn’t rooted in your own truths, it becomes outsourced. You start looking to other people for answers. Depending on your life experience, you may be biased towards some narratives more than others.
If all your life you believed you’re less worthy than the people around, you may subconsciously find folks who reinforce this. That’s how people end up in abusive relationships and workplaces. It’s hard to get out of there because, on an unconscious level, those environments reconfirm your outdated and less-than-healthy identity.
But this kind of identity isn’t who you are. You’re just acting out someone else’s truth that’s been imprinted in your subconscious long ago.
To find your implicit identity, you need to explore it. You need to open up to new facts that you’ve been shielding yourself from.
You may find that you’re not the person the world has been saying you were.
I don’t know your exact situation — but I believe this:
If you’ve read this far, you have everything it takes to build your identity on your own truths. It may take a while to get there. But even if it does, I don’t need to tell you that it’s worth it.
You already know that.
You already sense that there’s something inside of you that goes opposite to the common beliefs. Something you can’t quite grasp or name just yet. But, you sense that it is important.
I’m here to validate this and encourage you to go for it. Explore your inner self. Contrary to what people may tell you, this is vital. This is who you are, and you don’t want to live the rest of your life oblivious to it.
You already know what to do. Go and get to know yourself — consciously, lovingly and with care.
And if you feel like you need help on this path, you can always email me. My address is marta[at]selfawareness.blog. I don’t have all the answers — but I can ask you some questions.
Marta Brzosko is a writer, meditator and founder of Self-Awareness Blog where she helps you tap into your inner knowledge. She believes that all the big answers can be found within – you just need to be willing to explore them. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.
Image courtesy of pawel szvmanski.