Who am I? Why am I here? How do I function? Why do I have specific reactions to events and people? Do you recognize these questions as a part of your true self-talk?
True self-awareness has become one of the most popular topics as, at different levels, we all want to know and understand more about ourselves. Exploring and discovering your true self and its mechanisms is directly connected to your feelings, the way you live your life, and the purpose you give to it.
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Self-awareness and the ability to be in control of your decisions and emotions are key to improving your environment and relationships with others.
Discovering your true self is a complex process
Each person has their own values and perceptions of reality, therefore, the true self is made of subjective elements. Discerning your true identity from your “made up” one is difficult. The way you see yourself is influenced by your principles, culture, peers, parents, schooling, beliefs, and the media. According to those agents, you establish your character and behavior.
In analyzing these factors though, including your formal education, you can observe that they are mostly external. Some are based on a comparison where you see yourself as better or worse than other individuals, while some reflect others’ perspectives of life.
When you compare yourself to others, you are likely to experience negative feelings, including jealousy, envy, regret, blame, lack of trust, or fulfillment. This gives you an excuse and an inclination to lie to yourself. By accepting your parents’ or peers’ input, you are conditioned to adopt their values.
Besides that, the media play a huge role in the perception you have of yourself and your existence, by imposing specific canons of beauty, style, behavior, beliefs, and thinking.
During your lifetime, you go through different experiences and give them meaning, you explore your journey, and decide what suits you and the “story” you want to tell about yourself.
Discerning who you truly are is a laborious and complex process because you are bombarded with notions about appearance, demeanor, ideas, and even the people you surround yourself with. These conceptions are not you and they often generate limiting beliefs that stop you from achieving your goals and connecting with your real nature.
You often end up identifying yourself with labels, such as a profession, a role, a positive or negative quality you believe you have, your possessions, or even a physical or mental condition. This heavily impacts your reasoning, actions, and relationships with others.
In life, you play many characters, you wear many hats, and you learn how to behave accordingly; however, your true nature should remain constant and underpin all that you do. The big question is: How do you know who you genuinely are? How can you discern external notions from your real nature? Doing all this is both a conscious and an unconscious journey.
For those who are religious, the Buddha school and the orthodox religions believe that human beings are lost in delusion and can only rely on their physical eyes and limited means to make sense of their existence, themselves, and the universe. They were created with a good nature, but they became corrupt and were sent to this Earth, where they are meant to stay until they are able to reconnect with their true self and return to their original homes.
Non-religious people can still observe that, over the centuries, human values have gone through a degenerative process and, as a consequence, discerning good and evil and people’s true nature has become harder and harder.
Distinguishing between the true self and the made-up self
The self you create is a story that you construct, along with your perceptions of life. You wonder why some events happened to you, attribute positive or negative meaning to the experiences you go through, and decide what those experiences say about you. By doing all this, over time, you define and evaluate your dominant attributes and make connections between those and what occurs in your existence.
Making up a”‘self-story” leads to cognitive biases, such as embracing all ideas that protect the image you have built and rejecting those against it, justifying some of your behaviors, and constantly seeking validation from the outside world.
Your true self is different from your made-up self. The first has to do with your consciousness and awareness, is constantly evolving, and cannot be swayed; the latter has to do with words, is static and rigid, is defined by the past, and can be swayed.
Three strategies to connect with your true self
Spending time in nature
Being surrounded by trees, walking on a beach, or contemplating the water in a river will allow you to find harmony with yourself and the universe, as we are all part of one “body.”
Focusing on breathing and the senses
Being aware of your breathing, feelings, seeing, and hearing will enhance your self-awareness and keep you in the present.
Meditation will connect you with your inner being by creating the conditions for it to emerge spontaneously. The process of finding, exploring, identifying, and understanding the self is ongoing and challenging; however, it is also rewarding and fulfilling.
The first step toward this journey is silence. Taking a break from the outside noise and appreciating your own company generates the right environment to really listen to your inner voice — a voice that is quiet in the chaos, but becomes loud and clear when you are calm and alone.