Many of the women who come into my office talk about not really knowing “who I am”. A lot of these women have spent many years in various roles, such as students, daughters, mothers, wives, athletes or employees and have no sense of themselves apart from these roles. In many ways, we are encouraged to derive our identity and self-esteem from these roles to such a great degree that our identity becomes inseparable from these roles. For many women and men, this can lead to an absence or a “void” in their sense of who they are apart from these roles and relationships. We always define ourselves in relation to someone or something apart from ourselves.
So what is a “sense of self” and how do you develop one if you don’t already feel you have it? Having a sense of self is, in essence, knowing that there is a you inside that underlies and is more than the self we experience in various roles. When I was 20 and graduated from college, my parents gifted me with the opportunity to go to Europe. I didn’t have a friend to travel with, but I went anyway. It was scary, but I knew I wanted to go. I was moving into the great unknown, into the world apart from every person and every role I had ever known. I was nobody’s daughter, nobody’s employee or student, nobody’s girlfriend. I was just me.
This was probably the most shaping experience of my young life. I had the opportunity to get to know myself apart from any role or preconceived notion of who I was. I learned that I was friendly, adventurous, curious and trustworthy to myself. I learned that I could navigate the world on my own. I discovered that I liked myself and as a result of that experience, I made a primary commitment to myself that has lasted a lifetime. I developed a sense of self.
You don’t have to travel around the world with a backpack to find out who you are and develop a sense of self. You can do it on your own through journaling, books, workshops, time in nature, and most important, time with by and with yourself. Let’s talk about the individual ways you have developed or might begin to develop a sense of self that provides you with a sense of your uniqueness, your value and your own way of being in the world.
- Do you feel that you have developed a healthy sense of self over time? What key experiences helped you to discover or shape your unique sense of self?
- Do you have a sense of your deepest personal values, interests, and beliefs about the world and other people? You don’t have to be perfect or totally kind in your thoughts to have a sense of self. We are all a mixture of kind and less kind qualities, but we are still ourselves.
- Our sense of ourselves also changes as we go through various life stages. Is your sense of yourself different in significant ways today than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago?
- If you feel you don’t really have a sense of self, is it important to you to discover more about who you are? and how might you accelerate that process?