Managing the Self – Who am I?

Coffee With Philosophical QuestionsHave you ever wondered “who am I?” or “what am I?”

Do you sometimes think about what it means to be you? At some stage, most of us do start to ask these questions. They are good questions to ask – it shows we are developing in our awareness of ourselves.

I invite you to take some time to sit quietly and contemplate the following ideas. Try to understand which, if any, resonate with your experience of yourself. You may find one or more of these ideas stand out to you.

A Collection of Habits

We are all creatures of habit. We have habits of eating, hygiene, sleep, work, communication etc. To some, a self is the collection of things we habitually do. This is why, sometimes, someone who knows us well may say that something we do seems “out of character” – that is, it does not conform to their habitual view of who we are.

Many of us go through a stage, often in our teens or early twenties, of trying to break the mould of the habits we grew up with. This is natural, we all have a desire to define who we are for ourselves and find our place in the world. This also suggests that we have it in us to change who we are through changing our habits. (I’ll come onto how to change habits in a later post.)

We Are What We Do

This is not the same as the previous idea. The classic example of this was put forward by Aristotle who said that we have a self, or a soul, that is distinct from the body. He said that a knife is a knife because when it is being used it is in the business of being a knife by cutting things. He also said that were the knife destroyed, it would no longer do what a knife does. Therefore, he believed that the soul would die when the body dies.

This idea suggests that we are essentially engaged in being what we are and acting out of an essential, unchanging purpose. Therefore, we can reflect on what we do and the purpose of it, in order to better understand ourselves.

Inner and Outer Self

Several different spiritual and non-spiritual schools of thought suggest that we have both an inner and outer self. Our outer self is constructed to cope with the world, interact with it and get us what we need. The inner self is given to be a “true” self in that it is who we are in essence, or as we were made to be.

Have you ever done something that would seem ok by social norms but you feel deeply uncomfortable with? Or, maybe you have warm or positive feelings towards someone who doesn’t fit in as well as you do with the crowd. Feelings like these could be indicators that your inner and outer selves are not in harmony. It is for you to decide what your priorities are in addressing this.

Conscious and Unconscious Self

Many psychological and psychotherapeutic theories rely on the idea that we have both a conscious and unconscious self. This is not the same as the inner and outer self – we can be unconscious to our experiences of things around us, and we can be conscious to what is going on within us.

What is key here is the recognition of one’s awareness of one’s sense experiences – this is how we are conscious. In terms of being conscious of what is within us, you may find it helpful to consider the mind as a sense organ, capable of perceiving things seen and unseen, like a feeling, for example.

Many people like to start developing themselves by raising their awareness of what had previously been in their unconscious experience. One accessible way of doing this would be to work with your dreams. Write down your dream each morning, and use a dream dictionary to help you begin to explore what things you were unconscious of and what they mean to you. If you enjoy this approach, you could move on to a dream analysis manual, or have some psychotherapy sessions to develop your skills in analysing your dreams.

I hope this has given you some food for thought. Remember, there is no one right answer in deciding which of these approaches best suits you.

Just get a sense of what resonates, or turns on a light for you and explore that idea a little further.

 Posted by Wendy Gore

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