7 Things you Need to Know About Your Self

Because we have one brain, located in one body we are prone to believe we have one ‘real’ self.  But this is problematic because we don’t tend to feel and act in a singular way. It's more accurate to think in terms of fluid, flexible and interconnected selves.  Here’s why...

1.     You are not one but many selves

Think how many different roles you inhabit in your life?  I’m sure you’re familiar with reverting to your grumpy adolescent self when you’re with your parents only to become more easy-going and relaxed when you’re back with your friends.  Which is the ‘real’ you?  None, they all make up the architecture of your personality.  Look at the whole landscape of yourself and recognise how wonderfully varied and interesting you are.

2.     Your self is changeable not fixed

You are the collection of all your experiences, memories, sensations, and beliefs.  Over time you will change as you experience different things.   People are often haunted by teenage experience, a peak time of identity formation.  But things change.  Be open to the possibility of changing as your life progresses. 

3.    Your self exists in relationship to other people

To compare ourselves to others is natural.  But beware the common error of comparing your internal, private selves to other people’s external, public selves.  A perfect example is Face Book.  People only post the shiny versions of themselves.  Compare this to the messy, complex, uncertainty of your inner experience at the peril of your self-esteem.  And don’t try to just show your shiny side, it will only alienate others.  We all struggle.

4.    You are the stories you tell yourself

Experiences cause us pain, but only in part because of what happens.  The rest is created by the stories we weave. The difference between an optimist and a pessimist is not what happens in their life, but how they interpret those experiences.  Be creative in your story telling and don’t get stuck with one narrative.

5.     Memory is not always to be trusted as a way of defining yourself

We like to think of our selves as coherent…so tend to recall memories that fit with who we think we are. If I’m feeling shy, I’m likely to recall a raft of awkward social moments. And forget all the exciting social encounters that disprove my story of ‘awkwardness’.  Beware selective attention; it will always result in a biased picture.

6.    Congruence between actual self and ideal self is difficult but important

The degree of alignment between who we are now and who we would like to be is a central concern to most of us.  Write a list of adjectives describing who you are, and another who you want to be.  Ideally there will be significant overlap. 

7.     Culture has a lot to do with how you feel about yourself

Susan Cain in her brilliant book ‘Quiet’ shows how the industrial revolution shaped how we value ourselves.  With the advent of machines, our society stopped valuing qualities such as integrity, discipline and honour and began to prize qualities such as being magnetic, fascinating and forceful. That our culture doesn’t always seem to value certain aspects of you does not mean they aren’t wonderful qualities.


However you feel about yourself today, try to celebrate what is extraordinary and ordinary in yourself in equal measure.  Recognise your amazing ability to be different things to different people…your infinite flexibility and sensitivity.  Be fair to yourself and recognise your achievements as well as your failures.  And be proud to be you…all of you, you are remarkable.



Image credit: Gisela Giardino



Alice HaddonIdentityComment