A self is born but it’s not the way you think.
This is Part 35 in a series of articles about the “self.”
We have plenty of evidence that Knowing Yourself is the key to greater achievement in life.
But how do we get to know ourselves?
Our selves get born early, of course but not the way you might think.
In the beginning, a sense of self is relational rather than personal.
That is, it is not formed by our own idea of ourselves, but rather by others’ reactions to us.
Even then, it is not as it appears to be.
Most people are unaware of the mysteriousness of the process. It is complex and multi-layered and we just don’t have the life-experience it be able to understand it when we are young.
The first influences are our parents
Later, friends, teachers, family, strangers, in fact, anyone we interact with can contribute to our identity.
We contribute to it ourselves, too, of course, but not at the beginning of our lives.
He thinks his parents are God.
Whatever they say, he ‘knows’ they are right.
He or she really doesn’t have any other frame of reference so if the child is told he is good, kind, helpful, and smart he will think he is.
If, on the other hand, he is told he is troublesome, worthless, stupid, and ugly he will think that is true.
He will ‘know’ it is true. That is, he will think and feel that it is true.
We are too young for this to take place as an infant.
A baby has hardly any conscious self-referential capacity.
We are not the first influence on our own self-concept.
Our parents, or guardians are the primary influence.
As a child, the self-concept is beginning to be formed but it is NOT based at that stage in life on what we think of ourselves.
Nor is the self-concept based then on what our parents think of us.
Rather, it is based on what we think our parents think of us.
When they tell us, through words or actions, what they think of us, we internalize it and believe it.
There’s a a lot of room for error here.
- We could misinterpret something, maybe it is a little thing, but not to us, not at the time.
- Our parents might (!) not have been dextrous at showing us what they think of us, or of holding back judgement.
- Or making faces
- Or grunts
- Or rolling their eyes
- And, most of them, not being trained psychologists or excellent communicators, made mistakes and “tell” us something they didn’t really intend.
- Or they didn’t realize the importance of HOW they spoke to us.
- Or WHAT they said to us (about us)
- Or how often they said it
- Or what tone of voice they used.
Our self-concept is first formed on what we perceive our parents think of us–based on what they ‘tell’ us through their words, actions, and gestures.
Think about that for a moment.
Not what they (do think or actually think or at this moment) think of us, but what WE THINK they think of us.
People can say much with a shaken head, a curled lip, a loving glance, rolled eyes, or a dismissive turn.
Children are excellent ‘readers’ of people.
It is true that they have no sense of irony.
You could jokingly tell a two-year old to “Go play in the traffic” and they would cheerfully do it, but they read body language very well.
In fact, children can often tell that their parents’ marriage is in trouble long before the parents themselves know.
Do you remember that list of how a child learns?
Well, it sounds corny, maybe, but the observations are accurate.
HOW A CHILD LEARNS
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.
If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
he learns to find love in the world.
We construct our view of the world (in general) in this manner.
We see it as either a good place or a bad place, a place full of good people or dangerous people.
If we think or feel that the people who are our guardians (parents or stand-ins), the people we love and trust, think we are good or bad, beautiful or plain, smart or dumb, we will believe it.
Once we believe it, once we internalize it, is difficult to change what we think and feel.
If we feel we are not worthy, it will take a lot of work, self-assessment, and frequent, other, more positive opinions from many people to effect a change in the way we look at ourselves.
The writer, C.S Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), says, “We are who we believe we are.”
We’re not talking here about simple opinions or obvious ones.
If you are 6’5” nobody can say you are short; but if you have been told all your life that despite the fact that you are tall, you are a terrible basketball player, are likely to believe it.
Worse, you are going to start acting like it. You are going to start playing basketball poorly.
You accepted the original assessment of yourself and now you are probably not a good player.
You internalized the evaluation from people you trusted. You accepted what they said is true.
Now you ‘know’ what they said is ‘true.’
The people who ‘knew,’ better, the people who had the information and the power, dismissed your athletic ability.
They ‘knew’ best. What, after all, with your youth and inexperience, did you know?
So you bought their expressed assessment of you.
Think of a modest example from your own family.
At some point, your parents might have said (almost ‘decided,’ based on little evidence or one instance) that your sister was ‘the smart one’ and you were not.
Or that you were the ‘clown’ of the family or ‘the sports guy’ and that label stuck with you.
This might have happened even though you got better grades than your sister!
She got labeled the smart one and you didn’t.
This stuff is mysterious, but it happens a lot, doesn’t it?
And it can be poisonous and life-long.
It can lead to a disastrous self-concept and terrible school and career choices.
I’m sure you have examples from your own family.
We often ‘buy’ into the perception that other people have of us.
Labels can stick, often for years, and sometimes, without a reassessment, forever.
This happens in reverse too at older ages.
We can believe (in all sincerity) in a self that once was but is no more.
He wants to believe he is not losing a step or that he can still hit for average. He signs on for ‘one more year’ in the ‘knowledge’ and expectation that he is as good as he once was.
But he’s not.
He has bought into the mental image, the self concept of an earlier, but now outdated image: that he is still excellent.
You see this every day in all sports.
If somehow you have been put off-track, deluded, or faked out by some strange, weird or simply wrong assessment of yourself it would profit you if we talked.
You could easily be acting on information, descriptions, opinions or ideas about yourself that are either out of date or were never true in the first place.
You might be acting on information about yourself that you have accepted as accurate and true but might not be at all.
You will know this is you do certain thing,s act s cessation ways but deep inside, you don’t feel right about them.
Don’t quite believe it, yet you continue to do (whatever it is)because you have always done so.
This has to change for your own sake. I can help you with it.
Not only it is it not difficult (well, some of it is, we all dislike too much change) but actually it is liberating and exhilarating.
It’s you finding out who you really are.
You know it’s important.
If you think this has any application to you and your life, let’s have a free brief discussion about it.
Or call me: 905-584-0617.
I’ll be with you.
P.S. If you could do this by yourself you would have done it by now.
Think about it–you’ll know which way to go.
But don’t wait any longer if you feel it applies to you.