Once again we are stuck inside. As the UK enters even stricter restrictions it feels tempting to grow your hair out long and feel the full Rapunzel fantasy as we sit locked in our towers. However, it’s not all negative as it is currently a fantastic opportunity for developing our sense of self.
What is a sense of self?
I suppose our sense of self could best be described as our inner identity, our innate personality and our values that remain constant throughout time and transitions. Essentialy it is what makes us…us. Our sense of self feels like something that should be innate knowledge, so how could we not know who we are? It feels stupid, afterall we would all get full marks if our mastermind topic was ourselves.
But this lack of sense of self is why your teenage years and early 20’s are so famously rocky. We are blasted from the comfort of school into this massive new universe full of possibility. And now we have the option to do anything and everything we want to do! Freedom is great. But then why do so many of struggle in these formative years?
My personal conclusion is that we are confronted too many choices. Having too many options is a well know phenomenon that has been coined ‘The Paradox of Choice’.
Rather than feeling liberating by all of the different options at our disposal, we feel overwhelmed. What should we chose? And us we umm and ahh over what to do, a new question enters our mind. What if I pick the wrong thing?
And this is where sense of self enters the picture. When we have a strong sense of self, this naturally reduces our number of options.
For example, when I think about everything I could ever do on the weekend the options are literally limitless. I could sky-dive, or go to a spa, or even go duck-shooting. However, when I also know that I hate heights, spas are too expensive for my stingy self, and duck-shooting is against my morals this makes my choice for me.
When we know what feels right for us and what makes sense for our soul there is less worry about choosing the wrong thing. With a strong sense of self, we will more often that not choose the ‘right’ choice for us because we understand what we are in alignment with. So although this would still leave us with hundreds of weekend choices, we know any of these would be a ‘correct’ choice.
Now that is all well and good in a vacuum, but maintaining a strong sense of self in our outside world is tough! As our cuddly sense of self is constantly under-attack by outside judgement and our need to remain within the ‘group’.
As human beings we have a fundamental need of social inclusion, we like to feel part of a tribe and to have that sense of ‘belonging’. This primal need to fit into the ‘group’ was an evolutionary development that aided our survival over the millennia. After all we are stronger as a team than as individuals. In theory this sounds beautiful, living in a world where we all have our little pack where we feel part of a team, but in practice this can feel a lot different. In Japan they have a saying; “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”**. And this sentiment shows how our sense of self can begin to be eroded by our pack mentality.
**It turns out this saying is actually not at all common in Japan as per my internet research for this piece. It is more likely a poor translation or just a common myth- who knew!
To remain peacefully part of the pack we must maintain the status quo. In the Savannah this would mean remaining close and loyal to your group of fellow zebras. But you don’t need me to tell you that our modern-day existence is vastly different than that of a dazzle of zebras.
Maybe for us it means maintaining a certain appearance to blend in and be considered ‘acceptable’, or it means achieving a certain level of monetary and career success, or most likely it is achieved by holding a shared mind-set about what life is about, why we are here, and how we should live.
But as individual and unique human beings we are not going to agree on everything.
It would be great if we could feel accepted for who we truly are at a soul level in all our walks of life, but sadly this is as unlikely as me one day marrying Dwayne the Rock Johnson (but a girl can dream). More than likely we have all exist in situations in which we feel we have to filter ourselves, to be less ‘other’ to those around us on the daily.
It is difficult when you feel different to those around you, and sometimes it feels easier to suppress sides of yourself that are considered unusual. If our unfortunate history of wars has taught us anything, it’s that people feel uncomfortable with what is different than themselves. And this anxiety of appearing too different has meant at times actively avoiding talking about fundamental parts of myself like my hobbies, world views, and even what I do on the weekends to ‘blend-in’ more.
Not everyone is going to share the same opinions, that is natural and very healthy, we never want to be in an echo chamber. Challenging our opinions is important, but when it comes to our very sense of self this judgement is less helpful. And when this sense of judgement happens again and again you can be left thinking- is it weird that I want to do this? Maybe I am just plain wrong? Am I doing the ‘right’ thing?…. I don’t know what to do…
As the saying goes opinions are like assholes, we all have one but that doesn’t mean I want to see it…. But if life has taught me anything, its that everyone wants to give their own 2 cents about your life choices. I’ve been told so many inaccurate things about nearly every life choice in my life (relationships, university, lifestyle, habits, careers the list goes on) by people who barely know me.
Whilst sometimes you can laugh it off, at other times the sheer number of opinions can be overwhelming. It becomes really easy to begin to drown in the opinions of others whilst our intuitive voice within us fades into a quiet whisper.
And then suddenly… we feel lost. We look at where we ended up and it doesn’t feel connected to our true selves. And then we could wonder how we ended up climbing the ladder in this career path, when we never liked it to begin with. In reality we only kept at it because it was something that looked great on our CV. But now here we are knee-deep in something that feels foreign. And then we think how did I end up in a life that isn’t mine..
I suppose the ironic thing is only we can answer that question for ourselves.
Quarantine and our sense of self
2020 (and now 2021) came like a big slap across the face with a comedy fish. When you are forced to become a hermit you are surrounded much more intensely with your own mind. At first this feels scary and the brain can feel like a wilderness of opinions, experiences and confusion. Like a big angry jungle full of twisting vines and clouds. All these thoughts are swirling round in our head like the worlds most obnoxious monologue. Are we doing the right thing? Maybe this person was right? But I don’t want that? Wait- what do I want?
Peering into our own mind with honesty and courage can feel overwhelming. But to find our sense of self we must persevere in listening to our true inner voice.
With time listening we get comfortable and the fog begins to settle in our imaginery forest, and we can begin to see the wood for the trees. These outside opinions are no longer bobbing about like grey fluffy clouds in our forest occupying rent-free space in our head. Instead our own thoughts begin break free and the leaves begin to grow through. (has this metaphor gone too far?). And this right here folks is the thesis of this rambling.
When we are forced inside by ourselves, we are no longer bombarded by the opinions of others around us, and for once we are face to face with ourselves. Without these outside forces quarantine has been a time to examine what do we actually want? What does living authentically to our sense of self look like? What do I want my life to be regardless of what everyone else thinks of my decisions?
And hopefully in this cacophony of ideas and realisation we can begin to live more authentically. To live in accordance with our sense of self.
Let’s hope we no longer feel the need to post #lifegoals content because in reality who isn’t currently inside in their pjs with greasy hair*? I hope instead we are beginning to live in a way that is fulfilling to us as opposed to what looks the cool to those on the outside.
*I have outed myself.
Personally speaking, I used to feel a strange pressure to have weekend plans, even if all I wanted to do was sit inside and watch Bob’s Burgers. When the manditory “what did you do on the weekend” question was asked, it just felt too lame to admit. Too embarassing to confess the height of my enjoyment is curling up with a cup of coffee and what is probably considered a children’s cartoon.
But the longer I have lived trapped inside in this quarantine, the more I’ve lived authentically according to my sense of self. And the less I have cared if it looks lame, because it is who I am. Maybe I am lame, but I love it because it is me.
So I suppose it is my hope that we have all come back into contact with our true, uncensored, embarrassingly authentic self. The self who can admit every song Britney sang was an absolute bop and that it’s impossible not to dance to Toxic. Our self that can say, maybe this isn’t ‘normal’ but I chose it anyway because it is me and that’s ok. The self that reclaims its own power to trust our judgements and decisions because they are our own.
People love the cliche that “travelling is a great way to find yourself”, but maybe it was hidden inside our quarantine houses all along…
Song of the day about identity is ‘I got a name’ by Jim Croce- one of my favourites for a summer day 🌼
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