A look at one’s face in the mirror can be an occasion to reflect on the nature of self.
At times when I glance at myself in the mirror I wonder, “Who is that man looking back at me?” I have changed so much physically over the decades but behind the wrinkles and graying hair and a body that betrays me, there I am. But, “Who is that I?” “Who is that self?”
When people are asked this question, they often respond by saying things like: “I am a professor of literature” or “I am a mother” or “I am an adventurer”. However, these are descriptions that reflect our roles, our interests, our activities or, perhaps, our status. If these roles, for example, were suddenly taken away by job loss or death, then who would we be? The fact that we often sink into depression or malaise when losing an important job or career speaks to this strong identification of our “self” with what we do or how we appear to others.
If we choose to look at ourselves in a different light, however, we will discover that the “self” is not these things our culture has taught us to believe we are.
What about us transcends our physical age? Where does our deep value lie? Many make the distinction between the true and the false self. Let’s do this through a series of 10 “I am” statements for each one.
The False Self
1. I am the sum of my achievements.
2. I am defined by how well I perform or how I make my significant others look.
3. I am all my friends on Facebook.
4. I am the knowledge that I have acquired.
5. I am the adulation bestowed on me by others.
6. I am the size of my home.
7. I am very special and entitled.
8. I am living in the past or the future
9. I am very competitive
10. I am my high intelligence
The True Self
1. I am kind and true at the center of my being.
2. I am defined by the content of my character
3. I am inclined to celebrate the achievement and life of others
4. I am grateful for all that life brings my way, including the joys and sorrows
5. I am looking for the essence of others that I can celebrate
6. I am hopeful in the face of loss.
7. I am living mindfully in the present
8. I am seeking win-win outcomes in conflict
9. I am working for the best interests of others
10. I am the person asking the question “Who am I?”
The key consequence of behaviors emanating from the true self is that they enable us to make an authentic connection with others and ourselves. The false self generally serves to alienate.
Finally, the true self is that gold nugget and that diamond of the self caught up in our fragile body. It is that part of us that persists and grows through all the changing scenes of life. It is the vehicle through which we experience the awe of life where every day has its own beauty and adventure to celebrate.
How would you describe your true self?
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