The person closest to us. Someone who has been with us all the time – since our earliest days. Someone whom it would seem we should know thoroughly … But paradoxically, he (she) often turns out to be someone we only superficially know. And that person is us. A counsellor explains why this is the case.
WHY SOMETIMES WE DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO GET TO KNOW OURSELVES
There really aren’t too many people who have developed the skill of knowing and exploring themselves since childhood. We are more accustomed to learning the rules, trying to fit into the way things are, or simply acting in familiar patterns, than to asking ourselves, “What exactly am I about?”
We grow up getting used to certain masks and as we get older, we acquire more and more images, hiding the most important one – our own – underneath them.
Everyone has different reasons for this. Some people simply were not taught this skill because there was not that person in their family who knew themselves so well. Some were unsafe to be themselves since childhood, for example, if they were scolded or deprived of love for some feelings or behaviour.
Some families were very concerned about what others would say, so it was more important to maintain a certain image than to express their true selves. Others grew up in a situation where ‘mum knows better than you if you’re cold or hungry’. Some were constantly compared to others not in their favour, and some were ignored altogether.
And as a result, as we grow up, we literally give up the desire to be ourselves in favour of the evaluation of others, the fears and ambitions of our parents, or simply the inability to hear and listen to ourselves.
WE DON’T UNDERSTAND OURSELVES: THE 4 MOST REVEALING SITUATIONS
We may not even realise that we are “mysterious strangers” to ourselves. There are some situations in which this is particularly noticeable.
1. We have no contact with our bodies.
You might find that you don’t feel tired at all in the intermediate stages, but your body reminds you with pains and discomfort when you need to rest.
Or we might sit in an uncomfortable posture for three hours and only notice the tension when a sharp pain in the lower back and the legs go numb so much that we can’t walk for a couple of minutes.
We don’t feel what we want to order in a restaurant or café and choose the “like everyone else” option, or we finish every last crumb without really grasping the moment of real satiety. This may be connected with the fact that as a child it was more important not to offend our grandmother who cooked than to feel how much food our body really needs.
2. We do not know our true desires and aspirations
If our dreams and desires have been constantly criticized as something silly or unrealizable, or if any “wants” of a child have been evaluated as unimportant, it will be difficult to find contact with our true desires as adults. And it is on them that the very “working” motivation is built, the drive and fire that adds to our energy on the road to life that would actually make us happy.
3. Not knowing how we feel If your answer to the question “How are you now?” is “Good”, “Bad” or “Fine” – not only in situations where you don’t want to give details to someone you don’t know, but also when you ask yourself a similar question – it may indicate that you’re not very self-aware.
If it is difficult to answer the question “What am I really feeling right now?”, it is likely that there is a lack of skill in openly facing our feelings. This may be because we have little understanding of feelings at all, or because we only allow ourselves a certain “approved” range of emotions, and states such as anger, irritation or confusion fall under our own internal taboo.
4. We do not know who we are
Sometimes it may be hard to talk about ourselves, not because we are afraid, but because we don’t know what needs to be said. People may find it difficult to understand what is unique about them, leading to a perception that everyone else (except for them) is brilliant and successful.
These are all signs that contact with yourself is not built up to a level where you can confidently say you know yourself well.
HOW TO FINALLY GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
Understanding yourself is a skill that can and should be developed if you want to truly live your life, not someone else’s.
1. Get in touch with your body
Several times a day, ask yourself: “How am I feeling bodily right now?” and try to find all sorts of nuances, going into more and more detail each day.
Explore your body’s desires, from breakfast choices to what tissue touches you want today. Sometimes you’ll want a flowing silk to caress your body, other times you’ll want to wrap up in a soft blanket so that you feel like a soft, safe cocoon.
Plan a body treatment (massage, sauna, osteopathy – whatever works for you) and try not to drift your attention off into your thoughts, but rather monitor your body sensations throughout the session. Even a simple walk can be a way to deepen your contact with your body if you do not think about your shopping list for tomorrow, but rather focus all your attention on which muscles are activated with each step and where your centre of gravity is shifted at each moment of your walk.
Any grounding activity – a salt bath or walking barefoot on sand or earth – will also help you feel better bodily, especially if you can take your attention away from your head and into your body sensations at that moment.
2. Increase your emotional intelligence
You can find a detailed list of feelings on the internet and in difficult situations, or better still, simply run your eyes over it several times during the day, trying to become aware of exactly how you feel at the moment.
Sometimes it will be directly related to a situation, and sometimes you may not see a direct reason for frustration, anger, annoyance – but this too will need to be realised and resolved to yourself. It is important not to mechanically match the feeling to the context, but to learn to identify exactly what is going on inside you.
The next step might be to explore your feelings from different angles: “What am I like when I am sad? What in me indicates this?”
In the case where you feel some intense experience, ask yourself how you would like to live it, rather than forbidding yourself to feel something that you don’t yet know how to deal with.
3. Start exploring your desires
From “What kind of coffee do I want right now?” to “What would be my ideal job?” As often as possible, catch yourself doing automatic actions and ask yourself, “Is this what I really want right now, or am I just doing it out of habit?”
For those who find it difficult to dream, this might also work: write a list of 100-200 wishes. In the process, it may seem impossible, but somewhere in the middle of the list, your inner limitations may loosen, and you will become bolder in writing what you truly want within yourself.
4. Gather your own “What am I about?”
Again, move from the small to the global. Is it important to be in silence for half an hour in the morning or go out alone for a walk in the evening? Do I like minimalism around me or beautiful, elegant little things decorating the interior? How do I dress when I’m tired? What exactly do I like to fill my work with?
The questions can be endless, the limit is your imagination. The important thing here is to have a desire to explore what makes you you, without judging whether it’s normal. Everything about you is important.
Understanding yourself is what will help you not just gradually fill up (because energy will stop being spent on maintaining a mask of perfection for someone else), but also help your children get to know themselves.
It is mum and dad who introduce the baby to their feelings, states and how to live them without harming themselves. However, if this skill is not available to us ourselves, it will be impossible to help our children recognise what is happening to them.
Once we know ourselves, it will be easier to understand others. Accepting the different states, desires and realities of others begins precisely with the recognition that all these things, unique in their essence, are there for me too.