Look around you, examine what you are drawn to, what interests you, what motivates you. Notice what you tend to avoid, what scares you, and what you have a distaste for. Ask yourself, why? The answer is not as simple as, “It’s just who I am.” Why are you that way then? What does it say about you? Do you think you have the capacity within yourself to answer that question? Or do you need input from nature and your social environment?
“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.”
-Carl Jung in Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology
We are all asking the same fundamental question in life. Who am I? And Who am I supposed to be? Those who make it sound simple and make it seem like you can just be yourself and do not need other people’s opinions are false prophets. They are in denial of their very nature as well as their own brokenness and propensity for evil. I am wary of any person who claims a self-made identity outside of the contribution of their experiences with others.
The Structure of My “Self”
Validation of our identity is fundamental. You can not self-validate, and you can not live without it, at least not in a healthy way. Every time someone saw something special in you when you were a child and provided you validation, they were handing you a little brick. These small bricks, collected over the years, go on to build our identity.
A solid structure, yet incomplete, the beginnings were just a foundation. Not everyone was afforded a ton of bricks to work with. Not everyone received honest and consistent validation. Those who have and those who have not are still searching, they are the same. The parts of us we do not know for sure, that are untested, are place setters. We have filled in the blanks with ideas of who we think we are, but these false fillers are nothing but boards over broken windows. They only serve to protect and block out what’s on the outside, but they also keep in what’s on the inside.
When faced with life’s challenges, the question we focus on to often is, “What should I do?” The better question is, “Who should I be?” If you can answer that question in the face of adversity, the question regarding what you should do will become evident. It won’t become easy, but it will present itself.
Testing the Structure
That person in your life who you struggle to relate to, that person who seems to threaten your strength and identity, they are helping to forge you into a better person. They are challenging who you think you are. You can’t just know right and wrong and espouse your beliefs intellectually. Beliefs about self, God, and the world will get tested. Your beliefs are in your actions when you are under fire. Seek the fire, seek to be wrong so you can learn to be right.
These relational struggles set before us are not about winning or losing. You get angry, resentful, and anxious not because you are a victim to someone’s negative influence in your life, not because they embarrassed or hurt you, but because they are threatening your defenses. They have threatened or broken through your false persona and destroyed your ego? They have done you a favor, but only if you can frame it in terms of personal responsibility. If you quickly make it about them and their issues, then you have lost.
What challenging thing are you avoiding? What character building, relationally positive thing are you struggling with? Honesty? Humility? Forgiveness? Empathy? Maybe all of them? How would they look if you put them in practice under turmoil? This is the direction we should go and the action we should take. Talking about it and being about it are two different things. One is done in safety, and the other is done under threat to your ego.
What if you did not give yourself an excuse to get angry or defensiveness? What if you looked at your reactions to the world, and instead of attributing your response to an external force, you understood that response as part of who you are? You only need to listen to yourself talk about your problems to find out who you yourself are perpetuating them.
Why carry around a false persona anyways? Why build your life on who you think you are? Around our wounded nature, we have built an ego. This ego is who we think we are. Some of it is true to ourselves, and some are not. It is not a question of whether or not you have an ego; instead, are you aware of it, and are you aware that it does not encompass the whole of your identity? Are you aware that parts of your ego are not serving you well? Are you rigid in your character and lacking the adaptability to engage the world in a meaningful way, making room for relationships and growth? Or perhaps you lack any structure in your ego and are at the mercy of the winds becoming whoever everyone else wants you to be, never finding safety and rest.
Life is about discovering what was lost — restoration in the cycle of death and rebirth. The story plays out all around us in nature, which runs its course. The human being is different. We have a will to act and choices to make. We can deny our nature through the intellect. Will we choose to engage in the natural process and accept its reality in our experience? Will we participate in the adventure of discovery and creation? Or will we deny it and live our lives only putting effort into maintaining the lie of who we think we are?
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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