Who am I?
We may think we know the answer to that question, and so have stopped asking it. But to truly understand ourselves, we have to be aware of what made us this way, what made our personality and beliefs, shaped our behavior and influenced our thoughts.
So if you really want to find out what makes you tick, why you think and behave the way you do, this handy process has been performed in many psychological university courses, to help the students understand themselves the way they want to understand their patients.
Warning! This is NOT a 5 minute process, but a serious guide to help you make a real map of your identity, and may take anywhere from half an hour to several hours of deep thinking. This exercise can be done over many times, and you'll discover there is always something you suddenly want to add.
Of course, the less details you bring into it, the faster it will be, and while the answers won't be as detailed, they will still be true, so you can give this process a small amount of time, and add to it gradually whenever you want, to make it more precise and informative. It's all up to you!
For this process, please have a pen and paper ready, or write on a computer text file.
Step 1: Your first identity.
Ask yourself these 4 questions:
1. When did you first start feeling like you have a real identity?
2. How old were you?
3. How much of that child is still in you?
4. How much do you still have in common?
Most people make an identity for themselves during childhood, and whatever else they add to that core identity, they always FEEL like that kid from a long time ago, who has just been through some life experiences. But years go by and we forget what was it about that kid that we still identify with, if at all.
So sit and think about that kid or teen - what of YOU do you see in THEM? Is your core identity still that child? Do you have the same personality? The same attitude towards life?
Write the first things that come to your mind. (the more you write, the more accurate the process).
Step 2: The events that shaped you.
Go back in your mind to your earliest memories, and write down with your pen all the BIG memories, the events that you think about most often when thinking about your life. These are the memories you can never escape, and are related, in some way, to everything you think and to all that you are. Your biggest love, biggest disappointments, biggest traumas and scares.
Our memories and experience shape who we are. Not only mentally but biologically, causing neurons to connect with other neurons. When neurons connect, they create a new influence over your memories, and sometimes over the way you will react to new things or think about old ones.
For instance, a trauma involving a biting dog may cause a neuron or groups of neuron representing dogs to bind with neurons that activate a fear response. That means that our brain actually CHANGES according to the experiences we got through, especially the big ones.
Books, movies and learning are also important experiences. An influential book in your life might have just as much weight as an actual experience. Experiences can also be customs and traditions taught to you by your parents, family and culture.
Add these things to the list.
Step 3: The parts of people you added to yourself
People that were part of our lives have just as much influence on who we became as the experiences we live through. So don't let go of that pen and paper just yet, because now is the time to go back again, and count at least 10 of the most important people to influence your life. (Again it is up to you how many you want to include).
Look at these names and ask yourself: What did I learn from these people? What did I take with me, and what changed in me after they came into my life?
Add the answers you find to what you found in the first 2 steps.
Step 4: What has your life been like recently?
People adjust to current situations. What we've done lately can be as or more important than things that happened long ago because they have done much to influence ourselves at present.
Think of the last 5 years (or the longest time you've been living a similar life style with the same habits) - what are the difference between who you were when you started this life style, and who you are now? What habits do you now have? What people do you see most often, and have the most impact on you?
Having certain habits changes us more often than not. Habits become part of who we are, how we respond to things, and even how we think of ourselves.
Add this to the growing list of influences in your life.
Step 5: What do you hate and avoid?
Push your boundaries a little and ask yourself the hard questions:
- What are the things you are most against and never think you'll accept?
- What are the things you've decided to never try?
These can be, for example: Sky jumping, drugs, sports, various hobbies, types of people you avoid or hate, ideologies you're against, types of food, animals you're scared of etc.
The things we loathe, afraid of or avoid define us no less than the things we want. Because most of us avoid giving these things too much thought in our daily lives, we often close ourselves to those options for good. It's not about getting you to like these things, but it's very important to understand WHY you hate these things and how that avoidance or hate has shaped your identity.
It can be a traumatic event like our dog bite example in step 2. It can be just a 'gut feeling', a physical revulsion of the subject matter. The smallest thing in our past, especially early in life, may have enormous influence over the things we dislike. These things shape the way we react and conduct ourselves, even think. Fear is a great motivator, and it can change a lot of patterns in our life.
Don't be afraid to ask these hard questions.
These you add to the list from the previous steps.
Step 6: Construct a map to who you really are!
So now you have quite a clutter in front of you. Let's organize it shall we?
You should now have a list of all the major influences in your life, plus your initial core identity you created as a child.
Go back to that child, that first list, and think hard on the list of differences between you and he/she. It's very important you find as many differences as you can - in the way you behave, think, believe and feel.
That list of differences is your map to understanding what was added to this earliest of identities, to form who you are at present.
Now, give each difference a descriptive (e.g. becoming more afraid, not liking big cities, fearing dogs) and connect each difference to the experiences, people, dislikes and habits from all the previous steps by drawing simple lines from the name of the difference to the items on the list that created it.
A simple example of what it should look like:
These are the 'streams of influence' that shaped who you are, all building on that first identity. Even if you feel that you are completely different now, it's important to know where you started and how you got here.
Do you see the paths that brought you to this place? They are just as much you as that kid was, and sometimes they are more. Don't try to hold on to that first identity, but recognize the stepping stones that brought you here.
Make a new list, and organize just these streams (or differences). The table before you should still be quite complex, because that's what we are - we are complex people, with complex identities. There is no one simple answer to who we are, we are much more complex than our mere gender, belief, age or ethnicity. We are much, much more than that.
The items making up the differences between you and that kid, when added to those initial qualities you had – are YOU.
This table is a map to the things that make you the person you are today. Keep it, add to it, and study it. By seeing these things on paper, the real answers to who you are, you will understand yourself better, your decisions and the things you feel and do. We hope you find good use for this new understanding.
Remember: Loving who you are is the most important thing of all. Accept the path that brought you here, and be at peace with yourself.