Connecting With the Self

When you were growing up you were taught you were many things: your family, nationality, religion, appearance, economic status, race and gender. Later, you were defined by what peers and authority figures thought of you.

As an adult, who you are is measured by your education and training, your accomplishments, possessions, friends, groups you join, and the person you live with or marry; even your children and grandchildren and what they achieve measure your value.

Additionally, you have a voice you internalized at an early age that talks constantly about what’s going on inside and outside of you. You may think this voice defines you, since it has an opinion on everything, shifting back and forth, finding fault, worrying, blaming, and predicting gloom and doom.

But who are you without anything and anyone to define you? If you were in a strange country where you knew no one and no one knew you, who would you be there? How would others experience you? How would you experience yourself?

Recognizing the Self

Discovering who you are apart from family, cultural conditioning and the talkative inner voice can occur any time you feel quiet inside, undisturbed by emotions and fears.

You may be out in nature, listening to music, watching an excellent performance, folding laundry, or doing the work you enjoy. Absorbed in the moment you experience the Self, as that entity is called in humanistic psychology.

folding laundry

In his discussion of Carl Rogers’ work in Simply Psychology (2014), Saul McLeod says Rogers believed the core self was characterized by eight qualities: curiosity, clarity, confidence, courage, creativity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness. Any time you experience these qualities you are in touch with the Self.

“The self is our inner personality, and can be likened to the soul,” McLeod writes. “The self is influenced by the experiences a person has in their life, and our interpretations of those experiences. Two primary sources that influence our self-concept are childhood experiences and evaluation by others.”

McLeod emphasizes the importance of alignment between who you would like to be and what you feel, say, and do. “The closer our self-image and ideal-self are to each other, the more consistent or congruent we are and the higher our sense of self-worth.“

Ideal does not mean perfect. On the contrary, if you see yourself as honest the ideal includes accepting darker emotions as well as vulnerability. When you deny parts of yourself because they do not match your self-image, such as believing it is unselfish to take care of everyone, your wiser shadow may use an illness to force you to put yourself first.

As you heal you become more integrated, meaning you accept (and appreciate) what you formerly rejected, that it is healthy to balance others’ needs with your need for comfort and enjoyment.

The Value of Self-Reflection

Strangely enough, people like you better when you are real because they don’t have to pretend to have it all together when they feel the opposite. However, some people may have trouble with transparency, including those who are used to the old you, push back that tests your resolve to drop fakery. But, as gestalt therapist Fritz Perls famously said about personal growth: “Those who mind, don’t matter; those who matter, don’t mind.”

Self-reflection not only increases self-awareness, looking within without judgment also creates new neural pathways in the brain. Mind-body medicine pioneer, Dr. Herbert Benson says a few brief meditations a day improve mental and physical health. Regular vacations from “the monkey mind” can even shrink the amygdala, the part of the brain that secretes stress hormones.

Benson’s basic exercise goes as follows: shortly after waking up sit quietly in a chair in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Relax all your muscles, from head to toes. Breathe slowly and deeply in and out through your nose for 10 to 20 minutes while you focus on a soothing word or phrase to keep random thoughts at bay.

When thoughts intrude, as they will, refocus on the word or phrase of your choice, such as, “Peace, love,” or, “I am calm and relaxed.”

Repeating this visit with yourself several times a day trains the mind to discard conditioning (old neural pathways) that interferes with clarity, a place of stillness that is your true home. Michael Singer, the author of The Untethered Soul puts it this way: “Inner peace and freedom come when we are in our center of consciousness. From that seat, you are aware that there are thoughts, emotions, and a world coming in through your senses…you are aware that you’re aware.”

Awareness means you will experience fear and disbelief, and all the other emotions. But rather than identify with these reactions, you learn to observe them from a detached perspective, like watching leaves float down a stream.

As you observe thoughts passing through your mind you realize there is no point in engaging with the inner voice, nor do you allow it to dominate you into submission.

As Singer suggests, you simply stop listening to “the maniac roommate.” Easier said than done, but with time, practice, and professional help the voice reduces to a whisper. Then you can hear the voice that knows.

Let Instinct Guide You

During one of many dangerous situations in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is asked what he plans to do next. He shakes his head ruefully and says, “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.” This line makes the audience laugh because it rings true to everyone’s experience: We are all making it up as we go.

Although he is a professor, Jones is an intuitive type; he follows his instinct, an addition I would make to the previously mentioned eight qualities of the Self. You don’t have to be a character in a movie to act on instinct. When you do, you will be guided to what is best for you. These choices may be risky, but they allow you to fully develop your character and abilities.

As Carl Rogers said, getting into the right environment is the only way you can reach your full potential. Like a flower, you grow when you have the nutrients you need. Knowing who you are and what you need is crucial to development of both character and abilities. This is particularly true of your work, since that is where the stakes are highest.

After all, you spend most of your time at work and it is how you make money. A mismatch between what you do for a living and your needs can cause so much stress you may suffer from mental and physical illnesses.

You may have to try several jobs or businesses before you get it right, since finding the right niche in work is a process, not a destination. In fact, if you look for the reason you failed in the past, it was because you did not trust your instinct. Your conditioned self overrode what your Self knew to be true. Acknowledging your needs and temperament is crucial to knowing where you will succeed.

The Introverted Self

As an example of learning from the past, if you are an introvert you know now you recharge when you are alone. For you to bloom, you need to live and work in a quiet place with few interruptions rather than try to keep up with extroverts.

You like a mixture of stimulation and solitude to keep you centered and balanced. You are at your best when you research, read, write, think, and create.

It is important that partners, close friends, and family members understand your temperament so they don’t take personally your need for solitude. Otherwise, you may feel guilty when they complain about you needing so much quiet time.

When you do socialize you prefer one-on-one encounters, or small, intimate groups. If you are with others too long your nervous system gets over stimulated, distress that can be confused with depression.

Depth rather than breadth intrigues you, as does getting to the bottom of what others miss. In fact, digging is what you are paid to do.

The Extroverted Self

By contrast, if you are an extrovert you recharge when you are with people. To reach your full potential you need to work and live in a stimulating environment. You are at your best when you travel to new and faraway places. You feel at home in large groups, meetings, and at conferences and parties.

You enjoy being in the limelight, either on stage or in front of a camera or a microphone. Performing in front of an audience makes good use of the strengths that come naturally to you.

As an extrovert, you realize now you need some time alone, but most of the time you like to be around people, talking and sharing information so you can get a handle on what you think and feel. If you are alone too long you get lonely and depressed.

You may be a mixture of introversion and extroversion. Most people are, but one temperament is usually preferred, especially as you get older. If you listen to your body, it will tell you when it is time to withdraw, and when it is time to be with others.

Life Strategy for Both Temperaments

You may believe that when you have enough money you will do what you really want to do. This desire for money is not a sign you are greedy. Money buys what you need to survive and enjoy life.

The difference between waiting until you have enough money–whatever enough is–and investing in yourself is that you will enjoy yourself all along the path to getting where you want to go.

The best life strategy for both temperaments is to take the path that will make you grow. This will often be uncomfortable; in fact, you may be terrified. But if you stay on this path long enough, adapting and shifting with the times, you will have the money you need. And you will be fulfilled, a sure sign you are connected with the Self.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Nancy’s website is

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