I’ve written about this before in more general terms (What Does the Self Consist of?), but in this post I’ll try to get a little more specific. When dig down deep to the core, what is it that makes you, you?
I think a major part of the foundation of who we are is the sum of our entire life experiences. No one else has had the exact same combination of life experiences; that’s unique to each of us. Memories of each individual event aren’t going to be retained, but there’s still a wealth of knowledge and skills that we accumulate throughout our lives. Some of the other factors that shape us can may be external, while others are internal.
The social environment
We’re all influenced by our social environment. Childhood is a key time when we learn about the world that we’ve been brought into. Children need attachment and nurturing, and when those things are denied, the effects can run deep and be very long-lasting. The adverse childhood experiences research has shown how damaging abuse, neglect, and other adverse circumstances can be to future health and wellbeing.
In addition to early childhood, I think the transition to adulthood is quite a significant time for really growing into oneself.. For me, my university experience had a huge impact on the adult that I became and the way I look at the world. I went to a large university with a lot of international students, and it was a very culturally diverse place. I was pretty open-minded already, but had grown up in a small town where I wasn’t exposed to much. That exposure came in university, and it was also the time when I caught the travel bug. I’ve seen firsthand that there are many different ways of living life, and that’s really shaped the attitude that I bring to my own way of life.
While our interests don’t define us, they can certainly reflect who we are. A lack of balance in interests may feed certain aspects of the self while neglecting others.
I’ve also been interested in learning, and that curiosity has always been an important part of what makes me, me. My formal schooling may be finished, but without ongoing learning, I feel like I would stagnating rather than growing.
In the past, I would have been more inclined to say that my interests, particularly travelling, were key parts of what made me, me. The more depression took over my life, the less of a role interests played for me. Initially, blogging was a way to spend some time and gain a sense of purpose, but as other roles and interests have fallen by the wayside, blogging has become an important part of how I interact with the world.
Values may shift over time, but the core values can be important reflections of who you are and what makes you that person. For example, I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t believe that we as a society have an obligation to support the less fortunate among us. A lot of those core, enduring values probably develop when we’re young and then are further refined by life experience.
Of course, personality traits shape who we are, with some playing a more defining role than others. Some traits may be relatively consistent over time, while others may vary in degree.
Being introverted plays a significant part of who I am. I’ve always been pretty introverted, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve swung to a much more extreme version of introversion.
Some people feel like they were always anxiety or depressed, or had other patterns of experience consistent with mental illness. This may be early onset of illness, or it may relate to high levels of a trait like neuroticism, which involves increased propensity towards experiencing negative emotions.
I’ve never felt like my depressive illness is part of what makes me, me. The fact that my illness didn’t make an appearance until my late 20s made it easier for me to have a clear separation of what is me and what is illness. The illness is a skin glued onto me that isn’t going anywhere, but it doesn’t make me who I am. If anything, it acts as a barrier to being who I am.
The sense of being defined by one’s career is likely influenced by a few factors. One is whether it’s something that’s consistent over a long period of time. It would also make a difference whether the work was something one felt passionate about and whether the values of the career/profession are consistent with one’s own.
Being a nurse used to be a really important role identity for me. I saw it as a profession I’d work in for my whole career, I loved the work, and it was very values-congruent and personality-congruent. When mental illness disability brought an end to my career, letting go of that part of myself was quite a process.
So, that’s a bit about what makes me, me and the factors I can think of that play a role. What makes you, you?
The Reflecting on Powerful Words guided journal matches amazing quotes from people like Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill with prompt questions that relate to each quote as well as beautiful images. It’s available free from the MH@H Download Centre.