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What is your favorite food?
What is your hobby?
If you had to choose a paint color for your kitchen, what would it be?
These questions might look simple to answer. But for many people, they create anxiety and panic and, in fact, are quite difficult to answer.
From early birth to adulthood, we are developing our sense of self.
As we grow, we are influenced by our environments, our experiences, what we are told and what we see and hear. The people around us, including our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, employers, acquaintances, etc., help to shape what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves. We store our memories and experiences in our emotional brains and use them to construct our sense of identity.
Over time, these patterns are built upon and reinforced, taking residence in our personhood.
If someone grows up in a healthy home, with balanced, secure, loving, and caring parents and experienced healthy relationships outside of their family as well, chances are they would describe themselves as having developed a healthy sense of self and positive relationship skills.
However, if when growing up, a person experienced emotional distress and scarring, abuse, over-parenting or control, under-parenting or neglect, bullying, or traumatic life events either inside their home or in their environment, they may be struggling with a very poor sense of self-identity causing anxiety and depression and a maybe even pattern of destructive relationships.
Most often, people tend to fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two extremes. They may have had imperfect parents, experienced emotionally stressful situations, and/or had destructive influences come in and out of their lives, but would categorize their overall growing up as generally ok.
In all of these situations, the child to adult person is asking the question, “Who am I?” and working to develop a sense of self.
Having a healthy awareness of who you are as a person and how you fit into your relationships, your community, and your world promotes a healthy emotional, mental and physical self and is the precursor to healthy relationships, and therefore a healthy marriage.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you know who you are, really? Do you have favorite things? Can you express your opinions? Are you able to make personal decisions?
It’s not too late to discover who YOU are!
Here are some steps you can follow to help you work towards developing a healthy sense of self:
Get to know yourself. What are your likes and dislikes? What makes you happy or sad, excited or bored? Make a new list of favorites each week. Start with the basics like favorite color, food, song, or car. Progress to more challenging questions like where would be your dream vacation destination or what would your ideal house look like? And then more challenging yet, such as what is your position on a particular controversial topic?
CONNECT YOUR MIND AND BODY.
Practice understanding how your mind and body are connected by actively and intentionally paying attention to your emotional responses. Your body’s responses to your experiences can tell you a lot about who you are. When you are in a room full of friends, do you feel anxious or excited? Do you feel energized by spending time outdoors or by reading a book? Does loud music frustrate you or help you focus? Understanding how your mind and body are connected will help you understand your emotional self.
FREE YOUR VOICE!
Now that you are familiar with your likes, dislikes, and your opinions, start speaking up! When you have a thought or an opinion about something, practice sharing it with those around you. Start by choosing safe people and safe conversation. For example, talk about something you like in a small group of friends. Progress to expressing an opinion about your preferences and work up to sharing your thoughts about something you are passionate about.
DECIDE TO DECIDE.
Making decisions can be overwhelming and stressful, especially if you are used to having someone else make them for you. You may not feel confident in your choice or avoid making them because you fear conflict. As you get to know yourself more deeply, you will begin to feel more confident in your ability to make decisions, and you will continue to grow towards being ok with the decisions you make. Making decisions is a skill that requires practice. Like anything else new and uncomfortable, start with smaller, less impactful decisions and work your way to bigger ones. It’s ok to ask for input and often even wise. But ultimately, when the decision is yours, decide to decide and make the final decision.
STEP OUT THE DOOR.
The next step to discovering who you are is to engage in activities that you enjoy! What are hobbies that you had previously let go of? What are some new interests that you have recently identified? Is there something you have always wanted to do but haven’t had the courage? Again, start small and end big! Initiate a lunch date with an old friend. Pick up photography again. Sign up for a fitness class. Find the things that make YOU excited and energized, and step out and into them. And remember, being nervous is normal.
STAY IN THE GAME!
Lastly, don’t give up! You are in there somewhere! It may just take time, courage, and perseverance to find yourself, especially if you’ve been hiding for a long time. Rediscovering who you are can be scary, but it can also be exciting! YOU ARE AN AMAZING HUMAN- fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of the universe Himself! And…
YOU DESERVE TO BE FOUND!