The four coordinates of self-discovery.
By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Counselor.
Your journey of self-discovery requires a map.
You will spend more time during your life with yourself than with any other person. So it makes sense to spend some of that time exploring yourself, who you are, and what life experiences made you think, feel, and behave the way you do.
One aspect of the self is your personality. It’s important to explore your personality and the life events that may have influenced your development of a sense of self. But the self is not an island. It’s more like a river that is constantly flowing downstream until it finally reaches the sea of destiny.
As you take the journey of self-exploration, there are four cardinal influences, like the four directions found on a map. These four factors influence how your personality develops from early childhood until late adulthood. Examining these factors can help show you where you are and what direction you should go in your effort at self-exploration.
Your relationships shape you.
Relationships are systemic influences. They will affect every other part of your life. The process of getting into and of leaving relationships changes you. By relationships here, I’m not restricting myself to your primary sexual relationship.
For good or bad, we have relationships with everyone we interact with. One of the most challenging relationships you’ll ever have to navigate will be your relationship with your exes. Romantic partners may come and go, but baby’s Mamas and daddies are forever. Even after you end a relationship, that time you spent with that other person leaves its mark on you.
One part of self-examination is to look at the relationships you’ve had, the friendships, the romantic relationships, and the people you met you decided you were better off without. Examine those relationships. Why were you attracted to this person? Was there a reason why you selected them for a friend? Or for a lover? Who you spend your time with and why tells you a lot about yourself.
Those bright shiny objects, meaning, purpose, and mastery.
Just like our attraction to people, we all have objects and activities that grab our attention. One of the most important things to discover about yourself is what gives your life meaning and purpose. Those important characteristics may be grand items like saving the planet are there might be many more personal ones like a collection of photographs of all the places on the planet you have visited.
One crucial human need that is often overlooked is the quest for mastery. Mastering something, no matter what it is, adds to your self-worth. When was the last time you took up a new hobby or practiced a new skill? Think about taking a class just for fun or picking up a new hobby.
Consider also what motivates you.
To understand what drives you get clear on your values. Be very careful about the mountains you choose to climb. A common calamity in life is getting to the top of whatever mountain you decided to climb and realizing you have been climbing the wrong peak.
More time and effort may result in more money in the bank, but it won’t be very satisfying if what you valued the most was the relationships with your partner and your children.
Significant life events can reshape your personality.
Who we are is massively impacted by the times we live in. Growing up during the Great Depression produced a very different group of people than those who grew up during World War Two. Even two people who lived through the same period in history may have experienced it in very different ways.
Consider whether you were in college during the Vietnam War or whether you joined the army and experienced that conflict firsthand. How is your life been altered because your parent or grandparent lived through one of these significant events?
The many aspects of the self.
One exercise I suggest to clients in my therapy practice is to write their autobiography. Start with the very first memory you have in life. Often this will be a picture from the time before you had the words to remember a story. Next, you should think about various events in your life you can reexamine them. Did something someone said to you in elementary school change your opinion of yourself?
As your work on your life review, examine the many roles you’ve played and how they have shaped who you are today. Many of the things that you do today automatically are the result of habits you developed early in life. Do you want to keep those habits? Would your life be better if you created a new habit to replace one of the old habits that are no longer working for you?
Look for one of those lists of 50 questions to ask someone on a first date. Go through the list and see how you would answer each of those questions. Charting where you are now and how you’ve gotten here can help you set a new direction for whichever way you want your life to go in the future.
Does David Joel Miller see clients for counseling and coaching?
Yes, I do. I can see private pay clients if they live in California, where I am licensed. If you’re interested in information about that, please email me or use the contact me form.
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