Finding yourself – the search for you
By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Who are you?
Trying to find yourself is a challenging task. I remember back in the 1960s when a large portion of the student body at the local college and colleges everywhere were psychology and/or sociology majors. In retrospect, I think that most people were either trying to figure out who they were or they were trying to fix what was wrong with them.
In these uncertain times, with the world changing yet again, it’s never been more important to get a clear picture of who you are and what really matters in life. Let’s look at some of the challenges you face when trying to find yourself.
One personality test won’t define you.
It’s tempting to try to divide people up based on one or more theories of personality. We used to try to define people by specific personality characteristics. For example, you could take a test and find out if you are an introvert or an extrovert. Increasingly we find the answer to who you are is much more complex than one or even a dozen personality tests.
The characteristics we use to describe personality are far more likely to be on a continuum rather than discrete categories. People are extroverted in certain situations but behave more like introverts in others. You may be anywhere along the continuum of introversion – extroversion, or you might be better described as an ambivert, someone who sometimes likes to be around others and other times needs to be by yourself.
Who you are will change as you grow.
Long-term research has also shown us that personality types are not fixed. Basic personality characteristics change slowly across the lifetime. One research article I read suggested that changing a personality characteristic takes about five years of intensive work. On the other hand, reading a book such as Learned Optimism and following the principles can change your level of optimism in a very short time.
The basis of cognitive behavioral therapy is that changing your thinking results in a change in feelings which will alter how you behave. Those connections also work in reverse. Changing your behavior, say you start exercising more frequently, will begin to change your feelings, and those new feelings we’ll begin to alter your thinking.
Whether you prefer the Big five personality characteristics, Myers Briggs categories, Enneagrams, Character strengths and virtues, or attachment theory, there’s much more to defining yourself than selecting a label from a theory.
You can’t define yourself by your occupation.
There was a time when almost everyone could answer that they were a farmer. Some families, for generations, would define themselves as soldiers. Today our occupations are much more diverse, but still, if you ask most men, they would define themselves by their occupation. We have subdivided the occupation of merchant into many categories. Is anyone hoping to become a redsmith or a cordwainer?
Women used to routinely describe themselves by their relationships. They were either a wife or a mother or both. Over the last 100 years, more or less, the options for what women could do has expanded. With more choices than ever before, it has become difficult for many women to define who they are.
In your life, you will fill multiple roles.
Who you are will be both defined and shaped by the roles you fill. In various settings, you will perform the tasks of these various roles. You will spend a certain amount of your life as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and eventually a senior citizen. The role of senior citizens is changing also. In your lifetime, you are likely to also be a student and possibly a teacher. Most of us become relationship partners, and many people will fill the role of parents.
Roles such as parents are becoming increasingly nuanced and harder to define. Parenting goes beyond being a mother or father. Some people also become stepparents or spend part of their lives in a blended family.
During various times in your life, you may be called upon to be an employee, a supervisor, a manager, or a business owner. While none of these roles is the whole of who you are, filling those roles can shape or define your understanding of yourself.
You’re not your problems or disorders.
The more we learn about neurodiversity, the more we realize that everyone has potential that can be developed and that we all have challenges to overcome. We should think of people as more than the sum of their challenges.
It’s better to think of people as someone with bipolar disorder or who has depression or experiences anxiety rather than the bipolar or depressive or whatever other label might be applied based on your challenges or disabilities.
How do you define yourself?
Spend some time learning about who you are. While you’re going to be you for your entire life, that person has the potential to change and grow.
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