On Our Sense of Self
At an early point in our lives, we solely care to ensure that our own needs and interests are met, fearing that a consideration of the experiences of others will take away from our own. So, our relationships are transactional, and we become principled not based on good or bad (in the general sense of those terms), but rather in fear of the consequences or retaliation of our actions, or whether it benefits us.
As we grow, we begin to form an image of ourselves, and that image is partly shaped by society – our definitions and expectations. So, the more we interact with others we develop a socialised mind that allows us to see the numerous perspectives and realise how complex the world around us is. We recognise the multitude of ideas, norms, and beliefs that our friends, families, society, or culture carries. Unconsciously how others see us becomes an influence, or in some cases is internalised as we burden ourselves with what people think of us.
Sometimes being black means I have to find out for myself how the rest of the world sees me. Because I’m speaking about my black experience it is easy to forget the fact that I am also a person with trials, passions, flaws, and ambitions like everyone else. However, it’s in understanding the simple fact that my life is as difficult as the next person, from a relative sense, that prompts me to be thoughtful in how I see and treat others.
In developing our internal moral compass and choosing our beliefs we place that responsibility on others and begin to rely on external validation – what god we worship, the friends we choose, and the work we do. The perspective of others becomes an authority that dictates how we value ourselves. We seek attachment and alignment with our own “tribe”, so naturally, we avoid hurting or disappointing those around us. So, when we are presented with conflict, we concern ourselves with the expectations of others or societal roles.
We tend to over-identify with how we feel, our beliefs, and our thoughts. When we do our self-talk becomes “I am my feelings or beliefs” instead of “I have feelings or beliefs”. To take responsibility for our own actions, inner states, and emotions requires the level of introspection to step back and detach from our inner self.
On Defining Who We Are
It is an active decision to define and redefine our beliefs, identity, and how we relate with others. To do so means differentiating our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings from that of others. It allows us to determine our morals and beliefs and set our own expectations of ourselves. Our sense of self is founded on critically examining who we are, what our boundaries are, and what we deem to be right or wrong.
The world around us is dynamic, so how we identify should be in terms that can withstand change. It frees us from being prisoners of our own identity. In the same way, I can describe myself as patient, but really mean that I’m patient in certain situations and impatient in others.
Being a black African male, I’m spoken for before I enter certain rooms. Whether it’s my hair, my name, or people staring because of my race. Or because my accent, mannerisms, or beliefs are not black enough. So, I’ve had to learn and choose how I react to situations where I feel different, either from interactions with others or by my own internalisations.
Self-development is a well-intended idea that has become a fad and partially lost its meaning. Meaningful growth means we are not just changing the contents of our minds – our thoughts, beliefs, and values – but the container as well. The container represents the mental models we use to interpret our surroundings. So, development and growth are not promised, but rather a continuous effort.
We behave differently based on the circumstances or depending on whom we interact with. The above are suggested ideals to live by, but it should be understood that in reality, we transition between different mental states rather than being exclusively subject to one. Being conscious means knowing where we are on that spectrum, what effects that bear on us, and how it is serving us and others.