Monday, September 10, 2007

Find Your Self. Then Trust It.

There is a woman I know who fascinates me, though not for admirable reasons. Instead, I am fascinated by the smallness and sadness of her life--how anyone can be in such a sorry place as she!

Well into middle age, this person is completely, utterly incapable of making a decision. And when a choice seems to be made, it is later revealed to have been an arbitrary one, as random as throwing a dart. When someone asks her opinion, she usually turns to the questioner and says: "I don't know--what do you think?"

I thought perhaps this inability to make a decision or express a strong opinion came out of fear. And while that certainly is part of it, I've recently come to the theory that perhaps the primary reason she can't make a decision is that there is no self there. After all, when someone asks you what you think or what you want to do, you must first go inside yourself for a split-second, and ask yourself. In other words, you consult your self. If you have no self--and by that I mean a vital spirit with a will and a mind and the lessons of experience--there is no one to answer those questions.

As I've grown older, I've noticed this self of mine growing stronger and more potent, more confident that I know who I am and where I've been, and where I'm going. This takes time, and is one of the reasons younger people--especially teenagers--can be so easily led. They simply haven't had as much time to develop themselves.

Of course, one expects that by a certain point, you will begin to form and take shape, and that you will soon be making contributions of voice and opinion and action, and will no longer be a suggestible vessel. Which is why it's so sad when you see older people who still seem so vacant.

This post does not pose any easy solutions. In fact, I believe that finding your self is in some ways the holy grail of personal development. So what can I tell you? Well, I can share some observations based on my own life experience and extrapolate from there.

What keeps you from having a strong sense of self?
  1. Fear. Generally a fear of what other people think. Paralyzed into inaction or indecision for fear of going against what is socially accepted.
  2. Denial. In that you refuse to acknowledge your truths, because it is too hard or too painful. You really want to be a musician, but that path seems so difficult. It is easier to opt for the stable job with the stable salary. By denying who you are, your self begins to wither.
  3. Insecurity / Lack of confidence. What do you know? Why would anyone trust your opinion or your course of action? Despite the fact that you have life experiences and a unique mind and personality, you devalue your voice to the point that not only do you feel that others shouldn't listen to you, but you begin to lose all faith in yourself.
These are the biggies, though of course I'm sure there are subsidiary reasons. But all of these erode your sense of self to such a point that you become lost, your spirit a dim light among the shadows. The good news is you're still there, but only you can go within to fan the flame and help it to burn brighter. Again, it all goes back to your own willingness to change.

Now, developing your self and trusting in it are two different things. You can have a sense of who you are and what you think, and yet still be unable to trust in it. Of course it helps when you have someone--a loved one, friend or family member--who believes in you. But no one can teach you to believe in yourself. Again, it must come from within.

So how do you learn to trust yourself?
This has no easy answer, but here are some ideas for where to start.
  1. Stop worrying what others will think. What is the worst that can happen, honestly? What, someone will laugh at you? Hate you? Think you are stupid? Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever laughed at someone? Thought they were stupid? Hated them? Guess what--you have no control over what other people think of you, and thinking you do is nothing but a delusion. No matter how hard you try, there will always be people who you will not get along with or who won't care for you--but it's nothing personal, and in fact, the harder you try to get everyone to like you, the more likely you'll lose respect--theirs and your own.
  2. Find out who you are. Of course, that's kind of the point of every article on this blog, so it's not likely this is an overnight solution. This could be your life's journey, but so long as you're taking it, you're doing all you can to get into harmony with your truest self. Begin by asking for help. When you do this, you reawaken parts of your self that have been dormant, but that when revived, will strengthen you in so many ways.
  3. Learn to listen to yourself. I don't care how long you've been ignoring that voice inside you, so long as you're alive, it's still there. It may be tiny--only a croak--but if you get very quiet, you can hear it. Begin first by simply acknowledging its existence, and then, when you're aware it's there, begin by listening to it. Hear your thoughts and desires and ideas and opinions, and just let them be. Don't dismiss them. Just listen. At some point, you'll realize that you have something unique to contribute, and you will begin to allow that voice to actually reach your throat and be spoken. It may take awhile. Be patient.
Now, what do I know about all this? Well, when I started my MFA program, I was suddenly confronted by a large, critical audience for stories that previously I'd pretty much just kept to myself. I found that I was suddenly paralyzed by writer's block, and that I had lost all ability to trust myself as a writer.

After a year or so, I realized that I was worrying too much what others thought, and not trusting my own voice. Now, was it valuable for me to go through this crisis? Probably. Why? Because when I came out of it (and I eventually did) not only had I learned to listen to other people, but I also learned how to ignore them. In other words, I was able to discern for myself which criticism was valuable and which was not in line with my vision as a writer. I was so much more confident in my voice, my sense of self, and my convictions. It took a long time, but I finally knew who I was as a writer. This isn't to say that I'm not still growing and learning--I am. But I now have an unshakeable foundation on which to build.

So if you haven't already, find your self. Say hi. Take it out for a drive or a walk. Get to know it. And then, when you know each other for a while, make a commitment. Bring it home. Sleep next to it. Eat breakfast with it. Soon, you and your self will be joined at the hip, and you'll be ready for anything.

Trust me. Or better yet, trust you. Trusting your self is one of the most important steps on your journey toward bliss.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Tiffany. I wish I had run across something like this a few years ago. I'm thankful that you have taken the time to put these thoughts out here and I have no doubt that they will be of great help to many people.

Since you've been wonderful about sharing, here are a few observations I made in my journey:

1. When your spirit is "a dim light among the shadows" is when you're in the most danger of meeting and staying around others who have lost their inner light. Some of these people are lost in an honest, painful way. Some of them are vampires who feed off of destroying what little light you still had shining.

2a. It is possible to rid your life of vampires (just be prepared for a ratcheting up of the rhetoric that 'you'll be back', 'that you're just like them', that 'you need them', etc).
2b. It is sometimes necessary to say farewell to those who are lost. Yes, they need help. Can you really give it, though, if you're still trying to build your self? I don't know. All I know is that I wasn't strong enough to do any more than claw my own way back to the light. There are people much stronger than me, though, and maybe they can carry someone out with them. I hope so.
2c. It is possible to seek out and connect with people who have a strong sense of self.

3. There will be crappy days! Days when you'll catch yourself falling back into whatever mode typified the original crisis. In my case, a large component to sustaining a strong sense of self is being able to recognize the situations, people and thoughts that can trigger a setback. Finding ways to counteract these triggers is not always easy, but it can be done.

- Erzsebet

Alison said...

This post and Anonymous's comment still nourishes me and gives me new food for thought, no matter how many times I click back and read these thoughtful tenets of finding authenticity on the path toward believing in yourself on a minute to minute, daily basis! Thanks to both of you! -Alison

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Alison--you're very welcome. And I know "Anonymous" and she is a wise one herself! ;-)

I'm very grateful for your comment and for such thoughtful readers. Thanks so much for being here. I hope to get back to posting very soon.


Leah said...

What a beautiful post! I've been going through a difficult journey and have been working on my issues. I've had OCD since childhood. OCD creates paralyzing doubt and fear and you seek constant reassurance from others! Ive realized that I have so many trust issues because I don't trust myself. My journey is to learn to trust myself and be ok with who I am! Your post made this crystal clear! Thank you so much for sharing

Tiffany Hamburger said...

I'm so glad you are making a journey, and very humbled that this post has been of help to you. Thank you so much for letting me know, and much good luck to you and wishes for peace for the future!