How can we know who we are?
Psychologists distinguish the False Self (how we inaccurately present ourself), the Ideal Self (how we want to see ourself), the Real Self (who we actually are), and the True Self (actualization of our potential).
Actualization of our True Self results from understanding and developing the innate qualities that define the qualities of human nature. Awareness of our authentic nature is available to each of us — it resides within us. By understanding and responding to our true self we:
While it is important to listen to and consider the ideas and perspectives of others, it’s essential to recognize that others may not understand our insight nor have the capacity to facilitate our growth. We must look inside ourselves to ask who we are and whether we are living a life that is consistent with our True Self. We cannot afford to ignore our True Self or arrive at answers about our self foregoing this internal reflection, for far too much is at stake.
A growing literature in health psychology confirms the importance of developing an internal life and spirituality for happiness and well being.* Our efforts through spirituality seek higher existential connectedness, as our faith experiences affirm this reality. Thus, awareness and applications of practices of faith and spirituality increase capacities toward exisitential fulfillment, happiness, and wellness.
We take ownership of our yearning for fulfillment as we experience the True Self by living through authentic connections with our self, others, and God (the critical connections). By doing so, we feel integrity in our actions. We feel confidence about our stance, when we live our life in truth. Many sacred traditions of the world and great thinkers across disciplines have tried to answer the question of our purpose through inner knowing—the engagement of self with others and God—as the means for this process.
To engage in the process, we must first experience the qualities of our nature that are found in the True Self—to find connection with our authentic self. The True Self is innate. It is the source of two universal truths: first, our intrinsic capacities, as human beings, which make us unique and distinguishes humanity from the rest of creation, and, second, the product of our interdependent relationship of our self, others, and God—our critical connections.
The first, our unique human qualities, are:
Are these active elements in your life? Ask yourself, on a scale of 0 to 10 (with “0” being “none” and “10” being “100%”), the extent to which you excerise these seven human qualities in your life.
The second, is our own capacity to embody and to coordinate our critical connections of self, others, and God in life. Take a few moments to reflect on how you interact in your life’s journey. To what extent and degree do you, others, and God figure in your interactions, behaviors, and process? If you were to illustrate the three parts of connections that guide your life as circles on a pages, how large would these circles be drawn as representative of their influence in your behaviors? For example, are you driven primarily by self-interests, the agendas of others, your sense of God’s will for you? How large are these circles and how are these three elements integrated in your actions?
While our ability to express the seven innate qualities of the True Self may be launched by how awareness of the True Self is nurtured in our early development, this matter is far too significant to leave to history, chance, or to others. Our connection to our True Self affects how we perceive ourselves and engage life today. Our perception of the True Self encourages us to access character-building elements and access our potential.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D., is a part-time lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of Collateral Damage: Guiding and Protecting Your Child Through the Minefield of Divorce (HarperCollins, 2017). For more information visit drchirban.com.
*Koenig, H. G. (2012). Religious vs. conventional psychotherapy for major depression in patients with chronic medical illness: Rationale, methods, and preliminary results. Depression Research and Treatment 2012, Article ID 460419,1-11.
Park, C. L., et al. (2011). “Religious struggle as a predictor of subsequent mental and physical well-being in advanced heart failure patients.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 34: 426-36.
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Williams, J. A. (2011). Attention to inpatients’ religious and spiritual concerns: Predictors and associations with patient satisfaction. Journal of General Internal Medicine 26: 1265-71.
Winkelman, B. A., et al. (2011). “The relationship of spiritual concerns to the quality of life of advanced cancer patients: Preliminary findings.” Journal of Palliative Medicine 14, no. 9:1022-28.
Koenig, H. G. (2012). "Religion, spirituality, and health: The research and clinical implications." International Scholarly Research and Clinical Implications (ISRN Psychiatry), V. 2012, 278730, 33 pp.
Tabel, S. Z., et al. (2016). The impact of spirituality on health. Shiraz E Medical Journal (17)6, e39053.