It has been said that a sense of self is an illusion and that it is simply an idea. Regardless of this viewpoint and any other point of view that is similar; it is clear that having a sense of self makes a big difference and that ideas are powerful.
I wouldn’t describe a sense of self as fixed, to me it is something that can change over time as one grows and expands. It is an inner knowing of ‘I know who I am and I know who I am not’. This could also be described as an inner certainty.
My Current View
These descriptions are not to be taken as the complete or only truth, they are simply my current understanding of what a sense of self is and what is it not. And of what creates a strong sense of self and what doesn’t.
A Sense Of Self
He we have an individual that has a strong inner world. This is not to say that these people are introverts, they can just as easily be extroverts. And just as they can seek the advice of others; they also listen to what comes from within. Their personal needs, wants and desires will be known and generally taken care of.
They know the difference between their: thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations and the thoughts, feelings and emotions of another person. What they are responsible for and what they are not for responsible for is largely clear to them.
Boundaries are another important part of having a strong sense of self. This means that one knows where they begin and end and where another begins and ends. And as a result of this one can say yes and no when it is required; instead of no when they should say yes and yes when they should say no.
Having the ability for self regulation is also available for these people. This means that how they feel is not purely based on how others respond. They have an inner ability to sooth and regulate their emotional experiences. And they attract others who can assist in this.
Here one will appreciate their strengths and accept their weakness and through accepting oneself more, one will come to accept others more. This also doesn’t mean that one will get on with everyone.
They will appreciate and value themselves enough not to engage in consistent comparisons or trying to be someone else. And this value is from their connection to their inner nature and not depended or reliant on achieving certain things or gaining the approval of certain people.
Self control will be the primary type of control that is valued and not the control over others or nature. Seeing that one is part of a whole and not separate will also lead to a more harmonious existence. One has value and is important and yet inherently, no more important or valuable than any other person.
And by having a rich inner world, one will be able to enjoy being by themselves as much as being with others. One may be alone, but this doesn’t mean they will be lonely. Being centred and at ease within, will lead to one not being completely swayed by the dramas of the external world.
Although assisting others in some form will be a consequence, this will not be done in a way that one compromises themselves. It will be done in a way that not only nourishes others, but also leads to self nourishment.
Being fairly present and living in the moment, will be a place that one is used to experiencing; without being enslaved to the past and to reactive and self defeating behaviour.
Weak Sense Of Self
It would be easy to assume that people with a weak sense of self are low achievers and come across as being completely different to people with a strong sense of self. However, this is not always the case. As there will likely be moments when people with a strong sense of self lose their centre and people with a weak sense of self gain one; if only for a brief period.
When ones sense of self is weak or nonexistent, all kinds of mental and emotional problems can ensue. And the world of psychology has many names for these; with the borderline personality disorder often being used.
A big challenge here will be boundaries. Knowing where one begins and ends and other people begin and end will be unclear. This will lead to one not knowing the difference between ones: thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations and what other peoples are. Another name for this is what they call enmeshment; where one feels emotionally and mentally part of another person. Feeling empty, invisible and that one doesn’t exist are also consequences.
This can lead to being controlled by others and also trying to control others; with one also projecting their own issues onto others people. Seeing in others what they have denied and repressed in themselves.
People that are described as empaths, who pick up the psychic content of others and often feel overwhelmed and burnt out as a result; have trouble with boundaries
Having a sense of personal power, self love and self control is often unknown to these people; with other people being looked up to and worshipped. This can be a reason for people who are religious; with power and guidance always existing externally.
Terms that are used in the place of valuing and appreciating oneself are often arrogance and being egotistical; with the ego minds reliance on external stimulus, the name false self, is often used.
And as the ability for self regulation rarely exists, the form of regulation available is through gaining the approval and acceptance of others, eating, drinking, drugs, shopping and other things. The outside world will often completely define who one is and who one is not.
Another way to regulate these inner processes, albeit for a short time, is to achieve massive success in the world. Gaining: wealth, power, status and influence can do this.
Ones needs, wants and desires will often be second hand and cut off from what truly leads to personal fulfilment. This person will often look to help others, while compromising their own self and all for the external approval that this leads to.
Black And White
What I have described above is extremely black and white and this is rarely what happens in reality. And so the above is just a rough guide. People with a weak sense of self are not all destructive; they can do a lot of good in the world. Just as people can go from having a sense of self to not having one
Some of the people who have a weak sense of self can be: dictators, narcissists, psychopaths and tyrants, but this is not always the case. They can also be the people who have given a lot to the world and helped a lot of people. And that will of course depend on many others factors.
What often sets these two apart is the kind of nurturing that they received in the beginning of their life. As a baby, one has no sense of individuality and only knows oneself in relationship to the primary caregiver. No boundaries exist and at this stage they are not relevant. As the primary caregiver is there to give the baby what it needs.
This is achieved through empathically tuning into the baby. Recognising the needs of the baby, as the baby cannot do this through words at this stage; which is why it is important for the caregiver to be empathic.
Now, if the needs are recognised by the caregiver, the baby can begin to see that it is separate from the caregiver. Through having these needs validated, and acknowledged, it will become clear that this is the case. The baby’s sense of personal power will also begin to develop as a result.
When It Doesn’t
If ones caregiver is unempathic, due to emotional suffering or an abusive past for example, then this process will inevitably be affected. This is unless another figure is available to supply the empathic care. Here the baby’s needs will generally be ignored and the focus will be diverted to the needs and wants of the caregiver.
This will then lead to the baby having to deny its own needs; which will lead to feelings of incredible: powerlessness, hopelessness and pain. And as a result of this, it will not come to see that it has a sense of self and is separate from the caregiver. It will be conditioned to look outside and to ignore what is inside. This can lead to incredible suffering for the baby and to consequences that can last a lifetime once the baby becomes an adult.
As I have said above, these descriptions are not black and white and neither will they relate to everyone in the way that I have described them. And yet when it comes to describing the different elements, using this format can lead to self reflection; with one coming to their own conclusion.
Unless there is awareness, nothing can change. And through being self aware, one can let go off what they are not and be who they want to be. The type of assistance that one may need will depend on ones requirements and history. Therapy may be needed or something similar.
If you feel this has been of value, please leave a comment, like or get in touch. And feel free to share this article, as many others have.
Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
To book your free 15-minute consultation, click here.
That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.