Who Am I?
Aren’t we all asking ourselves that very question, deep down longing for an answer, forever?
I feel the older I get, the more I understand about myself.
Why is that though? Due to the experiences that make me who I am? Or am I actually shaping the quality of my experiences, based on my various personal filters, the things I’m good at, the things I’m not, my fears, the sum of all my positive and negative character traits?
I recently had a chat with my mother, in which she confessed that she’d never expected me to develop into the person I am today. We all go through phases, that’s only natural, but the shift of growing up has been rather extreme for me. I had an entirely different character as a child. When I was little, I was introverted and shy. I was quiet, well-behaved, certainly no one you’d ever imagine would grow up to be any kind of public personality. I didn’t spend all that much time with other kids and preferred to live in my own fantasy worlds instead, acting out scenes and little plays with my Barbie dolls in my room. But even back then, I recall, I wondered about my true identity.
What do you know about yourself when you’re a kid, other than that you’re a kid, though?
If you don’t know who you are, you tend to start searching for an identity. A good way to go about it, as I learned early, is to piece together facts. I knew that my name is Maria. A name can say a lot, but what exactly? Well, in my case I guess Maria means: “unruly”.
I also knew my zodiac sign: Aries. With time, I would learn the traits associated with that sign, but they just didn’t fit me. Well, not back then, anyway.
Until I hit my teens, I felt like the polar opposite of the person an astrologer would have considered me to be as an Aries. And still, I somehow had more faith in the qualities assigned to me by the stars than in my own observations about myself. If the horoscope says it black on white, it’s gotta be true, right?
And I kind of felt the same about the person my mother seemed to see in me.
She always told me, for example, that I was a strikingly beautiful child – and I believed her, without finding myself particularly pretty at all. On the other hand, my mom also told me from an early age that I really wasn’t much of a dancer, that I was not very musical and that I had no sense of rhythm to speak of. I have no idea how she arrived at that conclusion, but I believed her. And when I was scared, she always told me that I couldn’t really be scared, since bravery ran in our family since times eternal, which surely meant that I’d be able to overcome my fears. Well, I guessed she must have been right about that, too.
And so I gradually become Maria, a true Aries if you’ve ever seen one. To the day, I’m still pretty confident about my looks and appearance, and I don’t allow my fears to get the upper hand in me. I am at a point in my professional life that pretty much rules out any ill-conceived adventures in music, and when I do get the occasional compliment for my voice I’m genuinely surprised, every single time.
I sometimes wonder who I would have turned out to be if my name was Sophie and I were born a Scorpio? Or Linda the Libra? Would I have undergone the same process of transformation?
If we don’t define who we are, others will.
But the flip-side of that argument is that we can auto-suggest positive traits to a point that they actually manifest in us.
We can tell ourselves things like:
I am strong.
I am happy.
I am grateful.
I am beautiful.
I am joyful.
I am brave.
I am independent.
I am successful.
I am content.
I am optimistic.
I am enough.
It’s a bit like a forced laughter that gives way to a genuine eruption of joy, bringing forth positive effects for body and soul. We outwit ourselves by laughing, just as we outsmart ourselves when we’re sad. We send concrete neural messages to our body, which in turn regulate our immune system and the distribution of endorphins. When we laugh, we start to feel physically better – automatically. There’s an entire branch of science dealing with these and related phenomena: gelotology. If the example with the forced laughter doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll most certainly know the technique of breathing calmly in stressful situations. Even if the circumstances won’t change through your breathing, you’ll certainly find yourself feeling better.
Auto-suggestion is based on related principles. Even if we don’t cognitively believe that we’re beautiful, strong and happy when we start out, we gradually internalize these attributes until they become part of our genuine self-perception if we repeat them long enough, like a mantra. And with the ground thus prepared, every little seed in form of a compliment for those qualities will grow into a new understanding that this is how we are.
As far as I’m concerned, not only has my personality changed completely, I also remember telling myself jokingly that I’m pretty stress-resistant. That wasn’t true at all back then, but I made myself believe. In the years since, I have brushed up against a couple of burnouts, but I always stayed on the good side of things. After all, I’m pretty stress-resistant – of that I’m utterly convinced by now.
Last year I told myself that I want to be an optimist, and what can I tell you? I think it’s turned out just fine.