Self Exploration: The Good the Bad and the Balance

The thought of self exploration can be daunting if you think of it as only a quest to find all the things about you that need improvement. However, we are so much more than negative attributes. I believe that if you choose to embark on a journey to connect more deeply with yourself it doesn’t benefit you to only focus on the negative. You are made up of many attributes that could be seen as negative or positive.  

For instance, you may be a bit greedy, but also you may be an incredibly supportive person. You could end up being the one who has the most to give when someone is in need. Many of the attributes we see within ourselves are not so black and white as to thoroughly declare it as something to rid ourselves of. Some things that seem negative could only need a little bit of tweaking. Many may see too much of a positive thing as overwhelming and something that needs adjusting as well.

If you can examine yourself with the thought of balance in mind, that may make it easier. Think of the attributes that you love about yourself, if you’ve already made a map this may go much more easily for you. Can you think of a time when one of those wonderful attributes, though well intended, made a situation more complicated? This is because we are human beings with different experiences, all of us have our own different perspectives of good and bad. An attempt to do something you see as the right thing may not be what the situation needed. This doesn’t negate the positivity of your intention, it simply shows that nuances are present in this place of self discovery because of our humanness.

I choose the word humanness because it’s synonym, humanity, doesn’t feel personal enough and this journey is meant to be incredibly personal. This isn’t about the greater good, this is about you and how you can feel happier, more fulfilled, less awkward and more prone to view the world with a lens of joy and fulfillment. Many feel discomfort in focusing on themselves; they don’t want to be seen as selfish. My opinion though is that when you build that strong foundation within, it enables you to help others more easily and readily. It provides focus on not only how you could help improve the situation but also the wisdom on where you may need the help of someone else.

Where do you excel? Do you own that strength or do you keep it quiet so as not to be put to a test that you fear failing? More importantly, you have to be willing to accept that just because you excel at something doesn’t mean you won’t ever need assistance or that someone else’s input would be a threat to you. If you have a strong internal foundation you will be less likely to be threatened by the input of others. It may even bring you relief in those situations that it is clear that one person shouldn’t be expected to handle it all by themselves. 

Judgment is also a hurdle to overcome here. Part of the reason for knowing yourself better is to strengthen your resolve to authentically be yourself. To live your life with a perspective of wholeness and to do it with confidence. If you judge yourself too harshly you are preventing progress from happening.  You may even be convincing yourself that you cannot overcome something because you don’t deserve to. 

If you find a barrier, do a judgment check. Is your own unhappiness bringing these emotions up or someone else’s perspective? When you bring it to mind, is it your voice saying it or someone else’s? You may be using judgments that you were instilled with by others. You may have enjoyed guidance from someone with more life experience, someone who possessed a great deal of wisdom that helped you navigate the world with more certitude, but that doesn’t mean that the person who provided you with that guidance was infallible. Also what worked for them may not work for you. Times change, people change. A strong foundation of self knowledge will let you be in touch with when you may need to reassess and yes, possibly, change. This doesn’t mean that you were not good enough before it simply means it was time to balance things in a way that fits your life now. 

Evaluate the attributes of yourself that you see as negative, one by one. Rate their hindrance to your happiness on a scale of 1 through 10 with 10 being the greatest hindrance. Now, for a more balanced perspective, consider the ways in which they could be or have been useful in a situation. Also consider that it could be a positive thing when coupled with one of your positive attributes (like the greed example I gave above) Now rate it again. Try to balance it with the positives, and where you can’t find the balance is where you start really analyzing.

Set your mind to be vigilant of this negative attribute. When this attribute arises again try wielding it more softly. Like in the greed example, take half of what you would normally take or even 2/3rds. What emotions come up for you? Where do these emotions stem from? If this is based on a bad period of your life it may be time to reassess your experiences related to that situation. Filter it through your current circumstances and find out what is still true and necessary about this attribute and what is not. Think of how you would answer the question “Do I really need that much and why?” If you can’t answer clearly, that is a good indication that at least tweaking of this attribute may be needed.

Please know that this isn’t meant to be done in a weekend’s time. This is meant to take as long as you need. You may unearth major internal issues that were never fully resolved. If it takes a little while, that’s okay if not expected. This isn’t meant to disrupt your life. It is meant to connect you better with your internal self, to build a foundation you can act from with confidence, to have a safe and restorative place to return to when things are hard or disappointing or just plain exhausting. It is a place you can feel your full worth and know that even if things get hard, you will find a way through. This won’t make you perfect, but it will give you a better chance of finding the freedom to be fully yourself and love every part. 

Do you Feel Lost? Make a Map!

I would love for you to take a minute right now and think about yourself. Not the role you play at work, nor in your friend group, nor in your family, but your own personal view of who you are. Write down a list of the adjectives you would use to describe your attributes (i.e. smart, funny, possessive, etc.) Take your time, and be honest with yourself about both the good and the bad attributes you have. Don’t worry; you don’t have to show anyone. Hopefully it was a long list and hopefully it feels incomplete, even when you run out of words. 

Once you have a list, take a break. Go do something like take a walk or do a chore you have been putting off and come back to the list when you are done.

Welcome back! Now, go down your list of attributes one by one. Read each word, and just sit with it for a minute. Go through the whole list this way. As you do this, gauge your emotional reaction to each word. Say it outloud “I am _____!”  You may now feel an urge to cross off some of the words or alter them in some way. My recommendation is to put an asterisk next to those words but keep them. You may feel that some of these words don’t describe you 100% of the time – asterisk those too. You may even be feeling that you wish you more strongly embodied some of these words, even if you feel you are generally this way.

The other thing you should consider, as you read this list, is whether this is truly a way you see yourself or if it is a word many others have used to describe you. A good way to test this is to think of a moment in your life that you embodied this word. For instance, if you wrote “confident” on your list, think of the last time you felt confident. Was it an occasion when you received accolades, or did you feel that way before anyone lauded you?

Honesty is important in this exercise. It is to show that if your life changed in a drastic way, what are the parts of you that would allow you to still be you. This is how you would know that you are still the same person – that even if you experience something that traumatizes you, these aspects will be there to bring you back and help you to know yourself again. It is also a handy gauge to measure growth. Keep this list, and add to it if you find a new word to describe yourself. 

If you want to actively use this list, think of what you would like to add to it. “I wish I was more____.”  This is a good way to find out what you feel you are lacking. Exploring this, in itself, may be a revealing process. This may help you to see what you are taking for granted about yourself or where you may be too hard on yourself. It may even help you see that it’s okay to not embody an aspect that many others may crave to embody.

Also, because you have a list of both the good and bad aspects, when you feel you need a change, you have a master list to refer to now. Recalling the last time you felt one of the listed  positive attributes may reveal attributes that have become latent within you that could be rekindled. You may look at a word on your list a year from now and realize you haven’t felt that way in awhile. It’s a chance to examine what changed to decrease the presence of that attribute in your personality. Now you can work on bringing it back.

You can use the negative attributes as a place to work on yourself by becoming more aware of when you display these attributes. Does your life feel stagnant or frustrating most of the time? Look at these attributes and ask yourself if they could be contributors to why things feel the way they do and how you can reduce those attributes. When are these attributes most present in your life and why? Is it a situation that can be handled differently or removed entirely?

This isn’t intended for scrutiny on a daily basis. This is your own personal map of who you are. You can look at it as infrequently as you like. If you had a hard day, you can remind yourself of who you are with this list. If things seem to be going haywire around a situation in your life, you can see which negative traits may be contributing to it. It may even transform a situation like that into a chance to make the change you always wanted to make. This is meant to be the foundation of who you know yourself to be. It will change, because people change. You can add and subtract whatever words should be added or removed as long as you are still being honest in the process.

I believe that ultimately, in life, we are the most important thing we have. Jobs, children, lovers and passions all feel more important most of the time. It is the core of who we are, though, that we rely on to sustain all of those things. The stronger you make that core and the better acquainted with it you are, the more you’ll be able to sustain the things you cherish. You are the foundation of all the things in your life. There may be others contributing to some of the elements that seem vital but that does not remove your incredibly important role, and when it pertains solely to your life you are the central piece. 

No matter how much you do for others or sacrifice on their behalf, it is of extreme importance that you focus on and care for yourself whenever possible. If you are doing for others relentlessly and never factor in your own needs, your life will inevitably be disrupted by your needs whether you like it or not. Respect your body, respect your mind, respect your heart. You may not realize how important these things are to all you cherish, but if you think about it none of those things would exist without you. Your life and your experiences are unique to you, so make the map to help you see what direction to take next, to pursue greater joy and fulfillment not only for you but all the things your life touches. The results may surprise you.

Small Steps to Great Healing

When I was in elementary school, I once knew a girl who had worn a bandage on her knee for so long, her skin had begun to grow over it. She hadn’t removed it because she was afraid to and now, her body was just regenerating over top of it. I was worried for her upon discovery of the situation, but I also don’t remember revisiting the topic with her later. Now all these years later, I am somewhat disappointed in myself. I should have asked her about it again. I should have let her know at least once more that I was worried for her. She had treated it as no big deal. I expressed in the moment that I believed it was a big deal and it needed to be looked at. Then, I forgot about it.

Now I sit here, decades later, wondering how many of us in the world have had a situation of pain or fear that we faced, and we just let the new skin grow over top of it. Facing the pain or fear felt impossible, so we just ignored the wound all together. When we didn’t think about it, we could carry on with life; it didn’t even hurt anymore, most of the time. Maybe someone told us to stop whining; maybe someone told us, “it’s fine,” so there was no sense crying about it.

So, when the wound gets banged in the exact wrong way years later, we realize we have a big issue, that ignoring it didn’t make it disappear, and that our pretending that all was well actually made it much worse than we ever could have imagined. Perhaps, if we had given it the care it needed at the time, it would have healed gently and with little to no scarring, but now we are forced to address it in a much deeper way, with at least the same, if not greater, demands of life.

I also wonder how many of us saw this in others and forgot to ask again. It maybe wasn’t intentional. We all have our own things we are dealing with, but the simple act of acknowledging what others are struggling with can be a great help to their healing. You don’t have to schedule the doctor’s visit for them; simply saying something like “Did you get that bandage off yet?” could let them know that someone is thinking of them and that you can be there for them if they need your help.

Many shoulder burdens in life virtually alone. They may be prideful, or they may see your problems and not want to make demands of you, for fear of inconveniencing you. Just a small statement can remind them that you care about them and are willing to help if needed, even if it means helping them find whoever would be best to help them. Knowing they are valued may motivate them to take that step of self care they have hesitated to take, and feeling your encouragement and support could help them keep going.

Grief is like a Shadow

Grief is like a shadow. Where there was once a bright and warming light in your life, suddenly it feels as if there is only dark. Sometimes it is gradual, like the sun moving across the sky toward nighttime. Sometimes it is like someone closed the door on a capsule that seems to block out all the light that was once there. Either way it is painful and requires time and patience with yourself to find the light again. 

I have watched many beautiful sun’s set. The brightest I had known, set when I was 19 years old.  Though it was expected, the finality of it once it finally happened was immense. There was a confusion for me. How could the world just keep on going when something so significant had happened? How can the world not feel that this giant glorious light was now lacking from the world? I cried a lot of course, but this feeling was perhaps more difficult to wrestle with. I now have to live my life with one of the brightest lights I had known absent. 

Something I learned during this process is that I was entitled to the emotions I was feeling. If I needed to cry, I cried. If I needed to talk, I would reach out. Some people feel that the grief process is something that should happen quickly, something you can get over in the determined socially acceptable period of time. I refused that period of time. I took the time I needed. I was hurt when suggestions were made of getting over it, but I knew that I needed that time and took it without shame. Perhaps it was the influence of who I had lost that gave me the strength to take that time.

Other than time, the thing that provided the most healing in the process was being with people who knew them and loved them. Hearing stories of the wonderful ways their lives had been impacted by them. Though the source of this brilliant light was gone, I could see glimmers of it still alive in others that had once experienced it and remembered its impact. The numerous stories of their kind words and actions lived on in those who knew them and loved them. When these stories were shared, I could feel that light again. It wasn’t the same, nor could it replace them, but it made the darkness I was feeling less like an endless void I would be trapped in forever.

Now, many years later, I don’t wrestle with it the way I did in the beginning. I have aged, I have grown, I see many things differently. I still believe, though, that you must take the time and space you need to get over the pain in the beginning. Don’t let anyone tell you what your grieving process should be or how long it should last. Be gentle with yourself; you will have moments when the pain will resurface unexpectedly, possibly for years. Don’t be embarrassed or feel shame for it. Revel in the wonderful stories and memories you have, and the stories of others. For me this was the greatest way to feel their light close again even if it wasn’t technically in the same room. 

I believe that the shadow cast by the loss of a beloved person in your life is the direct result, even evidence, of how bright that light was. You wouldn’t even notice the darkness if their light hadn’t been so brilliant. You wouldn’t even feel the void of their absence if they hadn’t been such a significant presence in the first place. When you are ready, this may be a point of view that could help. How lucky we are to have these people in our lives, to fill it with their brilliant light. While it seems hard to believe at first, this light is still there, even after they have left, in the people who knew, and shared that light. It may never be the brilliant sun it once was, but it can still be that beam shining through the storm clouds or filtered through trees on a nice day. The connection we have with them may change, but it never truly leaves. So seek it out, for it will be the thing that most heals you.