We all walk through life, collecting the labels that other people give us based on their understanding of our choices, behaviours and personality.
This is especially true during our childhood and the teenage years, because our brain is slowly developing and we don’t yet have the insight, awareness and self-understanding to do this ourselves. As a result, we end up with a big bunch of inaccurate, hurtful and many times simply wrong self-definitions: I call it the “Bullsh** sack”.
Then what happens is that we carry this sack behind us for many years, resulting in emotional pain and suffering.
So what can we do about it? When we notice the emotional pain and suffering this baggage is causing us, we can treat it as a sign: a guide to healing, re-routing, taking back some control over our life and starting the process of self-discovery, of letting go of the old labels, and personal growth.
This process is raw, honest, confronting and liberating, and each of us has to do it at our own pace.
This is the stage in life when we sit down, take our Bullsh** sack and sort it out.
Now we can begin the process of self-discovery, to define:
- who we are;
- what our strengths are;
- what we are good at;
- what our challenges are;
- what we struggle with;
- what we want, and what we don’t want;
- what benefits us;
- what recharges us, and what drains us;
- what hurts us;
- what we fear, etc.
If this sounds confronting, that’s okay! It only means that no one – including ourselves – ever asked us these real, honest, and very important questions. Maybe we were using so much energy fighting the labels in our sack, or trying to escape them, that it never came up before.
Some Tips for Starting the Process of Self-Discovery
Here are some tips to guide you in the process of self-discovery.
Find a Supportive Mental Health Professional: It is essential to look for a supportive mental health professional/s, to gently and skilfully guide you through the process of self-discovery and healing. This is important because we tend to repress (ie temporarily forget) some of the painful experiences we go through, however these tend to come back later in life for the sole purpose of giving us the opportunity to heal, release and integrate the feelings and experiences from our past.
Seek a Supportive Environment: Make a point of surrounding yourself with people that trigger positive feelings and provide a nurturing, non-judgmental environment where you feel you can take the armour off and be yourself.
If you do not have such people, make your physical environment calm, nurturing and as free of stresses and distractions as possible. If you don’t have such an environment (eg if you are living in a stressful or noisy housing situation), seek one that resembles the environment you need (eg a preferred park, library, beach, community centre etc) – as long as you have a feeling of security and calm there. It is important to have safe space to reflect, recharge and get support.
Choose Self-Compassion: Many people find that while they are compassionate towards others, they find it very hard to feel compassion towards their own self – the one they embody and are solely responsible for. We tend to be more critical, judgmental, harsh and even mean towards ourselves, in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions.
We are hard on ourselves and hurt a lot for so many years – and then expect to be productive, creative and happy! How can we, if our body, mind and soul is exhausted, overwhelmed and just sad from years of judgment. Usually this happens because other people did it to us first, and we just repeat that pattern. It is okay; we all do it to some extent. However once we become aware of it, we can work towards changing this hurtful pattern and developing greater kindness, self-compassion and gentleness with ourselves.
*Note: self-compassion does not mean we start allowing ourselves everything and forgiving every wrong-doing. Not at all. We just reduce the unnecessary judgment, but retain the learning from our wrong choices, as well as the insight and awareness of the effects of our choices on our life and the lives of other people.
Adopt an Attitude of Curiosity: Curiosity is one of the greatest strengths of the human character, and we can adopt it and use it in our process of self-discovery.
We treat each step, each emotion, each memory with respect and curiosity; we replace judgment with curiosity.
In our mind we say: “That’s interesting that this came up for me …” and we take it further, to reflect on it by ourselves (if the memory/feeling that was triggered is not too intense) or with our mental health professional, who can provide a safe space to explore further (if the memory/feelings seem too confronting).
Be Versatile: Be versatile and broaden your mind to the variety of possibilities that can aid in the self-discovery process.
You may find the following things helpful on your journey:
- support groups;
- specific online self-help courses;
- self-help books;
- linking with people in the community through community centres;
- finding a new passion or hobby;
- journaling your feelings and experiences, gratitude journal etc.
*Note: It may be a good idea to check with your mental health professional first, for ideas and/or to get feedback on the chosen initiatives.
In summary, at some point in life, many of us seek to make changes – by understanding ourselves better, letting go and growing, healing, becoming more of who we are, and feeling more comfortable in our skin. It is a process, in which we take responsibility for our happiness and well-being.
If you require support, I would be happy to assist you in the process of self-discovery.
Author: Ilana Gorovoy, B.Arts (Psych), B. Arts (Hons.)(Psychology), MPsych (Couns.)
With a Master’s in Counselling, Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy draws on therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Existential and Strengths-based approaches, Person-Centred and Positive Psychology, to assist her clients to become conscious of their strengths and difficulties, design and reach their goals, live a life of meaning and purpose, and reach their full potential through empowerment.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy, try Online Booking – Wishart. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Wishart) on (07) 3088 5422.