Developing a strong sense of self is essential part of creating a healthy meaningful life. It is a subject that I am very drawn towards and am very desirous to create many discussions about the topic. Having a strong sense of self will increase our ability to do good in the world. When we are able to develop a strong sense of self it frees us from destructive need to seek validation from outside sources to manage our legitimacy.
It is so easy to wrap our sense of self around relationships, events, hobbies, jobs, accomplishments, titles. It is easy to get trapped into using outside sources as a way to feel valued, needed, love, of worth, accepted, sufficient and necessary. And when we lean upon these outside sources for our sense of self a lot can go wrong.
When we use outside sources to legitimize our sense of self we do so in a selfish and destructive manner that ends up shrinking our sense of self rather than strengthening it. As Dr. Finlayson-Fife said on a podcast “It is a kind of self preoccupation in which you are trying to regulate your sense of self through your relationships with other people.” And we typically do this in two different ways. We either become the people pleaser who will do just about anything to win the approval and love and acceptance of others. Or we become the bulldozer who will pressure others to like what they like and value what they value to feel valued and accepted.
In an interview with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife I asked her the following question:
Sherrae: It seems to all comes down to this development of self. How would you define what it means to have a sense of self?
Jennifer: I do think a sense of self is, at the core, based in desire. I talk about this in my Art of Desire course. A sense of self is in its core about being willing to forge a self, like literally craft a self in the world. What are my gifts and what do I want to develop with them? Who do I want to be in the world? Developing our capacities is really to be able to have a sense of power—not the power to manipulate others or obligate others or to get others to think you’re good. It’s the power to effect goodness in the world. To make something better than the way you found it. It’s the ability to be creative. It’s the ability to develop your capacities in a way that you can actually make a meaningful difference in the life of your child, your spouse, yourself, and in society. It’s to be a force for good in the world. That’s what it is to have a self. It’s being a force for good in a way that’s specific to your creation and to your capacities, and thereby developing into a unique and creative self. In my mind this is not the way that many Latter-Day Saints talk about choices and doing good. We tend to focus more around a pre-determined plan in God’s mind that you need to ascertain and fulfill. Sometimes we look too much to be commanded in all things.
My way of thinking about it is more to trust in God and goodness enough to be anxiously engaged in any good cause, in your own unique way, and tolerating the inherent exposure and uncertainty in it, while still trying to do good anyway. It requires sacrifice. And it does require doing things that feel hard and without any guarantee that it’s all going to work out. It’s the ability to tolerate that you don’t know how it will all work, but having the willingness to move forward anyway. That’s what it takes to forge a self. Who am I going to be in my relationship to this person?—Not necessarily who they are going to be, because I don’t have control over that. It’s not necessarily that any challenge we’ve been given has a predetermined purpose to it. I just see it more as we must choose a purpose in the midst of the difficulty. Such as, “This difficulty is just another version of the human experience and I am going to love and do the heavy lifting to try and create something better here even though there’s a lot that’s not clear or certain.”