How well do you know yourself? What are your core values and beliefs? How do you deal with criticism and failure? How well do you know your strengths and weaknesses? What does your ideal self look like? How close are you to becoming that person?
Welcome lab mates to the YEAR OF THE SELF!
If you’ll remember from this post, we’re devoting the entire year here at Marriage Laboratory to self-improvement, because truly the FOUNDATION of a strong, healthy marriage requires emotionally maturity (which starts with a clear sense of self).
This month’s posts will all be devoted to the concept of developing a clear sense of self.
Today we are talking about what that means exactly. The following weeks will be devoted to HOW we achieve it.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Clear Sense of Self?
What is this mythical clear sense of self of which I speak? What does that look like? Why does it matter?
Having a clear sense of self means you know who you are, who you aren’t, what is ok and what is not ok. It includes understanding and owning up to your own strengths and weaknesses, values and ideals.
People with a strong sense of self know 1. who they are, 2. what their values are, and 3. what their limitations are.
Let’s look at each of those a little more closely.
Knowing Who You Are
I’m not talking here about knowing our roles, such as mother, scientist, friend, etc. And I’m not talking about knowing our characteristics such as 33 years old, American, middle-class. I’m not even talking about our attributes such as kind-hearted, free-spirited, devoted, etc.
Rather, I’m talking about our source of self-worth.
If we base our self-worth on our roles, characteristics or attributes, we’re in for a bumpy self-esteem ride because all of those things can be (and likely will be) threatened or taken away all together.
If I derive my self-worth from being a good mother for instance, what happens if something happens to my children? Or more likely, what happens on the days when I don’t reach my criteria of a “good mother?” (thank goodness I learned this lesson early otherwise my self-worth would not be sitting pretty . . .)
Our self-worth should be based on something immovable, something solid that isn’t susceptible to our faults or weaknesses or those of others. It shouldn’t be susceptible to anything outside of ourselves. Our sense of self should be based on the fact that we are worthy of love and belonging NO MATTER WHAT.
Merely by virtue of being human, we all have INHERENT WORTH.
Knowing this is like a super power. It means your self-esteem doesn’t need to ride a rollercoaster of ups and downs based on outside circumstances or our own mistakes and weaknesses.
Who are you? You are a human being. Imperfect, but fully capable of beauty and greatness and innately worthy of love and belonging.
Knowing What Your Values Are
What do you think is important in life? How do you define success and failure?
We need to be careful here because, often, we will say we value something, we will even think we value something, but it is quite easy to have blind-spots when it comes to what we ACTUALLY value.
For example, we may say we value honesty, but then exaggerate the truth or tell white lies when other people would think poorly of us for telling the truth. We may say we value frugality but then waste money on things we don’t need when we really want something.
Clearly defining, redefining and questioning our own values is a very worthwhile and important exercise (more on this later in the month).
When we know what we value and our actions are in accordance with those values- that is a recipe for a stable person. When we value something but don’t act in accordance to those values, that is a recipe for shame. And when we don’t have any clearly defined values, that is a recipe for becoming a human chameleon- taking on the values of those around you without the stability of anchoring yourself in what you believe.
Knowing Your Limitations
This is an important one, but also a hard one. We’re often so uncomfortable with the very idea of our limitations that we go to great lengths to cover them up or pretend they are not there even in our own minds. When someone (say, a spouse) discovers our limitations or points them out, we become defensive.
We would do anything to avoid confronting our limitations because we find it so painful to do so.
The ironic thing is, constantly avoiding our weaknesses provides its own pain, not to mention immense amounts of energy. Avoiding our limitations gives our limitations all the power. They own us instead of us owning them.
It is far better and more psychologically healthy to realize that everyone has weaknesses and flaws. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference between someone with a clear sense of self here and someone without is that the person with a clear sense of self is able to differentiate between their self-worth and their mistake.
This allows them to say, “I made a mistake. I did something not in line with my values- I’d better fix that.” Rather than, “Oh no! I made a mistake. Again! I’m the worst! I will never get over this.”
One is capable of change, one is handicapped by shame.
Owning up to our limitations means we get to be the author of our own story.
Why Should We Care?
Hopefully, you are getting some idea of why this sense of self is important in a marriage, but if not, let me drive home the point.
Sometimes in marriage it is SUPER clear what is right and what is wrong.
Infidelity= WRONG. Bad idea.
Being a selfish prick= WRONG. Bad idea.
Being kind and supportive= GOOD. Good idea.
But how about when to bring something up that bothers us and when to let it go?
How about what to do when our spouse demands something of us that we don’t want to do or are uncomfortable with?
How about how to know when to serve and when to ask to be served?
How about what to do when our spouse confronts us with something we are ashamed of?
How about how to deal with a spouse who is disappointing to us?
In order to be successfully navigated, these scenarios all require a clear sense of self.
When we don’t have a clear sense of self, we’re going to be constantly seeking it outside of ourselves. We’re going to be constantly seeking that stability in forms of validation and acceptance in others.
And who would we need to be seeking these the most? From the person who knows you the best, who is around you the most- i.e. our spouse.
Couple problems here. First off, this puts our spouse in a VERY difficult (not to mention exhausting) position to provide us with constant validation (saying and doing things that make us feel good all the time and not making us feel bad).
Also, it puts our sense of self in the hands of someone else, and our sense of self should never be in anyone’s hands but our own. Otherwise, get ready to ride a roller coaster of self-worth.
When we have a clear sense of self, we are able to self-confront and deal with our own imperfections which is CRUCIAL to a marriage.
When we haven’t developed a clear sense of self, owning up to our own imperfections and weaknesses is too painful. We’d rather get that hit of validation, we’d rather convince ourselves we’re fine, we’d rather numb the pain and ignore when we could improve.
Because improving does involve some amounts of pain. Pain is uncomfortable. Admitting and confronting the ugly parts of ourselves is SO HARD.
But if we are to have successful marriages, this process is CRUCIAL! It is so much easier to place the responsibility and blame of our problems on those around us- on our spouses, but the truth is the happiness in our marriages lies in controlling what we can control.
And this process requires self-confrontation. Honest self-confrontation is how we develop this sense of self.
Alright, are we ready to tackle this thing? Hands in if you’re ready to gain a clear sense of self!
Come back next week and let’s do this thing.