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“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates
When we are young, we do not hold rigid ideas of ourselves.
We don’t use self-talk to convince our psyche of what kind of person we are, nor do we act out our persona through dictated behavior. Instead, we are fluid in everything we do, curious to explore new personalities and try new ways of doing things. The search for this identity occurs in everyone.
I loved to play with toy soldiers with my oldest brother. We would set up armies across our room and battle with tanks and soldiers for hours. When I was tired of that, I would play with toy animals then cars. As I grew older, I played with wrestlers, then Nintendo until PlayStation arrived. Outside of the home, I played football and went cycling with friends.
I hadn’t decided on one path. So I adapted and learned to enjoy new things while adopting new behavior.
Along the way, my subconscious started to take in reactions, positive and negative, to how external perspectives viewed me, through words or body language.
I was developing all different parts of myself and my persona as I grew older.
Sadly, the mind starts to lose its fluidity and tightens with age. We become bound to a self-opinion. We are the person we tell ourselves we are. This puts us under constant scrutiny when we deviate from this self-inflicted ideology. We conform to the groups we belong to and follow a path that aligns with the person we think we are.
Realizing we do this is healthy; it is something that takes great introspection.
I studied emotional intelligence to find how I could treat others better, but I found self-awareness. It taught me how to treat myself more kindly and that my anxiety and stress came from within. I was playing a role in life that didn’t suit me any longer.
I refrained from empathy for so long that compassion for myself was nonexistent. Others sadly sit on the other end of this spectrum. People can also be self-absorbed and only see their agenda. A simple way of telling if someone is like this is by telling them either an anecdotal story or something personal, and they will quickly liken it to one of their own. These people hear only to respond and not to listen. However, they, too, can be cured through introspective thought—we are all far from perfect and fail in life. We can all be manipulated into thinking a wrong idea or being sublimely influenced to buy material products. We are all selfish sometimes.
These are some of the simple truths. Our deeper ones are concerned with the characters we play. We are pack animals, social beings; we all yearn to belong to the group.
I constantly thought about or made decisions by looking the eyes of others—my parents, my partner, and my friends, and sadly sometimes those I thought of as enemies. This put a strain on decisions about my work, habits, and even the clothing I wear.
This was my attitude to existence; I must fit within the role I had made for myself. Therefore, I am the type of person who does this, wears this, and does such things.
This pretty much describes everyone, even the person who sees themselves as the lone wolf, the outsider, the outliers of this world—they still categorize themselves.
We are not as free as we like to think. I’m not talking politics or geography. I am saying we do not live an autonomous existence. Not unless we first face some facts. The first being we are only alive for a certain amount of time. Along with the tightness of body and mind, we all seem to suppress the thought of mortality. Eternity exists only in the mind, and we can only control today, never tomorrow.
Having lost a friend at an early age, I became wearily obsessed with thinking of my expiration date. After my friend passed, I wished to join him (never acting upon it). I would ask God to send me so I could keep him company. That was a long time ago, and since then, I shudder to think about such prayers. Because life is precious, and I am genuinely lucky to have such a life of good bonds and experiences. Health is indeed wealth.
The second realisation is that we all wear masks, not the COVID-19 medical ones (they are starting to piss me off).
No, I mean the ego, persona, psyche, subconscious mind—the types of masks that we display to our groups of people that surround our daily lives—the skater, the hard man, the hipster, and the holy. I’m not a clinical psychologist, but I like to theorize that when a person is wearing a mask that doesn’t match, not even a little, it shows through their attitude.
See, attitude is malleable. It changes depending on person, circumstance, or surroundings. If we put a person in a scenario that calls for them to substantiate their mask, I believe it can show through testing whether it is accurate to their true identity.
Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud both focused on this “inner child” theory. Sadly, some of us don’t choose a mask but pick one up by means of protection. This may come from childhood trauma or otherwise, but this hypothesis states that somewhere underneath lives the original version of ourselves. If that were to hold true, then the introspective reflection should also focus on our adolescent and childlike state of mind.
What was it that made you happiest when you were young?
Another realization is a word that stands to be one of the most important parts of my life is influence.
Influence is an iconic word that is pertinent to any transformation of the mind. We are all influenced in one way or another by role models, books, TV series, culture, religion, friends, or family. These can be the difference between a good and bad life. We don’t choose our families, culture, and most times religion, so the influence that comes with these will form a dominant part of our self-beliefs and masks. Other factors can also have a substantial effect.
I have tried to resist numerous influence attempts in my life and failed because I didn’t want to disappoint people. I told myself a thousand times that I would not be outsmarted into bad decisions, yet another one comes along, and I do it, buy it, loan it, and help it, to no avail.
On the other side, many positive influences have changed me for the better. I listened, learned, watched, followed by example, and became better because of influence. The final part is now I influence others to the best of my knowledge. But “caveat emptor”—influence is powerful. We need to tread carefully and select wisely who we take or ply influence too. It is a life-changing matter and painfully hard to defend. We learn only through experience.
I will finish by saying that starting a journey of self-examination can be arduous to begin. I felt miserable when I first began to reflect on my prior being. I focused on how I broke down close bonds with people and unintentionally hurt people who were undeserving of the pain I caused. It took time for me to come to terms with my past decisions, but it healed, and the scar served as a lesson for my future self.
Within this, I also found hope, the acts of kindness and compassion I showed to my closest friends, and bonds I kept to those still close to me. This was my inner child; family and friends are my intrinsic value. This is my motive for the daily decisions I make, but more than that, if I deliver on these, I feel better about myself, and this cycle goes on.
History serves us greatly, and our own short history, most of all.