In a previous post, I wrote about the value of the ancient adage “Know Thyself.” But knowing ourselves is a difficult process. Here are eight reasons why.
(ONE) It takes years to fully become yourself
Most people don’t ‘settle in’ to themselves until at least 25 or 30.
(TWO) It takes time spent in conscious reflection
You can’t wake up and expect to know yourself if you’ve never seriously reflected on it over time. Reflection takes silence, something our modern world has precious little of. Not just silence in the room, but silence in the soul. It requires not being in pseudo-social situations all the time – either online or with people in a superficial way. It requires focused consideration of your actions and motivations. (And I don’t mean navel-gazing! I mean facing up to our responses to things that challenge us, considering what brings us joy, etc.)
(THREE) We’re too busy trying to be like someone else
Sometimes we find people we like or admire, and try to model ourselves after them. But in so doing, we can miss out on the fact that we are not they. And although it can be great to imitate someone’s virtues, instead we often end up trying to imitate their personality.
(FOUR) We lack good role models
On the other hand, sometimes we try so hard to be “unique” that we fail to see how much we can learn about ourselves from observing others. Trying to be unique for the sake of being unique ends up being cliché.
(FIVE) Sin makes us less integrated
It tears us apart within ourselves, like St. Paul saying, “I do the very thing I don’t want to do.” If I am in the habit of doing something that causes harm to myself or others, then that negative behavior is going to be tugging me away from the good I want to do. It’s going to blind me to my own situation (haven’t we all known someone who has no idea she is always positioning herself to be the centre of attention, for example?)
(SIX) We lack people who truly know us
Especially in this world of online social connections, it can be hard to have true friends that we share ourselves with: our hopes and dreams, our weaknesses and sorrows. (Sometimes we pour ourselves out to the wrong people, who aren’t in it for the long haul, or don’t have our best interest at heart. Sometimes we pour it out in the wrong context, spilling our deepest selves all over the internet.) Good friends want our good. Good friends honor the things we entrust them with.
(SEVEN) We lack honesty with ourselves
There’s a reason we are encouraged to confess our sins: not only does it give us space to receive forgiveness, it forces us to be radically honest about our failings. Often our false sense of self comes not just from lack of honesty about faults, but lack of honesty about gifts and strengths as well. Having a good friend who truly knows us (see #4), can help.
(EIGHT) We try to ‘spiritualize’ everything
Look, sometimes we do just need to “trust God more” or “pray harder”. But sometimes, we need to try some other human way. I have a friend who needed to get up early to pray, but was just having a terrible time focusing. Over and over, he was advised just to pray more and keep trying. But it kept not working. So, he decided to get up even earlier, have a cold shower and an espresso, do an hour of language study to get his brain moving, and then go pray. Guess what? It worked. I have another friend who struggled to accept God’s love, struggled with sin, kept confessing, kept praying, etc.etc. Finally it was suggested to him that he might be struggling with depression. Some simple medication helped the synapses in his brain. Did his struggles go away completely? No. But he was in a better place to face them.
Which difficulties in knowing yourself do you struggle with?