In case you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m obsessed with thinking about and learning about how we understand our individual selves and how that relates to all of our other relationships.
How do I know who I am? How do you know who you are? How do you know how to make a decision? Or, maybe more interestingly, how do you know what decision you will make in the future? I’m not asking what decision you think you should make. I’m asking how you know what decision you will make in the future if/when faced with a decision.
Let’s make this more concrete. Here’s an example that we can all relate to: If you’re given the option between two of your favorite types of ice cream (or gelato, if you prefer) which one will you choose?
Or, let’s talk about a harder decision: If given the option to cheat on a test and assure yourself a passing grade would you cheat?
There are so many factors surrounding this question. What if you weren’t able to study for the test? What is the subject matter of the test? What are the consequences for passing or not passing the test?
Can you imagine a scenario when you would cheat on this test?
Or a third example: Imagine that you’re in a heated argument/yelling match with a close friend or family member. There are true things that you know you could say that would sway the argument in your favor but that would really hurt your friend or family member. Do you say them?
Take a few minute to think about what you would do in these scenarios or just go with your gut. Tell yourself what you would do in these situations. What ice cream or gelato would you choose? Would you cheat on the test? Do you win the argument or do you hold back because you know that winning would be hurtful?
How do you know?
By now, you might be thinking to yourself, “no one can know for sure what they will do in the future”. If we go to that sometimes scary place of raw honesty, we have to admit that we just do not know with 100% certainty what we will decide in the future. We live every day with this uncertainty about our very selves.
I know for the longest time I denied this uncertainty. I was sure that it was possible to know how I would react in the future. I was convinced that I knew myself so well that I knew what I would do in all situations. I believed that I knew what I would do when faced with hard decisions. I had gone through the “what if scenarios” and determined ahead of time what I would do. If asked or prompted, I would even tell people what it is I would do in these scenarios.
Then one day I was faced with a situation and my gut reaction was not what I anticipated it would be. Not only did I not act as I said I would act, I pretty much did the OPPOSITE of what I said I would do. And, almost in an instant, my entire world was turned upside down and shaken to pieces. Confidence in myself? gone. Who was I? Could I trust this person who would react in this way?
It was through this situation that it I learned to ask a different question: How will I love myself when I don’t act as I think I will or as I used to think that I should?
In the scenarios I offered before, I now ask you the following questions: How will you love yourself if you cheat on the test when you said you wouldn’t? What if you thought you would cheat but then chicken out and end up failing the test? How will you love yourself if you’re currently telling yourself that you would never say something that would be that hurtful to a person you love, but then during that fight you find yourself verbally expressing a sentiment that is meant to drive home your point and you do hurt the other person? How will you love yourself if you keep quiet but you know that the long term consequences of keeping quiet are more harmful, or you keep quiet but you know your very valid point has gone unheard/misunderstood?
What I have learned is that I can no longer say to myself that I know myself 100%. I can’t even be sure that if presented the same situation again that I would make the same choice. And I say that believing that the choice I made was a worthy choice. I’ve had to learn to love myself including those parts I do not know. I’ve had to learn to love myself when I realize I’m not the person I thought I was. I am continually learning to embrace my own unknown and I am still learning how to love what I know about myself, what I’m continually learning about myself, and what I may never know about myself. Love is a process, it’s a decision I make every day to embrace myself.
But I now live every day knowing that in the next decision I may act in a way that will disappoint me or that may catch me off guard or may change my own understanding of who I am. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that this fact scares me and excites me as I wonder what my future holds.
How about you? Do you think you know yourself 100%? If so, how do you know that? If not, what are your thoughts and feelings on the fact that you don’t know yourself fully and will never know yourself fully?