A Surprising Answer to a Simple Question
-by Frank M. Wanderer Ph.D
Nowadays more and more people are concerned about this: Who or what am I? I’m just the sum of my personal life story, memories, experiences, thoughts and sufferings? If you are interested in this issue, you can find out the answers with us! Through a game you can find the gate to yourself! Play with us for a few minutes. What you need is a blank sheet of paper, a pen, and half an hour of free time. If you have all these, the game may start!
Before starting, please divide the sheet into four equal parts, and number the parts clockwise, starting in the upper left corner. The first task is to ask yourself the question:
What Do I Think of Myself?
Who am I? What kind of a person am I? How could I describe myself?
In box no. 1 enter all thoughts that you have about yourself. It is important to answer not only the question “Who am I?” (e. g. I am a human being, a man, woman, husband etc.) but also to the question “What kind of a person am I?” (e. g. I am honest, I do not forgive easily etc.). If you have a break, you do not have any idea for a few minutes, no problem; do not give up. Be patient, perhaps some important information that you have not yet written down, will come to your mind. If nothing important comes, finish the task.
The next turn in the game is to count how many expressions you have used to characterize yourself. Enter the figure into the lower left corner. When ready, examine the terms and decide whether they are positive, negative or neutral. In the end, count the positive, negative and neutral terms you have used to describe yourself. Write these numbers into the lower right corner.
As the second task of the game, ask yourself the following question:
What kind of a person I would like to be?
Enter every idea that comes to your mind about it into box no. 2 on the sheet. When you have run out of ideas, finish the exercise.
As the third task of the game, ask yourself this question:
What kind of a person would other people (my husband, wife, children, boss etc.) like to see me?
In box no. 3 of the sheet write down every idea that occurs to you about this question. When you have run out of ideas, finish the exercise.
As the fourth task of the game, ask yourself this question:
What kind of a person am I in other people’s eyes?
In box no. 4 of the sheet write down every idea that occurs to you about this question. When you have run out of ideas, finish the exercise.
If you have some more time, you can do this task together with your wife, husband, children, friends etc. In this way you will be given a more detailed image of what kind of a person others see you.
When the four numbered fields of the paper are no longer empty in front of you, the first part of the game is completed.
These are notions and ideas, obtained with the questions, that constitute your image of yourself.
Why is the Self-Image Important?
Before continuing the game, let us have a look at the self-image and its role in our life.
Self-image is the mental image that we have about ourself. The first thing we notice about this image is that it consists of several components.
One of the important components is the actual self-image. This is the cluster of the characteristics that we can use to describe ourselves at the actual moment.
In the first half of our game we dealt with this actual self-image, this is what the answers in box no.1 of your sheet contain.
The actual self-image has two major dimensions. One is the complexity of the self-image. Look at the number of the terms you used to characterize yourself (figure in the lower left corner). The higher that number is, the more terms you find on the page, and the more complex, more elaborate your self-image is. The other dimension of the self-image is its quality, that is, whether we talk about a positive or a negative self-image. If you compare the respective numbers of the positive and negative adjectives you used to describe yourself (figures in the lower right box), you will have an idea about the quality of your self-image. Usually, positive characteristics outnumber negative ones in people’s self-image. If there are no negative adjectives at all, or only very few, next to the positive ones, the self-image of the person concerned is unbalanced, overtly positive. This is the case the other way around, too; that is, if your self-image is too negative.
We all make efforts to sustain our self-image once it has evolved, and it is true whether the self-image is positive or negative. It means that a too positive or too negative self-image may distort our sense of reality, as a self-image screens the vast amount of information arriving to us from the outside world, only letting through the items of information that reinforce the quality of our self-image. Therefore, a person with an excessively negative self-image, with a rather low opinion of his/her own person, will be a lot more sensitive to negative opinions and judgments coming from the external world than to any positive feedback. That is also true the other way around.
The following component of our self-image is the ideal self-image. That is what we would like to possess. The answers written in box no.2 of your sheet constitute this component of your self-image. Now all you need to do is survey the difference between your actual and ideal self-images. If the difference is small, the ideal image supplies energy, enthusiasm to you, and leads you to the right direction. But if the difference is large, depression, a sense of failure may overcome you.
The third component of our self-image is the “I should have” self-image. It comprises the characteristic features that we believe we should possess (these are largely in connection with commitments, duties and responsibilities). Entries in box no.3 describe these features. Now, examine the difference between your actual self-image and the ”I should have” self-image. If the difference is small, the ”I should have” self-image supplies you pleasant feelings and satisfaction. too large a difference, on the other hand, may cause restlessness and anxiety.
The fourth important component of the self-image is the social self-image. It consists of the evaluation of our personality by other people. This is an important point of orientation within the self-image, as we may reinforce or change certain elements of the complete image. The difference between our social self-image and actual self-image is reflected in our self-evaluation. Box no.4 on the answer sheet contains a description of that self-image. Now, your task is to compare your actual self-image and your social self-image. If there is a harmonic relationship between the two, you tend to see yourself the way other people see you, your self-evaluation and self-esteem are in order. If the difference is too large, your self-evaluation is unstable. That, in turn, determines the quality of your mental and emotional life.
A surprising twist
Now, that we know everything about self-image, and you have analyzed your own, we may continue the game.
Place the answer sheet containing your self-image in front of you. So far, we have been paying our attention to the thoughts and ideas on the sheet. We suggest that now you should focus on the white sheet itself, on which you wrote the ideas.
Let us draw your attention to a surprising thing.
You are not the carefully elaborated self-image written on the sheet of paper, but the white page itself, the mental space into which the ideas are projected.
Consider the truth of that surprising statement.
Return your attention to the writing on the page, that is, your self-image. The descriptions belong to the “I am this or that,” “I am like this or that” categories. In the following, we only deal with that category, the self is interesting for us, and disregards its qualities. Now try to find that I. Close your eyes, and turn your attention inward, asking yourself the question:
Who am I?
Your mental self-image you drafted in the first part of the game pops up in your mind immediately, and says: “You are this and that!” Disregard that now, as you are familiar with that, analyzed it extensively in the first part of the game. You are now looking for something else. Try to concentrate on the field in which the mental images appear.
It may seem to be difficult, the more difficult the more powerfully you have identified with your self-image, the mental image you believed you were identical with.
The fact that you are still doing this exercise means that your self-image no longer completely fills your mental space, you are able to detach yourself from it to some extent. The space thus liberated, and the Presence appearing in it is now observable to you, your attention is able to grab it. Only focus on that space, that Presence, and you will find sour real Self beyond the mind and thoughts.
About the author:
Frank M. Wanderer Ph.D is a professor of psychology, a consciousness researcher and writer, and publisher of several books on consciousness. With a lifelong interest in the mystery of human existence and the work of the human mind, Frank’s work is to help others wake up from identification with our personal history and the illusory world of the forms and shapes, and to find our identity in what he calls “the Miracle”, the mystery of the Consciousness.
You can also follow his blog HERE