‘Know thyself’ is an ancient saying that predates the classical Greek philosophers. It seems obvious that a person would know him/her/themselves, but the obvious is not always real. According to psychodynamic theory, there is only a small tip of the self that is within conscious awareness. Person-centred theory suggests there are blind spots to the self, a window of unknowing.
Many things in life can create a feeling of being lost to the self, submerged or drowning. Anxiety and its various and numerous manifestations can block the true self with fears, ruminations, self-criticisms, ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘what ifs’. Anxiety can fill a day with counting or circular thoughts so there is no time or space left to know who you are, what you want, what you feel, what you like or dislike. Another aspect of anxiety is that it can freeze and tense the body to the extent that every activity physically feels the same. Anxiety is relational and one of the ways we perceive the self is from the reflections of others. Ironically, the reflections of others can have even greater emphasis if they have been negative, bullying, dismissive or silent. This looking-glass self can be further generalised by the wider social construction of labels and boxes. Rather than knowing the self, a person may try to force the self into a box of what they think they should be based on social constructions. E.g. “I am this age, I should be getting married/having a cat/getting promoted/buying a house..”
Beneath the manifestations of anxiety or the darkness of depression, away from the fears and numbness is the unique and beautiful self. Humans are complicated, it is not necessary to completely or even mostly ‘know thyself’. Just to emerge, emerge enough to know what you want and to be able to act on it; to know what you value; to know your worth; to know what you feel and to be able to express it; to say no or yes; to make a decision; to know your rights, to accept yourself; to be you not a label or a social construction; and to know that being you is okay.
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About Jacqueline Karaca
Jacquie Karaca is a psychotherapist and author. She practices individual and relationship counselling in Alsager.