The Relationship With The Self: A Theory Of Being In America’s Individualist Society
Thank you to all the people who have helped me build on this idea since I stumbled upon it a couple years ago.
Just like most people, I have a hidden side.
It’s the side of me that sits quietly in the morning, slouched next to a table as I write in a coffee-stained journal, trying to understand who the fuck I am.
And I’d sit there with the wind brushing softly through the window and across my cheek, waiting to finally understand what it meant to “know who you are.” And for years, I’d close my notebook with 5 fewer pages left, but no more answers.
These, are the reflection moments.
I’d put away my notebook and start my day. “That’s enough of that” I’d say to myself like an emotionally distant father. “Time to get to work.”
I would open up a new notebook that had carefully crossed out tasks, and a date at the top of each page. I would open up a fresh page and copy -> paste the same template into a new day.
I knew how to be successful.
Every day I followed a recipe for success.
- Spend 30% of your time reviewing and repeating what you already knew.
- Spend the other 70% challenging yourself to something new.
And every day, I would cross off each item on that list, and because it was crossed off I know — I KNOW — that I am going somewhere.
All the while, ignoring the fact that I would wake up the very next morning not knowing a god damn thing about where “somewhere” actually was. And my journal of thoughts still read like a mystery novel.
These are the action moments.
For years I went through this cycle. Sitting in deep reflection, and then pushing all that aside to achieve…something.
And for a period of time, I successfully went through the world suppressing the voice inside.
But still, something you can’t explain to anyone, except maybe your closest friend, was missing. And I saw that something in the journal that had started to collect dust behind the computer that sat at my desk.
And that ate away at me.
I had a morning ritual when I was 14 years old.
I would wake up, walk over to the bathroom, take my shirt off and look at my body in the mirror. (A reflection moment)
And every morning, I hated myself for being too fat.
No matter which way I turned my body, sucked in my gut, tried to hold back the massive handlebars that hung around my waist, I hated the thing that looked back at me.
I’d say to myself, “If I started exercising and eating healthy and stopped sitting on the couch so much, I think I could have MTV abs in 4 months tops.
And every day I would resign myself from the mirror, step into the shower, get dressed for school, and complete my daily checklist only to go through the same exact routine I had the day before. (An action moment)
And a little after 5pm every day I’d lie to myself, that “tomorrow” was a better starting day just to push down the part of myself dreading tomorrow’s inspection.
Between the ages of 14 and 17 I was severely depressed.
Discovering My Relationship With My “Self”
In order to break this cycle, most people do one of two things:
- They try to achieve more during the day.
- They try to make their journaling as emotionally revealing as possible.
Both of these, are a mistake.
No matter how much you lean into one side of the equation, you’re never solving the real problem. Thankfully, the real equation is actually very simple once you know what variables are at play.
Let’s call the person you are during reflection moments, Self. And let’s call the person you are during action moments, You.
The equation is not: “how heavily do you lean into Self, or how heavily you lean into You.”
The equation is: “how accurately does Self map onto You.”
And the thing that creates the mapping from Self onto You, is the same thing that binds any relationship together.
Let’s say that you’re flying into town and you call up your friend and ask if he/she can pick you up when your plane lands. And let’s say your friend says “yes.”
What happens if they don’t show up?
Nothing catastrophic, I mean it’s 2020, I’ll prolly just call an Uber, if we’ve been friends for a while I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.
But what if that happened 5 times in a row?
Each time, a little bit of trust gets chipped away. And eventually, you no longer call that friend to pick you up from the air port.
This is the exact same thing that happens between Self and You.
Let’s go back to 14-year-old me.
Every morning I woke up and stood in front of the mirror, and in reflection, I stood with Self. And every morning Self asked to “start working out today.”
What happens every day when You doesn’t listen to that voice?
A little bit of trust is broken.
And this goes on and on, every day. And eventually, what happens when You lets Self down enough times in a row?
It stops asking.
So what do you do to repair this relationship?
A Pair Of Scissors
I was sitting on my couch one day my Junior year of college writing in my journal, before I knew who You or Self even was.
And again, as I always did, I was trying to figure out why pouring myself into these pages wasn’t actually making me feel better. (Leaning into Self)
And then I asked myself the question that made me see the full equation:
How does it feel to take what I’m writing, and put it, in its entirety, out into the world?
Really. Really. Really. Scary.
Boom. I’d hit something. I was now sitting in the room with You and Self at the same time. The part of me that spoke into my journal, Self, and the part of me that interacted with the world, You. And it. Felt. Like. Hell.
Take a moment to imagine sitting in the same room with someone who you have a very tense, probably awkward, mostly uncomfortable relationship with. That’s the same feeling.
You probably don’t know what to say, what to do. You barely even know how to open up a conversation. I normally resorted to just saying a bunch of fake shit to keep it civil.
That’s how I felt in that moment.
But my objective here was clear, it was to find something I hadn’t seen before. So instead of walking away from the moment, I continued to sit with it.
And I sat there awkwardly, in my rarely-empty, 4-bedroom apartment, in complete silence, psychopathically waiting for one of these two sides of me to speak. And if you’ve ever tried to open up a really shitty conversation, you know it’s not easy.
And where do you even start? How do I even get these things to talk? How do they talk?
Well, I knew that Self was something inside of me, a voice, mostly expressed by words in my journal. And I knew that You had something to do with things I did in the world. And that the joining of those two things felt really weird. So I had to start small.
So I wrote this in my journal:
I don’t know how to communicate with You, whatever You are. Most of what I say goes unnoticed by You. But if You can hear me, then I want You to get up from this couch, walk over to that table, pick up the pair of scissors that’s sitting there, look at them for a few seconds, come back here, and sit back down.
At this point I’m imagining sitting in a therapists office screaming about You and Self and them asking me, “is Self sitting somewhere in this room right now?”
But in that moment, I got up almost suspiciously, walked over to the table, picked up the scissors, inspected them for a few seconds, noticed the slight chipping on the blades and some worn paint on the inside of the plastic holsters, placed the scissors back down on the table, walked slowly over to the couch, and sat back down.
And from that, I had built one, microscopic bit of trust between the two halves and discovered the equation.
Self knows what’s best for you and asks for those things. You listens to Self and says, “I’ll do my best.” And if You fails, Self understands, but encourages You to keep trying. And this is what’s called, You having a healthy relationship with your Self.
So Where Do You Go From Here?
Well, you need to put it into practice. And here’s what my practice looks like.
- I take, at a minimum, 30 minutes on the weekend to journal. During this time, I write specific things that I want You to manifest throughout the week.
- Spend the week focusing on manifesting exactly what I had expected of myself in my journal. Remember, it’s not WHAT you choose to do that matters so much, just that what you ask of yourself accurately maps onto what you do throughout the week.
- Back to the weekend. Spend a little time reflecting on whether or not You actually lived up to what your Self chose for that week. If you didn’t, that’s fine just reflect on “why” without judgement. And if you did, awesome keep it up. The reason this step is important, is because it acts as a gage for how much trust you’ve built between You and your Self.
- Rinse, repeat, always make an effort to be better than you were yesterday, and have compassion for when you don’t.
And eventually, You will no longer be afraid to express your Self.
If you actually read this entire article, I give you major props. There are some pretty wacky ideas in here, that probably make sense to only a really small group of people.
One tool I’ve found that really helps me understand it is to see your inner voice like a little brother, who wants to enter the world and slay dragons. How would you respond? Are you going to tell the kid to “shut up,” that “dragons don’t exist?” Or are you going to bravely help him/her through the world. He can’t do it without you.
Again, mad love to anyone who reads this. And I’m always open to thoughts, criticism and conversation. This article is, itself, an act from my own You returning a favor to the Self I’ve learned to love.
By: Alec Mather :)