You’re lost. You’re ashamed to admit that you don’t know who you truly are. You have no idea what you want in life. In truth, you feel like a complete stranger to yourself.
Can you relate?
If so, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you. What you’re experiencing is the product of living in a society that is constantly trying to tell you who THEY think you are. (And that’s freakin’ disorienting, demoralizing, and overwhelming.)
Put simply, not knowing who you authentically are can be ungrounding, confusing, and scary. You’ll be dragged here and there by life without remaining in the center of your being. You’ll enter one job, relationship, and life commitment after another, quickly realizing that they’re not meant for you.
… and you’ll repeat this confusing cycle over and over again until you learn how to find yourself.
Would you like to feel confident in who you are? Would you like to fully embrace your strengths, gifts, and destiny? Would you like to find the meaning of your life? Would you like to find relationships, friendships, and connections that truly nourish your soul (and don’t drain you)?
If so, it’s time to do some soul searching. It’s time to find yourself.
Why You’re Struggling to Find Yourself (It’s Multi-Layered)
There are a number of reasons why it’s so difficult to know who you really are. Some of the main explanations include:
- You were raised in a dysfunctional family that devalued individuality and had strict family roles
- You’ve developed low self-esteem as a result of negative life experiences – and the thoughts (or stories) in your head prevent you from seeing your true beauty/power
- You’re being heavily influenced by the media including TV shows, movies, ads, YouTube channels, Instagram celebrities, etc. who make you think that you need to be someone you’re not (thus, demoralizing you even more)
- You’re surrounded by people who reinforce inauthenticity, low self-esteem, and poor decision making – these people feed the cycle of your insecurity and confusion
- Your daily habits, commitments, and life choices prevent you from taking the time to soul search and find who you truly are
Let’s explore these above points a little more in detail below:
1# You were raised in a dysfunctional family
Your childhood impacts your adult life and day-to-day existence tremendously. Your childhood years were your formation years: they created the foundation of the beliefs, behaviors, and values you carry right now.
Those raised in dysfunctional families tend to develop a weak sense of self because, as children, all their energy was invested externally. When a child must be hyper-vigilant (and protect itself against abandonment, abuse, etc.), they have no energy left to play, explore, and enjoy life. In other words, there’s no inner energy left, and thus, a child’s identity becomes frail and dependant on the external world for validation.
Dysfunctional families often have strict roles in which no one is permitted to be an individual (this is called enmeshment) or grow and change. In fact, any deviation from what “I am supposed to be and do” is punished, and therefore, being an individual is equated with suffering.
It’s no wonder that so many people are terrified, deep down, of finding who they truly are! Not only were they prevented from being their true selves as children, not only did they have no true authentic role models, but they were actually punished for being genuine!
2# You’ve developed low self-esteem
Either as a result of being raised in a dysfunctional family or through life circumstances, low self-esteem can also be why you struggle to learn how to to find yourself.
One step deeper than self-esteem is self-worth – or how fundamentally worthy as a human being you believe you are. If you’ve adopted the core wound that there’s something “wrong with you,” “you’re bad,” “you’re unlovable,” etc. it will be very difficult to find your true self.
In short, on an unconscious level, you don’t believe you’re worthy of finding yourself!
Think of the mind as a mirror. The more gunk and dirt is smeared across the mirror (in this case, false beliefs and attitudes), the harder it will be to see clearly (in this case, yourself).
In order to see yourself clearly and learn how to find yourself, you’ll need to wipe that mirror clean. We’ll explore how to do this a little later in the article.
3# You’re being heavily influenced by the media
The media is omnipresent. Turn on your TV, it’s there. Go to the shops, it’s there. Read the online newspaper, it’s there. Scroll through Google, it’s there. Use your favorite shampoo, it’s there.
When you notice what the overarching message sent by media is, you’ll see that it always centers around making you feel like you need more. More shiny hair, clearer skin, a slimmer body, nicer shoes, whiter teeth, smoother legs, better sex … more, more, more.
One level deeper than that is the idea that “you’re not good enough as you are.” It’s in the interest of companies, products, online personalities, publishers, etc. to make you unhappy with yourself, to throw a smokescreen over your eyes and cause you to forget who you are. It makes you chase a person who you think you must be, which in turn makes them a fat profit!
I’ll repeat that again: it’s in the interest of the media to make you forget who you are because it makes them money. It makes them powerful. It makes them important. And without your insecurity, they wouldn’t have that.
4# You’re surrounded by people who reinforce inauthenticity
As the saying goes, misery loves company. We attract those who “vibe” with us and who mirror (or affirm) what we feel about ourselves deep down.
If you have low self-esteem, if you don’t know who you are, you will attract the same types of people. Why? Well, the ego loves to feel validated – even if that means a type of validation that is toxic and unhealthy.
When we are around people who are also confused about who they truly are, it’s comfortable; non-confrontational. But when we’re around a person who exudes a calm, grounded, centered presence, we’re intimidated. We feel vulnerable. We feel insecure because we haven’t found that within ourselves yet.
The people we’re around most of the time can make it damn hard for us to learn how to find ourselves. Furthermore, on some level, we know that if we do go on this soul searching adventure, we’ll likely lose our friendships. The structure of our lives will crumble. We’ll wind up feeling alone. (And that’s another reason preventing us from finding ourselves!)
5# Your daily habits, commitments, and life choices
Finally, the pièce de résistance that builds on all previous points is our habits.
The material, the bulk of our lives can become cluttered very easily by soul-desecrating, empty, meaningless, and phony commitments.
These life choices can quickly build into prison walls that keep us feeling stuck and entrapped. They reinforce our self-alienation and inauthenticity, and it can be very hard to liberate ourselves from them.
But it is possible.
We’ll explore how to free yourself from these blockages soon. But first, let’s explore the spiritual reason why you don’t know how to find yourself.
The Spiritual Reason Why You’ve Lost Touch With Your True Self
Ego + soul loss.
At risk of going off on a whole twenty-page in-depth rant, I’ll keep it simple.
Your ego is your False Self: the mask you present to the world. You were conditioned to develop this ego-mask as a child (we all are). Its purpose is to help you function in society. But at the same time, it obscures your True Self (your Soul).
Soul loss is the result of us identifying with our False Self (ego) and forgetting about our True Self (soul). As a result of our soul loss, we don’t know who we truly are. We’re also plagued with feelings of depression, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, and a sensation of being like little tiny isolated islands floating in the sea of life. In truth, if we could connect with our souls, we’d realize how interconnected we truly are and no longer suffer so much.
As poet and philosopher, Mark Nepo explains:
It is the True Self that lets us know what is authentic and what has become artificial, while the False Self is a diplomat of distrust, enforcing a lifestyle of guardedness, secrecy, and complaint.
When we identify with the False Self, we lose touch with our wildness, with the vitality and rawness of who we truly are and what we genuinely want.
This lack of wildness, zestfulness, and soulfulness is what gives rise to a feeling of staleness and boredom. We feel empty inside. We become bored with ourselves easily and keep pursuing relationships, careers, or things that we think will give us back that spark of life. But it’s an illusion. Nothing outside of yourself can reinstate that soul spark within you.
Author and psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, graphically describes this disconnection from our sacred wildness (our soul):
What are some of the feeling-toned symptoms of a disrupted relationship with the wildish force in the psyche? To chronically feel, think, or act in any of the following ways is to have partially severed or lost entirely the relationship with the deep instinctual psyche. Using women’s language exclusively, these are: feeling extraordinarily dry, fatigued, frail, depressed, confused, gagged, muzzled, unaroused. Feeling frightened, halt or weak, without inspiration, without animation, without soulfulness, without meaning, shame-bearing, chronically fuming, volatile, stuck, uncreative, compressed, crazed. Feeling powerless, chronically doubtful, shaky, blocked, unable to follow through, giving one’s creative life over to others, life-sapping choices in mates, work, or friendships, suffering to live outside one’s own cycles, overprotective of self, inert, uncertain, faltering, inability to pace oneself or set limits …
I’m sure, on many levels, you can relate to this vivid description of what it’s like to lose touch with your wildness, your soul.
But how do you get it back?
How do you stop identifying with the False Self and step into your True Self?
How Do I Become Myself Again? (How to Find Yourself in 9 Steps)
As Mary Oliver put it, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Our days on this earth are numbered, so what’s the point in being someone we’re not?
Being who you authentically are at a core level is breathtakingly liberating. So much in your life will start flowing beautifully once you learn how to find yourself.
Your relationships will improve. Your work life will improve. Your family life will improve. Your mental and emotional wellbeing will improve. And above all, your relationship with yourself will improve.
So how do we get there?
Here are the 9 steps you can take to find yourself:
- Make time for solitude
- Mentally and emotionally purge
- Pinpoint your top five core needs
- Think about what you really want in life
- Embrace your right to be self-sovereign
- Explore, travel, ponder (and find your passion)
- Say goodbye to people and commitments that reinforce inauthenticity
- Connect with your spiritual center
- Reconnect with your wildness
These steps can be attempted individually (you don’t have to successively do them). And remember, some will work for you and some won’t. So experiment and don’t be afraid to fall down and get back up again.
I’ll expand below:
1. Make time for solitude
Solitude is powerful and it is the very first step to finding and becoming yourself again.
In solitude, we can distance ourselves from the noise around us that clutters our minds and confuses us. By solitude, I mean absolutely no contact with friends, colleagues, social media, etc. Solitude means simply being with yourself without distraction. A great way to do this is through meditation.
No, you don’t need to drop everything and become a hermit. Simply designate a few hours a week to solitude. If you need to drive somewhere to be alone, do it. If you need to barricade yourself in a room to be alone, do it.
If others are confused, explain to them that you need some time to rejuvenate alone. If they’re reasonable, they’ll get the picture. If not, you may need to forcibly set boundaries and find time to be alone.
2. Mentally and emotionally purge the inner sh*t
One of the most effective ways of mentally and emotionally purging is through journaling. (Also, drawing is another good method.)
Begin by vomiting all that you feel onto a page. Don’t censor yourself. Let it run free and get as explicit as you like.
Once you’ve purged, you can then reflect on what you’ve written: What themes arise? What dominant emotions come through?
Focus on developing a bit of self-understanding and don’t worry if you’re not completely sure of yourself. Just give it your best shot.
3. Pinpoint your top five core needs
We all have wants and desires, but needs are different. Needs come from your core, and they are unnegotiable because they’re vital to your sanity.
One great way of pinpointing your core needs is by focusing on areas of life that make you feel miserable. In what parts of life are you the unhappiest? You can be dead-sure sure a core need isn’t being met.
Once you have an idea of your top five core needs, write/draw them. Then, underneath, explore all the ways they are/aren’t being met.
In order to find yourself, you need to strip back to the basics. You need to shed all of the superficial wants and desires that cloud your mind and rediscover the gold that is buried within you. This inner gold is the fabric of your soul and it’s what makes you, you.
By understanding your core needs, you’ll know how to direct your life and be aligned with your inner center. For instance, if a core need of yours is to live close to nature, you’ll be able to find jobs, houses, and relationships that respect this quality that nourishes you.
4. Think about what you REALLY want in life
As author and inventor Stephen Key writes,
Consider how rare it is for us to make a meaningful, sustained observation of our likes and dislikes. Of course, we routinely complain, grasp, go along, fight—but we rarely ask ourselves, in a protracted and serious way: What would create purpose or contentment for me? What would I really like to be doing right now—and in whose company? We seldom ask, with deadly seriousness, who we want as intimates; where we physically and morally wish to dwell; and what we want to do with ourselves.
This guy has a point: how often do you think about what YOU really want in life? Forget about what your parents want. Forget about what your friends, partner, colleagues, or society wants: what do you want?
I know it may sound a little harsh, but you need to ignore everyone else and listen to that little voice within. Why? Well, your life is YOURS to live. No one has the right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t want in life.
So take some time to dive deep and introspect. If you could do whatever you want, without consequences, how would you live your life? And then, from there, make the appropriate compromises (i.e., it’s not a smart idea to abandon your kids) and take the steps toward that destination.
5. Embrace your right to be self-sovereign
Being self-sovereign means stepping into the role of ultimate authority within your life.
When we practice self-sovereignty we realize that no one else is responsible for living our lives but us. We realize that no one else can dictate what we should do but us. We realize that our lives are our creations – and what works for others doesn’t necessarily work for us.
To be self-sovereign means to step into the role of King or Queen of your life. Instead of seeking validation and approval from others like a beggar, you turn inwards and find that acceptance within yourself.
Often, those who struggle to find themselves don’t believe they have the fundamental right to be self-sovereign. Instead, they believe that they need to play by society’s rules in order to be acceptable.
It’s a simple mindset shift, but it creates massive, unfathomably intense ripples of change in your life to accept that you have the right to be self-sovereign. One of the best ways to start is to define who you are and who you aren’t.
Here are some journaling prompts that will help you to step into the role of self-sovereignty:
- What do I like and dislike?
- What is my style?
- What does beauty mean to me?
- What does success mean to me?
- What does happiness mean to me?
- Who do I think I am (vs. who others think I am)?
You’ll know that you’re successfully answering these questions if you have to pause and think a lot. It can take a lot of digging to find our true thoughts, feelings, and beliefs AND distinguish them from society’s perceptions.
6. Explore, travel, ponder (and find your passion)
You’ll need to make a conscious effort to break out of your usual routines in order to find yourself.
While you don’t need to book a six-month vacation to Bali, you do need to branch out and try new things. If you’re not the traveling type, this may be armchair traveling in which you purchase a book that looks helpful or watch an inspiring documentary.
Who you are at your core is very much entwined with what you’re passionate about. Your passion is your calling in life, and when you’re not in touch with your passion, life feels dull and flat. The zest and spark of life emerge when you know what your personal mission is, and to find that, you need to do some inner (and sometimes outer) exploration.
Why not start with this article on the meaning of life and see where it takes you?
7. Say goodbye to people and commitments that reinforce inauthenticity
You have the right to find yourself, be yourself, and walk a path that is true to yourself. Don’t let others drag you down. Don’t let poor habits and commitments sabotage your efforts to make positive changes.
Self-development teacher Jim Rohn famously stated once that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who will those five people be? And what will they bring to your life?
Make an inventory of all the people and commitments in your life right now. Next to each, weigh up the pros and cons. Do they enrich your life more than impoverish it?
It might be scary to redesign your life from the ground up, but it’s worth doing if you want to make real change. Try to find friends and commitments that honor your right to be self-sovereign.
8. Connect with your spiritual center
As spiritual teacher Don Miguel Ruiz writes:
Of course, any time we try to be what we are not, we fail. It’s so difficult to be what we are not, to pretend to be what we are not. I used to pretend that I was very happy and very strong and very important. Wow! Living that way is truly a deep hell. It’s a setup, it’s a no-win situation. You can never be what you are not, and that is the main point. You can only be you, and that’s it. And you are you right now, and it’s effortless. There is no need to justify what we are. There is no need to work hard to become what we are not.
At the core of the quest of finding yourself is being yourself. To be yourself, you need to stop thinking you need to be someone else. In theory, that sounds simple. But in practice, it’s one of the most difficult things in the world to embody.
As mentioned previously in this article, we live in a fractured society that is designed to program us with self-doubt, toxic shame, and insecurity. There is so much noise around and within us that we easily lose touch with the voice of our souls, with our True Nature, and mistake our ego-selves for our authentic selves.
9. Reconnect with your wildness
Your wildness is what is true to you. It’s what feels most organic and real to you. (And yes, even the idea of wildness can be a suffocating label that we try to fit ourselves into. Even wildness can become a marketing ploy. So cut through that crap and get to the juicy core.)
As Mark Nepo writes:
The unwavering truth is that when we agree to any demand, request, or condition that is contrary to our soul’s nature, the cost is that precious life force is drained off our core. Despite the seeming rewards of compliance, our souls grow weary by engaging in activities that are inherently against their nature.
One of the best ways to reconnect with your wildness is to tune into your energy. What makes you feel drained, depleted, dull, and dry? You can be sure that whatever ‘that thing’ is, is trying to put a muzzle on your wildness.
On the other hand, pay attention to what fills you with joy, excitement, fizziness, and passion. You can be sure you’ve found something that enriches your soul: something that is truly you.
Reconnecting with your wildness is very much about learning to connect to your body. Your body is like an antenna of truth, and anything untrue will immediately be registered and expressed by your body.
Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful way of tuning into your body, as well as other practices like somatic experiencing, yoga, and 5 Rhythms dancing. Use these modalities to embody your wildness and find yourself.
When Akiba was on his deathbed, he bemoaned to his rabbi that he felt he was a failure. His rabbi moved closer and asked why, and Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses. The poor man began to cry, admitting that he feared God’s judgment. At this, his rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently, “God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses. God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.” — From the Talmud
Learning how to find yourself can be a long journey, but it’s worth walking.
Without finding out who you truly are, you will forever be lost in life, forever making the same mistakes, over and over again, ad nauseam.
To find yourself is to be yourself, and to be yourself is to find yourself. There is both an individual and transpersonal element to finding yourself: it is a path necessary for outer and inner growth.
My hope is that now you have a new path to follow and some valuable advice to absorb.
Tell me, what has your journey been like in learning to find yourself? Feel free to vent below or to share any wisdom you’ve collected!