It seems like a silly question. After all, “I am me, and that is all there is” seems to sum it up quite nicely. But stop for a moment, and think of it this way; how many ways do you think of yourself, how many roles do you play, what are the life metaphors you unconsciously associate with your identity?
When someone says “tell me about yourself” what do you say? Do you first mention your primary family role, your job, your nationality? Do you tell them how old you are? Or do you have a more descriptive way of putting things, a metaphor like “I’m a student of life” or “I’m a warrior for the environment”? What about your religion, your hobbies, or the fact that you were an eight year old child caught in a nasty divorce? Are you starting to understand why the question of which of the “yous” you are, is not as simple as it seems?
How many times in your life would you have given a totally different answer than the one you would give now? What happened to all those people you used to think that you were? Where did they go? Are there remnants of all those parts of you in your current identity?
Now lets establish something: I am not talking about “multiple personalities” I’m talking about one personality with multiple dynamic aspects. The roles you play, the metaphors you describe yourself as, and the identity that you had in your past all go to make up who you are now. The question is how congruently does all that integrate into your life, and does it support your goals?
OK, lets make a short list of some of the pieces that contribute to the gestalt we think of as identity. Some of the ways you can answer the question, “tell me about yourself” in no particular order.
You could start with your primary familial relationship. I’m a mother, a son, a husband, a baby sister. Take a moment to list now the words that come to mind.
Maybe the first thing you thought of was your nationality or your religion or some organization you belong to. List those now.
What archetypes are you representing yourself in your mind? Are you a deep thinker filled with life wisdom, a joker who laughs at life’s adversity, a fool for love? Is there a mythological or actual person you heavily identify with? What specifically about them is like you? Take awhile on this one because it’s very important and usually mostly unconscious.
Now list your job and what that means to you, and while you are at it any jobs you have had that really contributed to your current understanding of the world.
And finally stop and think about the overall story of your life. What are the themes, has it been a struggle a drama, a love story? If you told someone the story of your whole life what parts or times would you highlight?
Now, stop and think about whom you were during those times, how old you were, and how all the previous questions applied to you then. And while you’re at it don’t forget the key developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. Now add anything that I haven’t mentioned that you feel really applies to you.
How many answers did you get? The most anyone has given me is 84, did you beat it? Now obviously not all those pieces of you are equally important to your current identity, but if you really think about it you may be surprised to discover which ones are. Also note which ones you are most proud of and more importantly if there are any that you are ashamed of or uncomfortable thinking about, especially in your past?
As a final question, think about a goal in your life that you have had problems achieving. How do all these aspects of you affect that outcome both positively and negatively?
In working in the re-life-ing process many people have discovered that they are not congruent in their identity, that they have lost part of themselves, or that their current definition of who they are is incomplete or unfulfilling. It is also surprising to most people to really stop and think of all the ways they identify themselves, both positively and negatively, and how it affects their life on every level. Whether it’s spiritually, physically, mentally, personally or professionally it all starts with that one question; “How many you’s are you?”