Dismantling Self: The Distorted Reflections We Show The World
Fine. Various concepts exist that defy easy or simple conceptualization. I may be a bit of an intellectual masochist, because I’ve decided this blog is mine, and therefore a great place to examine and dissect various assumptions and notions I’ve collected over my nearly three decades alive. You have been warned.
On to today’s topic. The Self, in all its confused, objectified glory. (Don’t click away yet, I’ll explain that part in a bit.)
Raise your hand if you’ve ever used this phrase. I’m not the same person I was. It’s okay, you’re reading a blog. I can’t see you anyway. You’re raising your hand, aren’t you?
Thought so. Most of us have.
Isn’t that an odd phrase, thought? I’m not the same person I was. Did you die and then end up born again as a different person before I saw you again since last we met? Unless I missed something, that’s not really a process most of us go through. I mean, yeah, you can pull a Phoenix, but you’ve still got the same body, mostly the same strengths and weaknesses, generally similar likes and dislikes…
So what really changed?
In my experience, the phrase may be more aptly descriptive if said thus: I’m not the same Self I was. I know, I know, that sounds strange. After all, how many of us at some point binge-read and watch every last scrap of self-improvement material we can get our hands on in order to find our true self, only to wind up wondering why we’re such neurotic messes?
I can’t speak for you, but I’ve had my share of those bouts in the last ten years. Coming into and then rejecting large portions of various labels our society uses today, keeping them only out of the convenience that they describe my internal reality in a culturally agreed upon way for now. (Yes, I’m referring to non-binary transman.)
I didn’t realize until watching Thandie Newton’s 2011 TED Talk Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself that I was rejecting the very idea of the Self. Fourteen minutes I don’t regret in the least.
TL;DW She describes the Self as a tool for social interaction, a projection of a person’s inner reality, based on others’ projections, as well as our own beliefs about the authentic, creative force that is our person, which she terms Oneness. In fact, the concept that struck me most during my first watch of this TED Talk was a question.
“The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I realized that it was never alive in the first place?”
Destruction of Self or Self-Destruction
In a sense, I suppose, we could say there are two forms of self. The Self: the projection, the object of introspection, and the self: the person in question. So, from here on in this post, when referring to the abstract concept, I’ll capitalize the conceptual idea of Self.
So often we go on the hunt for our authentic Self, only to destroy the Self that existed before, through healing or pain. Old friendships drift and wither because the reflection through which we navigate the world changes.
Some would day we’ve self-destructed.
Or, did we dismantle the Self that no longer served our purposes?
Now, we’re not blank slates, by any means. Even infants have personality quirks. Some babies are fussier than others, some smile more. But in time, we start adopting labels, and crafting the Self that we show the world. We adopt the labels our parents and teachers give us at first, then we attempt to reject them, and adopt labels that suit us, because in this world of the “true Self” and the “authentic life” we’re afraid to admit one thing.
Behind the Self projection, we’re all human.
Strip away the cultural divides, the definitions and labels of race, gender, religion, and in the end, we’re all human. Call it Oneness, or the Divine Seed, or Spirit Child, whatever you wish, but we are not the labels we present as Self. It’s why I’ve never considered myself part of the LGBTQIA+ (seriously, how many more letters can be added?) community.
I don’t fit the narrative, because as much as I’m transgender and non-binary (my dislike of the term could be a whole post alone) according to today’s definitions, those are no more or less my “true Self” than my LDS heritage, my status as a child of divorced parents, my descendancy from a lineage of mental health issues such as ADHD, bipolar, and depression, and a score of other factors and traits that compose the revolving narration the world sees as my Self.
I agree with Thandie Newton on one count. “…[the Self] is important. It has an extremely important function.Without it, we literally can’t interface with others.” The Self, when implemented well, acts like the clothes we put on every day. It shows the world what we believe about ourselves, the good, the bad, and the different. It’s the broken, shattered part of us we drag to therapy because we need to. And that’s alright.
Lose Your Self In One Step
So how do we find that genuine freedom beneath the reflection? The person behind the mirror?
You already know how, I’m sure.
Think of that thing you love to do. Is it drawing? Painting? Football? Soccer? Swimming? Dancing? Writing? Something else entirely? Remember that one passion that makes the world slip away until there’s just existence and how you fit within it, and no one has to tell you how or why it works. It simply works.
That’s your one step. Do it. Do it over and over again. Get to know that being underneath the labels, underneath all the dots and stars. And let that shine through the mirror, because it’s far brighter than any Self we can craft with the glitter glue and marker labels we’ve got now. Because the next level of life will demand a different version of Self, but not a different core. Just a better knowledge of that core.