Why You Need to Return to Your True Self Instead of “Finding Yourself”
In this brilliant Ted Talk, Caroline McHugh explains the beauty of being yourself.
She describes the “true mirror,” which is something --- defined by John and Catherine Walter --- that states if you place two mirrors together at a right angle and remove the seam, the images bounce off of each other, forming the “true mirror,” which is also exactly what others see when they look at you.
Caroline described the experience of looking into a true mirror as “disorienting,” because while it’s you that you’re looking at, it’s not the “you” you’re used to seeing --- the you that compares your body to someone else’s or your beauty to another’s. When you look into a regular mirror, you are looking for reassurance that you are beautiful or worthy. But when you look in a true mirror, you’re no longer looking AT yourself, you’re looking FOR yourself.
As we grow into adulthood and begin reflecting on our past experiences and where we want to be in the future, we sometimes come to a point where we feel a sense of being lost or disconnected from ourselves or our purpose, and begin a journey to “find ourselves” again. Furthermore, if we suffer from mental health issues, including an eating disorder, we can begin to identify with our illness, begin to feel like we are broken and lose the sense of who we are or once were.
The power of words: “Returning to” vs. “finding” yourself
To “find” something implies that it was at one point lost or missing. But you’re right here! You’re not missing, and you’re certainly not lost. You may have had experiences that resulted in you disconnecting from yourself, but you have always been physically present for those parts of your journey. That’s why I like to describe the process as “returning” to yourself instead of finding yourself.
When we are very young children, we often develop a sense of self that is sure and are less burdened by outside influences. We are carefree and confident in our worth. As Caroline says, we’re great at being ourselves when we’re young because we “haven’t learned to disguise our differences.” We move our bodies how we want because we haven’t discovered the word “weird” and we say what’s on our mind because we haven’t learned to hold our tongue. We’re living as our true self.
Over time, we become more conscious of our self, or self-conscious. We start muting or turning the volume down on our true selves or only show parts of ourselves that we believe are socially acceptable. For example, we don’t want Ben to know we still watch the Disney Channel because we worry he’ll think we’re immature, or we wear eye shadow to school to impress the popular girls. Our tastes start changing with what fits in and we change our actions based on what we feel others expect of us.
We may or may not get the level of approval from others we are seeking, but either way the approval and opinions of others start carrying more weight than our own internal compass. When that happens, we begin to question our worthiness and purpose.
And when we have trouble finding an answer within ourselves, we we look outside ourselves and begin to behave in ways to give us control, even though it is really an illusion of control, through perfectionism, micromanaging, even restricting food. Or when we feel out of control and in pain, we numb and soothe ourselves through binge eating, obsessive exercising, using substances or acting out in other way
But these actions don’t serve us. What we really need is to return or come home to ourselves.
How to return to your true self: find your “queendom”
To return to our true self we need to acknowledge the four components that make us whole, as defined by Caroline:
Perception: This is the category where the things other people think of us fall into. Because there are so many people we know who have an opinion of us, it’s also important to understand the context of where their opinions originate. The problem with this? It’s hard to be yourself when you spend an unuseful amount of time concerned with what others think of you, because each person is going to have a different opinion of you. Plus we can’t control what other people think, try as we might.
Persona: One of the paths that will help you be perception-free is through your “persona.” This is how you want everyone to think of you, or your “wish image”. This is the part of you that’s adaptable depending on the time and place. It’s not about being shallow or “fake,” but instead stems from a place of possibility and potential.
Ego: The ego revolves around what we think of ourselves, and we spend our entire lives trying to cultivate a good relationship with our ego. The ego is a part of us that lies between two polar opposites: one self-congratulating and the other self-castigating -- and neither side rests in harmony with our true self. We are able to return to ourselves when we find that healthy point of balance where our ego is not tilted to one extreme or the other but is instead working in our favor.
Self: The last of your four selves is the Self. The Self is always present, certain, and never changes. It’s the same self you were when you were 5 years old, and will be the same self you live the rest of your life with. According the Richard Schwartz, developer of Internal Family Systems, everyone is at their core a Self containing many crucial leadership qualities such as perspective, confidence, compassion, and acceptance.
There are three ways of “being” in this world, and according to Caroline, we all live along one of them. The familiar two are a sense of “superiority” which runs on delusions of grandeur, and the sense of “inferiority” which is fueled by feelings of unworthiness and insignificance. Both are signs of a fragile ego. The third, which Caroline has named the “interiority”, is an assured disposition that is unconcerned with the self as compared to others, because it has nothing to compare to. It is the self, and the self is it.
That’s what makes the interiority so special. It is a place of absolutely no competition. After all, how to you compare yourself to yourself?
If you’re having trouble knowing where to return to yourself, here’s the answer: your true self lives inside your “queendom.” Every woman has a queendom (and man has a kingdom). No two queendoms are alike, and every queendom is magical.
Living in your queendom means embracing the gifts and qualities you’ve been given, and appreciating the gifts that have been given to others. It means acknowledging all the things that make you AMAZING and truly unique, not from a place of superiority, but from a place of interiority. It means appreciating your body and feeding your soul positive energy.
It’s having an understanding that comparison leads to nowhere productive and is irrelevant because you have your own special kind of magic to give to the world in your own way.
Above all, it’s showing yourself fierce kindness and unapologetic compassion so your true self can shine through. So come home and return to your true self. It’s simple, but not always easy, to slow down, sit down, take a few, easy breaths, and reconnect with the truly awesome you that is you right here right now.