What is my True Self? Our Inmost Voice in Major Life Transitions
What is my true Self? The question may seem abstract, but it’s anything but, when you’re struggling in the midst of a major life transition.
It’s true that the individual in crisis or transition doesn’t look to the case studies for some intellectual answer to this question. A two page summary describing the major aspects of personal identity in answer to the question “What is my true Self?” would be hideously inappropriate.
Yet the individual has to feel that, however haltingly, he or she is headed in a direction that accords with her or his own true essence. To feel good about a future direction, it’s essential to feel that there is something in the situation that corresponds in some way, to who I most fundamentally am. In the midst of a chaotic career transition, for instance, it’s essential that the individual feel that his or her deepest wants, needs and values are going to somehow be maintained.
Does “Who I Really Am” Exist?
Some philosophers and psychologists question whether “who I really am” or “my true identity” is a reality, or just an illusion.
Now, while it’s true that modern neuroscience and psychology have shown that social interaction is absolutely essential to the emergence of the self, that’s very different from suggesting that the self is simply a socially constructed fiction. Indeed, many of the most current and effective forms of therapy, such as Internal Family Systems Theory focus on the central importance and relevance of the self.
A Person’s “Daimon”
Long ago, the ancient Greeks called the voice of your deepest self your “daimon“. One ancient Greek thinker, Empedocles (fifth century BCE) identified the daimon with the self. Another, Heraclitus, (c. 500 BCE) writes that “man’s character is his daimon”.
Existential psychologist Rollo May tells us that daimon was translated into Latin as genius, and that, for the Romans,
…the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.
So your daimon is the heart of who you are, and the way that your own deepest being gets expressed in the world.
What is My True Self? Hillman Summarizes
Archetypal psychologist James Hillman summarizes these myths:
The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born, and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth…. The daimon remembers what is in your image, and belongs to your pattern.
The myth leads also to practical moves…. [W]e must attend very carefully to childhood to catch early glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way…. [and we must]
(a) Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; [and]
(b) align life with it
…A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim.
Whether we see this “daimon” mythologically, or in terms of genetic and epigenetic biology, we can see our lives as concerning the never ending, fundamental call to be who we really are.
The Call of the Self in Major Life Transitions and Crises
It’s important not to sugar coat the realities. Major life transitions — for instance, divorce, job loss, retirement, the empty nest — can disorder our lives, or even create complete chaos.
In the midst of such struggles, the individual may well find orientation by coming into contact with some aspect of his or her most fundamental identity. This might include connecting with something that was meaningful to that person as a child, or that is a deeply held life long passion. The self, or as the Greeks might say, the person’s daimon, wants to point the way.
The process of /a-midlife-transition is to bring connection with the individual’s deepest self, and to stay alert to the things that fundamentally express who the person is. This can be profoundly transformative.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst