“You” are a complex mosaic of the kind of company (kin and nonkin) you’ve most significantly had (chosen and not chosen) throughout your life. This inner mosaic formation of your “self” began before you had the conscious choice to be aware of it. And, me too.
How you see “You” does not form in isolation but rather within our most significant relationships beginning from the beginning of your existence. Yet, how your unique “You” forms, is also organized and collated in solitude. It’s a complex dynamic of both internal and external exchanges continuously at work. You could also say, it’s a bit of a complex recipe of “nature and nurture”.
You and I are complex social-emotional bonding creatures. This is how we are neurobiologically hardwired. Once we get with this reality of being mammals; not reptiles – we are empowered with accepting reality about or own nature, and the wisdom that flows from that.
The main difference between reptiles and mammals I’m referring to is regarding how our survival depends on at least one other human being to nurture and protect us. Reptiles do little to nothing to care for their offspring, and they survive just fine in the wild. Mammals take complete care of their offspring even producing their food source from their own bodies. For mammals this level of caregiving is about survival, not just ego fortitude. But for human mammals, it gets complicated.
During what we call our “childhood” we begin to form our sense of “self”. Our “internal map” of who we are in this world gradually downloads from our first dependent relationship; our primary caregiver. We often take this for granted because it’s so ingrained in the survival of our species that we don’t think much about it, let alone meditate on this part of reality. This is not to assign blame on our primary caregiver, for the task of raising human offspring is a highly demanding, long-term job that needs a solid support system from other adults, in order to do well at (offspring that thrives vs just survives). In our modern day culture, we often lack that support system.
Now, I’m going to assume some things about you though I obviously don’t know, “you”. I’m assuming that since you’re reading this, you’re a human and therefore a mammal. And since you are a mammal, I’m going to assume that you have a complex and sophisticated nervous system that responds to your social/relational environment by providing you with involuntary (doesn’t require your conscious awareness) biofeedback in terms of how you feel, both bodily and emotionally.
For example, if you’ve been betrayed by an important person in your life you may feel several emotions. One may be anger. Upon discovery, you may experience certain sensations within your body. Perhaps a change in your breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension. Does this make you “weak” because you’re letting something “get to you”? No, you are simply being a mammal, a human one.
But if this happened while you were young and you were treated as if there was something wrong with you for having such a mammalian reaction, this would shape how you see your “self”.
I believe in adulthood, some of us have forgotten what we are, or most likely this was sadly never introduced into our upbringing. We don’t come with manuals so we’re on a lifelong journey of discovering what that would say if we did come with one. Our very own inborn interdependent nature has been sophisticatedly, shamed and denied because we judge what we don’t understand about ourselves – our very nature that needs to be nurtured, not reformed. And that nature consists of gradually forming our sense of “self” while in relation with others based on how we are neurobiologically wired.
Our sense of who we are, our sense of “self” develops in relationships, not in a vacuum. An infant needs to be acknowledged and responded to by another, to know they have a “self” that exists. Without the “other” an infant doesn’t exist. The type of emotional bond or attachment one has with their caregivers, forms the soil in where their sense of “self” starts to emerge. There is no real separation between an infant and their mother (or primary caregiver).
In toddlerhood, this is the first developmental phase where separateness is discovered. When this autonomous-from-mom or caregiver, sense of “self” starts to bud. There is a “peek-a-boo” with this emerging separate “self”. The toddler realizes this new “person” is themselves. How the caregiver responds to this adds onto the young child’s developing sense of who they are. If this get labeled as “naughty” or “mischievous” behavior by mom or significant people the child is bonded and dependent on, this informs the child’s way of seeing this new separate “self”. If the toddler’s exploration gets labeled as “curious” behavior and is welcomed in a positive light more than not at least, this also informs the toddler’s sense of who they are. All of this happens for the child on a subconscious level.
There is a secondary developmental phase of autonomy, and that is what adolescenthood is. It’s another step away from home. It’s a phase where you straddle needs met at home, and outside of home. The human brain is extremely complex and it takes us until we are well into our 20’s to finish developing the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of our executive functioning. During this pruning phase in the adolescent brain, we are breaking away albeit in practice, from the home. If this is done fully in our teenage years, there is a loss of support that is still needed as we form our perception of who we are, out in the world. You see what I meant when I said that raising humans takes a long time!
As you can see, the mosaic of our sense of “self” develops over many experiences with others. I finally understand this and how difficult it is for many of us in the West to grasp. We get brainwashed into believing we “ought” to operate as reptiles and be able to develop a healthy sense of who we are, independently. Then, to be this independent person in the world who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps and doesn’t let relational upsets “get to them”. Or even our own emotions get to us, which is often signaling to us what kind of relationship we have with our own “Self”.
As an Emotional Empowerment Coach who has been on her own journey of “Self” and am so passionately intrigued with the role that emotions play into this, I take this work to heart. It’s important and integral to mind your own emotional business which is all about “Self development”.
It’s important, but not somber (it can be fun!) work that is truly about coming home and making that full circle journey of development. This is a profound spiritual journey, where you return from a journey out there, back to your “True Self” to find that you are truly at home, in your own skin.
I’m on my own journey of making myself more and more at home in my own skin. I hope this warmly helps with yours.