We come into this world as a whole and are gradually split into parts of a whole.
It can be as innocuous as family members looking at a newborn baby and discussing which parts of the baby belong to which parent.
“Oh, he has his mother’s eyes!”
“She has her father’s smile!”
“He has his grandfather’s chin dimple!”
“She has her grandmother’s hair!”
We’re not really sure how much the baby understands of what is being said about it, and how it perceives this attention. Perhaps it just registers the attention as affection and feels loved. Or perhaps it picks up on something else, a sense that it is made up of separate parts and none of them belong to it, they belong to others.
These comparisons and ownership of pieces of self continue throughout our childhood and into our adulthood, expanding from our physical self into other areas.
“You’re very sensitive like your father!”
“You sound like your mother, worrying all the time!”
“You have your grandmother’s heart, you always put the needs of others first!”
“You’ve inherited your grandfather’s stubbornness!”
And it doesn’t just remain a family affair, we get compared to others, real or fictional, far and wide.
Sometimes favourably, sometimes unfavourably, and sometimes the wording of the comparison falls into a no man’s land between the two which could go either way.
“You remind me of my ex when I first met him/her…”
“I used to have a friend just like you…”
Sometimes we build our entire identity around a comparison. Either embracing it and making it our goal to be as similar to the other as possible, like an actor who embodies a role and identifies with it so strongly they decide to keep it as their skin after the filming is over. Or rejecting it and making it our purpose to be as unlike the other as we can, like a teenager rebelling against everything their parents stand for and making it their cause.
The words – You’re just like your mother/father/other – becoming a compliment or a criticism, a dream or a worst fear fulfilled.
As we make our way through this world of comparisons, constantly comparing ourselves with others, having others compare themselves with us, having others compare us with even more others, it can feel as if our individual identity is a we – a pastiche of others, a team (which often doesn’t behave like a team) with no I in it.
And when that feeling reaches a certain strength becoming an unbearable pressure which seems to be squashing us from outside and inside, the I cries out in pain, it is lost and alone, but still alive, perhaps only just but it is there, reaching out to be found and so we go in search of ourselves, trying to find the I – Who am I?
Trying to find the answer to that can be a long and difficult journey on an unmarked road through uncharted territory using a map which was given to us by others who have all scribbled notes, signs, and directions upon it until it is almost impossible to read.
Where do we start and how do we find the end, the X which marks the spot?
Start where you are… but where is that?
Start with who you think you are… but who is that?
From our very first interactions in life we learn and are taught that there are things about us which others like and things we they don’t like.
Being liked seems to be a goal to aim for, whereas being not liked seems to be something to avoid.
Get rid of the bits others don’t like and you’ll be more likeable… is sometimes a conclusion we reach.
To do that we often become overly concerned with what others don’t like about us, and the more we try to get rid of these bits, change them, hide them, the more they seem to grow and take over. Or we exaggerate the parts which people like hoping to obscure the rest and become a caricature of ourselves.
We are rewarded for the things which are likeable and punished for those which are not.
Please others and we’ll get more rewards, our logic tells us.
Rewards are something we like and being punished is something that we do not like. But sometimes what we do to please others becomes a self-punishment, and others never seem pleased. Or you manage to please one person and someone else is upset.
We are given love when we are considered good and have that love taken away or withheld when we are considered bad.
Love is considered good, ergo having it withheld or taken away is bad.
But what if their good is our bad and their bad is our good.
We are complimented on our positive traits and criticised for our negative traits.
Compliments make us feel right, we like feeling right.
Feeling right gives us permission to point out what is wrong, because when we feel right it makes us experts in rightness and wrongness.
Compliments in some ways encourage us to criticise.
Criticism makes us feel wrong, we don’t like feeling wrong, however we feel right when we criticise others, more right than when we pass on a compliment because sometimes others reject our compliments, making compliments feel wrong.
It’s all rather confusing.
Being ourselves becomes a chore.
Being ourselves seems like an enigma – when we think we are being ourselves we sometimes get accused of not being ourselves and we’re told to stop being ourselves to be whoever others think is the real us. But if we become the real self who others think is us being ourselves we still may get accused of not being ourselves, because others never seem to know who we are, and after our exposure to them and their confusion, neither do we.
We thought we knew, but we’re not sure if what we knew is our own knowledge or just a hand-me-down of knowledge which we absorbed and adopted as our own… which may not be knowledge at all.
Being yourself becomes impossible and not in an – I’m possible – way.
But our whole is not just split into two neat halves. Those halves are split too. Then split again, until we are made up of many pieces.
It is as though we are undoing the process which created us, taking the whole which millions of separated cells made and dividing it many times over until the whole no longer exists, yet at the same time repeating the process of creation. Starting with a whole and splitting it into two, then four, and so on until we have too many pieces to count and are hoping to somehow make a whole out of all of these separate pieces.
Perhaps – Who am I? – can only be answered once all the pieces are together again making up a whole.
The whole cell contains within it, the nucleus. The I.
So all those parts which have been split must come together. Each half must find its other half to become whole.
What is wrong with you must join with what is right with you to make up an all of you.
And the I will then be clear.