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A sense of self means that you know, without a doubt, who you are and what is meaningful in life for you. It’s the answer to the question that most of us have, “Who am I?”
Creating a strong sense of self is important for several reasons. Knowing who you are and what’s important to you allows you to set specific goals, dream your own dreams, set boundaries with others and become aware of your own strengths and unique qualities. A strong sense of self helps with decision making, protects well being and even reduces stress.
Holistic psychotherapist, Sonia Fregoso, says, “Having a sense of self is vital to mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. It becomes our inner compass for every interaction with others. Your sense of self tells you what boundaries you need to place with others and how to make decisions that will serve you. It also enables you to reflect on the things that don’t serve you and evolves to help you survive, adapt and ultimately thrive.”
That’s how important creating a strong sense of self is. Following are eight ways to develop your own sense of self.
The place to start, in creating a strong sense of self, is to KNOW yourself. You must know your convictions, beliefs, values, dreams, ambitions, passions and truths. You must learn what is most important to you in life.
Grab a notebook or journal and ask yourself these questions:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- And what do I dislike doing?
- In others, what behaviors and actions send alarm signals to me?
- And what behaviors and actions melt my heart?
- In life, what is most important to me?
- What makes me feel stuck? Small? Invisible?
- And what makes me feel expansive? Living big? Compassionate?
- What goals and dreams do I have?
- What do I stand strongly for?
- If I could do ANYTHING, without money being a concern, what would I do?
Take your time answering the questions. Sit with them for a time. Allow the answers to rise to the surface of your consciousness.
If nothing comes to mind, back up to self acceptance and self gratitude, which are the beginning of self love and vital to sense of self. Learning who we are is a process. Often we have to undo training that attempts to mold us into who we are not. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Lose the fear of fitting in.
And, as you grow, who you are deepens. You discover more truths about yourself, uncover dreams and passions you didn’t know you had. I keep a little mascot, Absolem the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, on my writing table with his famous words nearby: “Who are you?”. His presence reminds me to ask that question often.
Make Decisions That Are Best for You
Do you make decisions that are in alignment with who you are? Or do you make decisions to please other people, avoid conflicts or to live up to the expectations of others?
A strong sense of self allows you to weigh decisions against what you know to be true, in your heart and soul. You develop that sense of deep knowing that guides you. A decision that goes against who you are pulls you out of alignment with yourself. You’ll feel that as an “out of sorts” feeling. You feel out of sorts because you are pulled out of who you are.
A good question to ask when considering decisions is this one: “What would I decide, if I was alone?”
Should we ever make decisions that compromise who we are? No, however we make decisions that meet others where they are, with who we are. Part of creating a strong sense of self means we stand our ground, on things that are important to us and allow others to do the same. We can still be in relationships with others. And we can make decisions that benefit others, as long as we do not give up pieces of who we are, to keep imagined peace.
Do What Nourishes Your Soul
Creating a strong sense of self allows us to explore the things we enjoy doing, on a deep level. And we find ways to do those things, even if we do them alone. Nourishing the soul is vital and carving out the time to do those things, just as vital.
What activities make you feel joyful, satisfied and energized? Do more of those things.
I enjoy watching movies. They speak to me on a level that goes beyond entertainment. As a young adult, I wanted people to go with me to the movie theater and to see films as I saw them. I’d feel disappointed that others didn’t see the deeper truths in the films or shrugged off the movie as a waste of time. I learned to go to the movie theater alone, if no one else wanted to go. And now I mostly go alone and enjoy the experience very much. Movie watching nourishes my soul as does gardening, creating beautiful spaces in my home, traveling and writing.
What nourishes yours?
Express Yourself and Set Firm Boundaries
Learning to express yourself, in a calm and meaningful way, flows from your sense of self. And to express yourself, you have to know what you believe in, what you stand for and what stirs your compassion or fires up your perception of right and wrong. Having a strong sense of self allows you to express your beliefs without forcing others to agree with you.
It also allows you to set healthy boundaries with others, who are not allowed to force YOU to agree with them. Without a strong sense of self, it is easy to fall into people pleasing and overaccommodation and just as easy to lose yourself. Setting boundaries limits anything and anyone wanting to consume your time and energy.
Without the sense of self to anchor you, you may feel anxious, lost, depressed, hopeless or worthless when confronted with the beliefs of others who may argue them strongly. Feeling those emotions alerts you that your boundaries have been crossed. Setting firm boundaries lets you to distinguish your feelings and beliefs from someone else’s feelings and beliefs and limit their impact.
A few suggestions:
- set boundaries early in a relationship, so each person knows where the other stands in beliefs
- be consistent about your boundaries otherwise it encourages others to trample them
- communicate honestly and openly, especially if someone routinely oversteps your boundaries
Keep Growing as a Person
This is an ongoing journey, discovering sense of self. Keep learning about yourself. Spend time alone. It’s the only way you will deepen your awareness of who you are and who you are becoming.
Try new experiences, to see what you like or dislike. Develop ideas. Dream dreams and then set goals, even baby step goals, to realize those hopes. Take classes on subjects you want to learn more about. Read widely.
And travel, whether you explore your own community, do road trips across your home country or experience a totally different culture across the sea. Go alone or with others. Travel moves you beyond your comfort zone, which brings new opportunities, and expands your perspectives.
Adapt to Change
Adapting to change requires a mindset shift. Although many don’t like this fact, change is inevitable.
I adopted an “open to everything, attached to nothing” mindset about 15 years ago and it shifted my ability to flow with change. When something happens that I’m not expecting, I am able see it as what’s supposed to be. How do I know? Because it happened. Detaching from outcomes prevents bitterness and disappointment and actually builds trust.
Refusal to accept change creates rigidity and ultimately leads to feeling frustrated, stuck or stagnant. Embracing change, when it happens, creates opportunities to grow, adapt and learn flexibility and creativity.
Tune in to Your Emotions
This has been a biggie for me. I spent many years of my life refusing to feel what I considered negative emotions such as anger and sadness. That caused a fracture in my soul and I divided myself into what I considered a “normal” self and a hidden “weird” self…or a light and dark side.
To be absolutely who we are, we need all of ourselves present…the normal and the weird, the light and the dark, the positive emotions and the negative emotions. I’m a stronger person, embracing my whole self. Plus my self acceptance and self love grew from uniting all my separate parts into a whole being.
To tune in to your emotions, spend time in solitude, meditate, pray, journal your feelings…all of them…practice positive self talk and write out affirmations that begin with “I am…”.
Create a Personal Manifesto
A manifesto is a statement of intentions and ideals. Think of it as a mission statement or a declaration of beliefs, desires and values.
A personal manifesto helps us to evaluate where we are in life, and provides clarity on where we want to go. It can provoke change, encourage shifts and inspire forward momentum.
Each person’s manifesto is uniquely his or her own, reflecting journeys, beliefs, desires and wisdom. And it is an ideal way to clarify your sense of self.
Manifestos can and will change as you grow. I’ve created two…in the last two years. You can read my latest manifesto HERE and gain insight on how to create your own.
Place your manifesto in an easy to access place, so you can read it often.
Do You Have a Strong Sense of Self?
Who are you? Do you have a strong sense of self that keeps you centered, protected and free from the expectations of others?
The best part, perhaps, of creating a strong sense of self is that it allows others the freedom to do the same. When I’m strong and secure in who I am, I can appreciate others strengths more, even if we don’t agree on all of our beliefs. And if I am pulled off center, I can easily right myself and return to center again. Sense of self keeps me from placing expectations on others and gives me the incredible freedom to pursue my interests and passions while those I care about pursue theirs.
I’m still learning new things about myself and growing, on this journey called life.
Where are you on your journey? May this post help serve as a compass for you, as you explore your inner self.
Roadmaps for the journey, from Amazon:
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