Sense of Self

One’s sense of self is a difficult topic to talk about as most often we are quite fragile underneath the surface. We all feel vulnerable if layers of ourselves are uncovered and I think that’s why many people are afraid of psychotherapy. Some people are too afraid to start for fear of what might be revealed. Some people start and abandon it because it becomes a little too intense. They don’t like the feedback they are getting which is a reflection of who they are and what they are doing. It’s hard to face that kind of feedback and to absorb it. It takes courage to accept what’s being uncovered and it takes work to make the desired changes. But the only other option is to accept what is now.

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Having changed career paths from what I have known for close on twenty years, is difficult. I’ve had labels like ‘that good Business Analyst’, ‘the software process person’ and ‘Managing Director’. Those titles define what was the Kathy of the past but they are not me. I’m sure there are family members who think of me as the one to rely on who rarely says ‘No’. But those times are changing too and I’m now looking out for myself for self-preservation purposes.

So that leaves me with a bit of a scary vacuum. If that’s not me, then what is? I’ve been calling myself a ‘writer’ but I do feel like a fraud because my book is not complete yet and I have days where I think it’s rubbish. I feel uncomfortable with the ‘creative’ label as I’m not so convinced about that. So at the moment I feel like I’m a person with a serious illness, recovering and killing time by writing. At times that makes me feel weak and like half a person. I’m not used to that. I’m used to ‘capable’ and ‘competent’ Kathy that everyone depends on and who always delivers. I’m used to achieving goals and moving forwards towards better and better things. I want to shake this ‘sick person’ label but what will I replace it with?

I’m reading a book called The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe. She proposes some interesting experiments such as not looking in the mirror for a week to see what happens to your sense of self. I don’t think Twyla has to take small children to school, which forces you to get out of the car and to face the other parents. As first impressions go, I’m not sure I’m keen on arriving with crazy hair and sloppy clothing, and having to undo that in the years to come.

I am usually quite groomed and take care in my appearance. With my poor health in the last year I have become a bit less concerned. I’m recovering and I spent most of my time at home. I rarely put on make-up and many of my clothes are too tight so I wear what fits and what is comfortable. Some days I think it’s a good sign that I don’t feel compelled to please others. Other days I wonder where my self respect has gone.

I’m not sure whether to feel envious or free when I see a mother looking particularly pretty in pearls and a business suit. I wonder what they think of me in my tracksuit and my overcoat. Thankfully my child is not yet at the age to be embarrassed about what I wear to drop her off.

My daughter quite liked it when I was ‘the boss of my work’ as she puts it. I think that gave her some sort of identity by association. She seemed quite upset by my illness and the need for me to give up that title she enjoyed so much. Now that she understands I’m writing, she’s much more content and has volunteered to do my illustrations.

I think that many people avoid making major changes in their lives because of the impact on their sense of self. I don’t want to be Managing Director again. I don’t want to be a housewife either. I actually don’t know what my future holds and it can be terrifying at times. What if my book is a flop? What then? I’ve been banging on about being a writer for all this time and pursuing my passion and if it doesn’t work, what do I do?

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It’s really hard to redefine yourself but I know that I can’t look back. I am willing to unravel the layers that define me and to see what’s lurking underneath. I don’t believe I’ll find a black and mangled heart in there. But there might be some coal to be fashioned into a diamond. That only happens with a great deal of pressure and hard work. But I’m ready because I can’t stay sick.  I know that personal growth is hard but it is necessary and I think the single-most important thing you can do in your life. You can’t be the best mother, sister, daughter, friend or employee if your sense of self is not strong.

How strong is your sense of self? What really defines you? Have you thought about what would happen if you lost your job, your profession, your spouse? Who would emerge after the storm has passed?

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Kathy
I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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