There are a lot of things we confuse for knowing who we really are. There are so many ideas we subconsciously adopt about ourselves, it's hard to weed out the truth. We confuse who we are for who our parents are, who others expect us to be, the roles we play for the different people in our lives, the people we were five years ago, the people we never got to be, and the people we are in comparison to others immediately around us.
I think anybody who has done even a smidgen of introspection can affirm: not only are these ideas untrue, but they are pretty actively harmful to a person's psyche. When your base understanding of who you are is rooted in someone else's truth, your inner struggle becomes whether or not you behave according to what's expected of you, rather than what's true of who you really are.
It's not easy to completely understand who you are, especially when that idea is so layered and nuanced, and at times abstract. Nobody gives you a manual to map your mind. Nobody teaches you how to truly understand yourself, or what that even looks like. So because we lack the means to an end, we don't try at all, and we assume that what we are is what we appear to be, especially to other people.
Who you "really are" is the summation of what you intrinsically feel you value and don't, desire and don't, enjoy and don't, think and don't. Who you are is not something you define once and then hang on to forever. It's an evolving thing. Here are a few really important questions to get that train rolling, questions that you should ask yourself repeatedly throughout your life. The first rule of the self-awareness game is not to accept anything as permanently true. Your idea of yourself must keep evolving as you do. (I did not mean to rhyme that but let's all just let it happen, OK?)
What Are The Five Things You Spend Most Of Your Time Thinking About?
The reality is that the five things you spend most of your time doing may not be truly aligned with what you'd really desire, but rather with choices you make out of the idea of who you are supposed to be. So ask yourself this: what do you think about most? Where does your focus drift more often than not? If the answer is something like: stress about work, my relationships, food, ideas about the purpose of life, the people I dislike, try to piece together the pattern. You're unhappy with your job so you're seeking a greater purpose for it, you may be dreaming of eating constantly to compensate for your iffy relationships, and so on. Give yourself a chance to heal what's wrong, before you naturally dive into some other form of "medicinal thought" to fix it.
What Do You Most Love And Admire About Other People?
... It's what you most love and admire about yourself.
What Do You Hate About Other People?
... It's some strain or projection of what you can't see in yourself.
What Do You Feel Is Worth Suffering For?
This is absolutely crucial, because it gives you a very practical (and, if you want, healthy and productive) way of thinking about your life. Ask yourself what you're willing to sacrifice for. What matters more. This will a) tell you what you truly care about in life, and b) help you become more accepting and comfortable with doing things that may not be the most desirable or fun – remind yourself of the greater purpose you've chosen for yourself.
Based On What You Do Each Day, Where Will You Be In A Few Years?
Your life will ultimately accumulate to the result of what you spend your time doing day-in and day-out. Based on that, where will you be in a few years? Life doesn't change in any one swift motion. A job promotion or change of location won't alter how much you are opening up to your potential, or creating what you truly desire. If your habits won't result in what you want your life to look like a few years down the line, you have to shift your micro-actions, not any overarching structure (as you may mistakenly think at first).
What Do You Go Out Of Your Way To Hide About Yourself?
What do you not want anybody knowing about you? The answer to this question is not what you think it is: it's often not what you're ashamed of or wish were different. It's what you wish you could love about yourself. It's what you already do love about yourself, but have come to believe that nobody else will accept it, and so you cannot either. What you hide about yourself is what you are striving to protect, not change.
If You Could Look In A Crystal Ball, What Would Be Too Good To Be True?
This is a much less intimidating way to understand what it is you really want. What you want is what you assume is "too good" because most people don't genuinely believe they are worthy of their dreams. This will acquaint you with them, in a very humbling (but reasonable) way.
What Do You Get Annoyed When You Have To Do?
People usually get annoyed when the way they feel they have to behave or pretend to feel is out of accordance with how they actually do. What this means is that you feel differently than other people do about [doing this thing, whatever it is], but you've yet to really accept that or fully understand it, so you just flow with what's expected of you passive aggressively.
What Is The Reason You Desire What You Want?
Most of what you think you want is just a way you believe you'll achieve what you really desire. For example, if you want to be a revered artist or passionate newlywed, what you probably want is just to be loved, which means that your emotional premium in life is affection and love as expressed through creation and sacrifice (art, marriage).
If You Were Certain Nobody Would Object, What Would You Stand For?
Evaluate the beliefs you hold out of the context of how socially acceptable they are. Be really honest with yourself. Then look at them and say: "Are these truly aligned with what I believe, or are they ideas that were imposed on me?" Find the root of your foundation, you'll quickly realize whether or not you were the one who cemented it down.
What Do You Struggle With Most In Life?
Work, love, relationships? Everybody struggles with these things to a degree, but everybody also has that one thing that stands out among the rest, the thing they have a hard time with and cannot reconcile that they aren't efficient at. This is not the one thing that you're "not good" at, this is just the thing you care about so much, you're hyper-sensitive to all the ways it isn't perfect. Stop considering your "struggles" as representations of your inadequacies, but rather indications of what you truly want, even when you don't realize it.
What Do You Fear You Have No Control Over?
... It's probably what you are actually afraid of messing up, as you realize you have all the control over it in the world. If you truly did not believe you had control over it, you wouldn't stress or worry about it. Your fear indicates that you assume you don't have control, and yet deep down, you feel that you just might have more than you think.