Have you found yourself asking questions like, "what was I thinking?"
“why did I react that way?”
“How did I end up like this?”
“What am I doing with life?”
If you are asking yourself these questions, you are on the right track of life, according to the great philosophers in the history of mankind.
“Knowledge of oneself is the most beneficial knowledge of all.
Ali ibn Abi Talib, 4th Caliph & 1st Imam of Islamic world
The disparity in our experiences from the perception of ourselves causes dissatisfaction in life. It happens quite commonly though, when our ideal self does not match our existing self and we surprise ourselves behaving in ways that we could never imagine.
There are three factors that have proven to help the process of finding our identity most in my counselling sessions.
1. To know your values.
2. To know your current roles in life and prioritize them as per the current situation.
3. To know your strengths.
When my counselling clients engage in therapy after asking same questions about self- knowledge after completely different experiences, I apply different therapeutic techniques that have evidently helped my clients but the most useful work begins with a set of worksheets based on close-ended questions. Through this writing, I am hoping to gather on one webpage and present these gems of worksheets developed by most dedicated people, that are easily available online for anyone who is on the journey to find themselves. Now, I know that not everyone likes to limit their life on a piece of paper, but it might be useful to know these question and perhaps use your own journal to answer them in a more open-ended way.
Case-Study: Let me introduce Lara as a case study to help us understand how these worksheets could help us develop better understanding of ourselves. Lara is a busy professional woman who has been keeping up with life for so long that she feels like she does not recognise herself anymore. Lara is an editor and is living happily married with her husband and their 2 children. She works 4 days a week while balancing a good social, family and professional life. Lately, she has been finding herself feeling low, exhausted and lashing out frequently. She has been overthinking her decisions and finds herself stuck on "what ifs" for everyday decisions. Last week, she lost her cool over a small thing with a colleague. Lara could not comprehend her reaction, as she has never been known to have a temper. This incident was only the tip of the iceberg that she felt inside her. Lara took help from a therapist who helped her recognise conflicts within herself and establish her identity beginning with a few worksheets.
1. Know your values.
Russ Harris, an Acceptance & commitment therapist and the writer of “Unstuck in ACT” has formulated this worksheet that helps you write a statement about your values for 10 most important domains of your life. This is an exercise I have done myself with my family and have found it immensely helpful to know each other better. This sheet will hopefully help you understand what areas of your life you would like to put on the priority 1, currently.
Case-Study: When Lara used this worksheet by Russ, she found clarity in knowing that she has been ignoring herself care and been feeling disconnected with her partner.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle
2. Know the different roles you are playing in your life.
Your next step towards self-knowledge could be to expand on the above values through understanding the different roles you're playing in your life, for example a professional, a parent, a friend, a sibling, a volunteer, father to a daughter, dog owner, etc. the list could keep going on.
You can access the Who Am I: Identity Exploration Exercise from the Internal Family Systems shared by Therapists Aid on their website. This exercise helps you see structurally how confident you are feeling in some of the roles you play in your life, and which ones and how much would you like to work on some.
Case Study: In this step, Lara wrote down how each role is important to her and how she can prioritise herself and her relationship with her partner in her current circumstances.
3. Know your strengths
Finally, as your last step in this exercise towards self-knowledge, we would now work on the qualities/strengths that would help us reach the value & role goals that we have concluded so far from the first two steps. Thanks to Aron Beck who formulated Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT ) and then to the Think CBT website from UK who created this CBT worksheet that helps us focus on the values/strengths that we would need need to reach our goals to strengthening our values. (the link directly downloads the worksheet). This worksheet first helps us in acknowledging the strengths we possess and then it helps us recognise which ones would help us reach our goals.
Case Study: Lara learnt that she has been working hard and possesses many qualities like Authenticity, creativity, honestly humility and more but she would like to focus on emotional awareness & fairness towards herself to reduce her guilty around wanting to have break and me time.
The purpose of working on values is to understand ourselves better with the help of our ethical and moral boundaries. When we do not know what is important to us, it is easy to overlook them in the heat of the moment and later find ourselves questioning our decisions.
The only catch in trying to do these exercises on your own without a counsellor/therapist is that when we are feeling low, we struggle to see the positive sides of ourselves. I have found my clients struggling to do the exercise on their own, while being astonished when I highlight their strengths to them through the life examples they shared with me. If you struggle to find your strengths, please don't hesitate to take support from a therapist who would hopefully help you find your qualities that you are unable to locate within you by yourself. I hope you find beauty in yourself in everything that you have experienced.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
1. Kaplan, A., Sinai, M., & Flum, H. (2014). Design-based interventions for promoting students’ identity exploration within the school curriculum. In Motivational interventions. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
2. Schwartz, S. J., Kurtines, W. M., & Montgomery, M. J. (2005). A comparison of two approaches for facilitating identity exploration processes in emerging adults: An exploratory study. Journal of Adolescent Research, 20(3), 309-345.
3. Tatum, B. D. (2000). The complexity of identity: “Who am I?”. Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, 2, 5-8.
The writer is a registered Counsellor in Australia trying to spread the its bits of life-information collected to understand herself, with her people.