Who am I? A life-map approach
Have you ever thought about the first time you felt fear? Or understood the power of love? What about when you felt a strong hate for someone or something? These moments of discovery are actually critical points in our life that helped shape who we are and how we see ourselves, i.e., our self-concept. A person’s self-concept is defined as, “the individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is" (Baumeister, 1999). Although it is easy to see what is in the mirror, we struggle to see what is in our heads, what motivates or defines us. One way to discover what is within us is to create a life-map, a tool you can use that maps your life’s important and/or meaningful events, beginning with your earliest memories. Using pieces of paper, you’ll also plot times in your life where something you did, or didn’t do, led to developing your personal character. These moments usually include love, hate, fear and building character, and together create our self-concept. By identifying these pivotal moments, you’ll discover your current self-concept, because by understanding events from your past, you can understand who you are in the present.
What were you most afraid of as a child? Did you fear spiders, snakes, or the dark? Perhaps you had an extreme fear of dying or death. Many times, the link between an event that happened and the fear you hold as an adult is a case of cause and effect. Trace your memories back to the first time you felt a deep-seated fear, and see if you can make a connection to your present-day circumstances. For example, if you have an extreme fear of death, is it from loss of a loved one such as a grandparent, mother, or father? Does it keep you from having meaningful relationships? Plot the event(s) on your map and see what it can teach you.
Along with fear in our lives, hopefully we’ll also experience love. Do you remember the first time you were aware of loving someone, whether it was a parent, a sibling, or your first crush? What surrounded that moment of awareness? Our self-concept of love is something learned through experience, and our earliest experiences determine our relationship to love for the rest of our lives. For example, imagine if your first crush called you fat. Although you may think you’ve shrugged it off, it’s possible that it registered in your subconscious and as an adult you’re self-conscious of your weight. What about your first relationship? How do you think it has changed how you approach dating now? Plot your moment(s) associated with your awareness of loving or being loved. For each love-related event in your life try to match it to your current self-concept. Some events will have an obvious connection (for example, you were physically threatened as a teen or young adult by your date, and now because of that as an adult you avoid men or women with similar behaviors) but for other moments, you may have to dig little deeper.
We may often dislike certain things or people, but the feeling of hatred can be overwhelming. For many young children, their first experience with hatred comes at the hands of a bully. For someone to pick on you for seemingly no reason or to exploit a weakness, it can create a lot of trauma and issues with trust. For example, if you were victimized by a blond male jock with a footballer-build, you may tend to automatically dislike anyone you come across who matches that description. You may not even be aware of it, because the displeasure happens subtly, but it’s there. On your life-map, plot a moment or two when you felt something beyond dislike for someone or something. Maybe a parent abandoned you, a friend wronged you, or you were targeted because of your appearance or a physical attribute. See if you can spot a pattern in your experiences, and whether you’ve responded with avoidance or aggressive behaviors.
We often hear that something can “build character” but it’s not always clear what that means. Character is about your moral qualities and the existence of good virtues like honesty, loyalty, and empathy. A person of good character does the right thing even when no one is looking. For example, have you ever picked up a piece of trash and thrown it away, without anyone having to ask you? If so, you probably didn’t look around to see if anyone was watching you; you did it because it was the right thing to do. A person can also have a bad character. Someone who constantly lies to others has poor character traits. For your life-map, can you think of any events that added to--or took away from--your character? Do you remember making the deliberate decision to act one way or another? Chart the pivotal moments when you made a conscious choice to do something that either made you feel good or feel guilty as a child or young adult. Ask yourself if you are still making certain calculations before taking action.
Your life map should include both positive and negative events because doing so will help explain your self-concept. Once you’ve identified your fears, you can face and address them head on. Your relationship patterns, including your relationship with yourself, will be brought into relief, and you can begin to understand how and why you love the way you do. You can bring awareness to the deeper tapestry of feelings that surround the things or people you claim to hate, and try to let go of those emotions which can be so draining.
Your life-map is a working document. As memories return, unroll your map, plot the event and trace its connection. The map is your tool to understanding and appreciating your beautiful, rich self.
by a the word changes Contributor