Did you ever ask yourself who you are? Does it depend on the schools you went the parents you had, and the job you work for? Are you the same person now like you were as a child?
Maybe you hear multiple voices in your head. It can be your conscience, or it is also possible you have multiple personalities disorder and experience distinct voices and personalities. So how do you find your true identity and what makes you individual?
While philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders try to answer these questions, nobody has all the answers.
Having a spiritual awakening
Imagine a person called Sarah who forgets everything about her life, including the conception of who she really is, when the body and brain seem no longer to be hers. Instead, her thoughts tell Sarah that she was nothing more than a vast open space, so she became certain that she didn't really exist.
She gets help from several therapists over the years to reconnect with her old self. But it failed, so Sarah wondered if she had experienced an awaking. Maybe losing her identity was a form of transcendence.
It leads her to Buddhismus, which has the concept of anatta, a transcendental state of non-being. Sarah began to work as a spiritual leader. While sometimes she felt like her old self again, spiritual messages became confused.
However, neuroscience research suggests some spiritual experiences may be the result of brain dysfunction. Unfortunately, it seemed that it was also the case for Sarah, who couldn't hold a pen or remember names. She was diagnosed with a large brain tumor, where she died a few months later.
While the doctor's belief Sarah's shift in consciousness was caused by the pressure of the tumor, Sarah's followers believed the tumor caused her to lose her connection to the transcendent, universal consciousness.
Is the soul separate from the body?
Almost every religion shares the idea that humanity has an immortal soul. Also, ancient philosophers were fascinated if the soul is eternal and separated from the mortal body.
The philosopher Avicenna tried to tackle the question of the soul is real with an experiment called the floating man. Imagine yourself without your body perceiving nothing of the world around you and floating in the air without feeling any sensation at all.
Would you still be conscious about the fact that you exist?
If you answer with yes, this thought experiment suggests there is something at the core of our existence that is distinct from the body and the responses of the brain. But is this a logical conclusion?
Not really. Avicenna's thought experiment leads us to believe that we imagine ourselves without bodies and no awareness of the body. It lets us think that our bodies are hidden but still present. And it doesn't allow us to imagine our souls separately.
Also, this sensation can be misleading. After all, people under the influence of psychedelic drugs are cable of imagining all kinds of sensations. It means that the feeling of a separate soul from the body isn't necessarily the truth. Just because humans can think it doesn't mean that we are only thinking minds.
What are multiple personality disorders?
Multiple personality disorders show how subjective we experience the world. When someone is diagnosed with this disorder, different personalities use the mind at different times.
It is often the case that one personality after another would appear. So 15 minutes the angry, childish personality would show followed by another more friendly and happier personality. People that have such personality disorders are often unaware that another personality exists. When a personality switch happens, a person might forget what was just said and done.
These cases of multiple personality disorders mainly come from early childhood abuse. When a child experiences intense trauma, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, they struggle to make sense of what is happening to them.
Therefore the brain creates an alternate universe where someone else experiences the trauma, not them.
But when a Person learns to acknowledge and work through his childhood trauma in therapy, he can reduce the number of personalities.
What does the sense of self mean?
When you are consumed with personal drama, you completely miss an important event in the world around you. It is not enough to only reflect on your own life to learn about the world. You also need to look outside of yourself to learn more about yourself.
The sense of self is shaped by how we are perceived in society. It makes society's validation and acceptance essential for a strong and stable sense of self.
Different cultures shape our sense of self in diverse ways. The sense of self depends on the individual in the west.
While for example, the Inuit are less individual with their sense of self. It reflects on their emotion that is tied up with those around them. When people in their community are sad, they tend to be sad too. If their community is happy, they are happier.
Similar decisions are made from the perspectives of a family or group, not of the individual.
Where the ego comes from
People are often terrified of their own mortality as death is the end of the complex identity that we think belongs to us. But maybe identities are only illusions? The truth is the ego is a mind trick.
In the 18, Century philosopher David Hume had an idea that the ego is unstable and our minds aren't constant. Instead, they are a mixture of passing ideas, thought, and emotions.
To test his theory, Hume searched for evidence that a constant subject or self-existence is independent of his emotions. He discovers that his sense of self is always in relation to a sensation or emotion like coldness & heat, love & hate, fear, and joy. Hume realized that he was not able to experience himself in any other way.
So he concluded that there is no self. Rather, it is an illusion that arises from a sequence of experiences and emotions that seem connected in our consciousness. The ego's trick involves constructing a sense of identity out of these perceptions.
An individual cannot be both the hunter and the prey. An individual consciousness can't observe itself.
What is the idea of the self?
The idea of the self as a construct is relatively new to Western philosophy. It has been central for many other religions for centuries. Ancient Buddhist wisdom teaches that the self is only an illusion.
The concept is called "anatta" or "no-self" and implies that there is no self and the whole universe is an illusion. The other interpretation is the non-self which indicates that the common idea of self shouldn't be practiced. The non-self is the body, the mind, and all temporary thoughts and experiences that individuals use when constructing their identities.
In Buddhist school is argued that when buddha spoke of nonself, he rejected the existence of the divine consciousness called brahman. Instead, the unstable and painful thought and experiences are all that exists. This perspective argues that the self is simply what we consider ourselves to be.
These interpretations seem simple and even a little depressing. But it shows that the self isn't something that we are stuck with for the rest of our time. Instead, the self is something that we become through living the actions we take and the choices we make.
Do you have free will?
The idea that we actually have no choice in the decisions we make is both relieving but also devastating. If none of our choices really matter, we can stop worrying about making the right ones. This makes life itself seem pointless and empty.
If you believe in the empowering idea of human free will or not, it depends on which theory of the soul you can identify yourself the most. When you accept the argument that the self is only a bundle of thought and experiences and decisions and actions are simply the mechanical outcome of the body and brain interactions with environmental changes, you also deny the existence of free will.
This idea without free will is something we instinctively disagree with. When you order a cup of tea, you might think you could easily choose a cappuccino instead. But because of your life experience, circumstances and feeling involved choosing a tea was inventable.
It doesn't necessarily mean that choices are predictable. Many conscious and unconscious factors are shaping our decisions, so we don't know which choices we make until the very last moment. Similar to a complex weather system, it is hard to predict if it will rain or shine in three weeks.
How we perceive the self today
Today the self is very different from what it was. Society is moving away from the sense of a united identity towards a set of multiple identities. The life of children was relatively constant with consistent experiences. It led them to develop conventional personalities with some specific cultural influences.
But over the past two decades, these world experiences have been rewritten by the internet and globalization. Children learn about diverse people and ideas from hundreds of different cultures daily. When they interact with new information, their personalities gain new facets.
Changes to our perception of self could even become more extreme in the coming years. The media has a powerful impact on young developing minds.
Humans can perceive themselves as individuals, part of groups, or also as nobody. We might experience being nobody when we go out dancing and lose ourselves in the music or when we are immersed in an addictive TV series. The danger is the more time we spend engaging with multimedia, it let us be nobody; we might lose our sense of individual and group identity.
How to find your true identity?
While you might feel you know who you are, the insights from science, religion, and philosophy make a strong case that the idea of self is an illusion that connects our changing thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Take some time to test the idea; it helps you to construct your own identity. It can lead to greater self-awareness and can free you from restrictive ideas about who you are and who you can be.
The ego problem
A healthy and moderate ego can be crucial for success in life. It allows us to compete, surpass our past achievements, and convince others of our strengths. But often, when we experience success, our ego becomes inflated. The perception and self-image rise about our views of others. We become overconfident and extend ourselves, and we end up paying for it.
Knowing how to tame your ego is a crucial step.
But how can you do that? And where does the ego come from and why it can block your way to success?
The difference between egoist and ambitious people
Actions speak louder than words. But if this saying is true, why do we like to feel popular and get praise from others even for things we didn't do.
It is our ego that has the desire to get fame and recognition without doing the good deeds required, so we reverse it. While recognition can result from success, many people want to become famous before they achieve real success.
Unlike ego, ambition is a solid foundation of real achievements. Egoists chase after fame; ambitious people are driven to grow in their field, whether they are congratulated or celebrated for their success.
Ambitious people prefer working hard in their field and want to be successful without focusing on gaining recognition. They know success in one field doesn't necessarily mean it could be transferred over to others. Not everybody that is good in one sector should automatically be president.
How learning keeps the ego in check
Our ego often tells us we are too clever to learn anything new. This is a stubborn assumption which we can overcome if we learn to humble ourselves.
A way to control our ego is to think of ourselves as students that never stop learning. Even if you are incredibly good at what you do, you can get in your way easily. To prevent this, remind yourself that there is always a better version of yourself.
If you remind yourself, you can always learn more. You can search for a highly skilled mentor or become a teacher to stay grounded.
It is a strategy applied by martial arts expert Frank Shamrock. His belief is in order to stay humble, the fighter must not only learn from the very best and train with peers in their skill level, but they should also dedicate some time to train beginners. It allows the fighters to see the full spectrum of skill levers in their sport, and it keeps their ego in check.
The problem with pride
Imagine what happens if some of the world's greatest inventors let their early achievements get in their heads. But why do we tend to sit back and relax after archiving success?
It is a result of our pride. While pride and ego aren't the same things, they still go hand in hand. Pride helps us justify our ego, making us feel that a single success is a sign of how special we are. We are too busy patting ourselves on the back to see that there is more to improve and we could achieve even greater things.
Pride makes us also overly sensitive to criticisms and deaf to warnings. Proud people often become defensive or even aggressive if someone tells them they aren't as special as they think they are because they rest on their ego.
Even Benjamin Franklin had his own pride at one point. When a well-respected man in Boston shouted, "Stop! Stoop! Franklin seems to think he was above this gesture and ignores him. But this was a foolish move. He walked straight into a low door frame knocking his head painfully!
If we want to see past of our pride, we should consider in every situation how someone more humble would perceive things.
Why do you need to delegate tasks?
Did you ever have trouble trusting teammates or coworkers? And do you think you can't give them the task because they wouldn't do a good job like you? These are serious signs that your ego needs to be controlled. It is important to trust other people's work; you and your team will benefit from it.
When you move up the career ladder and take on a managerial role, it can conflict with your ego. While you might be used to gain recognition for your work now, your new role may be to oversee the work of others.
The problem many people tend to hoard tasks that should be delegated. Why? Because our ego tells us that we are the only ones that can do them right. When you practice delegation, you force yourself to trust and respect the work of others. You will learn that other people's time might actually be better used on the task you used to do. And you also can dedicate your time to new things.
When you are refusing to be delicate, the cost can be pretty hefty. They can be enough to devastate any business.
Thank the people who help you archive success
Why do we think of our victories as ours alone? When we archive success after misfortune or just through hard work, it is far too easy to let accomplishment go to our head, so we think it was all our own doing.
Imagine you are suddenly asked for an interview by a big magazine or gain a large number of followers on social media. You might easily think that you are better than the peer who helped you along the way.
Rather than selfishly seeking out praise, share it with others. They usually do the same for you in return. Of course, some carriers rely on an individual's popularity whenever it is constant media coverage or a broad viewership. Showing humility will always benefit your career, no matter what.
Thanking those who help you along the way will strengthen your own position. Your team will enjoy working with you and also will perform better, and you can continue attracting new coworkers.
Be honest with yourself
If some of your greatest ideas get rejected, or you don't get the job you wanted, it is natural to feel frustrated. Our egos tell us to receive rewards, but the world does not always work according to our plans.
Sometimes you don't get the promotion or close a sure deal even though you did your best. So how can you confront this?
Rather than being disappointed, start by acknowledging the work you have done recognize you can't always control the outcome of your work or the people's opinions of us. An unexpected result should be welcomed to reflect on your performance honestly.
Also, lucky breaks aren't the same as success that comes from hard work. So again, be honest with your performance.
Next time something doesn't go your way, take the time to understand why. Improve your efforts and give yourself a better chance in the future.
An ego doesn't develop in a person on purpose; it is part of everyone's personality and comes naturally, especially with success. But if it is an unchecked ego, it can end up being harmful to your success. So take careful steps to ensure that it doesn't get out of control.