Our Choice Between the Two Selves

We have different faces that we wear depending on the people we’re around and the situation we’re in. When it comes to our mental health, it can be helpful to think in terms of having two primary sides that have the potential of dominating at any given moment.

Let me start by drawing a picture of one side: our unconditioned, grounded and well-adjusted self, which I call the “true self.” Perhaps we could relate more to this in our early days, largely before we were conditioned by other people, circumstances, and culture or society that we grew up in. This version of self is in touch with the present moment rather than being wrapped up in unhelpful thoughts and reactive behavioural patterns, and it has good awareness of our emotional world, as well as the emotions of others. It is empathetic and creative.

The true self also tends to be intuitive; that is, it has an innate sense of “knowing” how to best respond to various life situations. And, it is closely connected to, and driven by, what’s most important to us: what we value.

On the other side, we have a different picture. Naturally, as we go through life, we adopt the thinking styles and belief systems of our caregivers, friends, teachers, and society at large. These are not always healthy. We’re faced with difficult life circumstances bringing up uncomfortable emotions that we may not know how to process. We take on more and don’t give ourselves time to slow down. Ultimately, we build layers of unhelpful coping mechanisms. The more layers we build, the further away we get from our true self. This highly conditioned and unhelpful side of who we are might be referred to as our “conditioned self.”

As much as we’ve learned to adopt these unhelpful patterns, we are, ultimately, always faced with choice – that is, we can choose which version of ourselves we want to live from. Because we’ve had so many years of conditioning, this may seem difficult as words slip off our tongues and our reactions unfold before we’ve had a chance to notice. But, the reality is we are empowered to re-write our story in every moment of every day.

We have agency to step back, watch our emotions, physical sensations, thoughts, urges and actions like an outside observer. When we do this, we create space, allowing us to notice and consider the outcome of acting from our conditioned self. We can think about what our actions could mean for ourselves, as well as our future and our loved ones. Taking a step back also provides us with an opportunity to ask what our true self might do instead. It takes only a moment – maybe the length of a few breaths. Giving ourselves this space gives us the power to respond with wisdom and insight. Each time that we do this, we come into greater contact with our authenticity.

Gradually, we may notice that we’re dominated less frequently by our highly reactive selves, and instead, we learn to live from the core of who we are more often than not. Eventually, when faced with difficult life events, we may notice ourselves relating differently to them; rather, we respond to them in a wise manner, allowing us to change our experiences, our self-image, and our life story moving forward.

The more we make contact with our true self, the more we shift from victim-thinking to creativity, empowerment, and a new life story.