Growing up, children learn to take after their parents. By copying some or all of their parents’ behaviors, children learn-by-doing many of the important skills they will need to survive as adults, as if ‘playing grown-up’. This includes adopting trivial routines, such as cooking and cleaning, getting up and getting ready, chatting with neighbors, and so forth. More importantly, they learn critical survival skills, such as how to ‘play house’ and maintaining personal hygiene.
Before formal education, learning from our parents’, our caretakers’ or our group leaders’ behaviors provided an important means of education, preparing us for life. For example, children of paleolithic Europeans that lived over ten thousand years ago would have needed to learn how to start a fire, how to make spears and knives, how to navigate their way as nomads, and how to hunt and kill horses or other animals. Our ancestors did not learn these skills from textbooks or classroom education, but from oral instruction, first-hand observation—monkey-see, monkey-do—and through guided experience.
Modern-day textbook education has not changed children much. Today, still, our own mothers, fathers and grandparents serve as primary examples to mimic. Children adopt their parents’ or role models’ behaviors, but in doing so they also integrate less useful, possibly harmful behaviors, such as obsolete social taboos or self-destructive pastimes. Children of alcoholics may, for example, copy their parent’s drinking habits, because “that’s what I’m supposed to do”, perhaps in an attempt to earn said parent’s approval.
Thus we may find ourselves trapped in adulthood, striving to master learned behaviors which we dared not question. We continue to live by behaviors that harm us both physically or mentally, because it’s the only way we know. As an alternative, we can choose to begin a process of self-awareness by carefully ‘pealing away’ the adopted layers of our personality. These layers represent what we took after others. We can hold specific behaviors up to our personal scrutiny, assessing their deeper meaning and value, and decide whether they harm or benefit us.
Once we have become aware of our own behaviors, perhaps for the first time, we also discover which behaviors genuinely belong to ourselves. The self-aware individual may learn that he is not like an onion, without a core, but like an oyster, carefully protecting the pearl of our personality.
We learn that we possess a core self, our core personality that we owe not to dominant others, but to our own will mixed with cosmic influence. Understanding what the core self is offers us a most empowering insight, namely that we are original individuals, no longer bound by another’s logic and expectations. The core self represents our truest inner voice, that pulsates like a heartbeat, ”Here I am, I am me.” This voice can never be silenced.
Especially people that suffer a lack of direction in life may realize they suffered lifelong oppression of their core self. Unfortunate life events resulted in burying their true selves, perhaps for protective reasons, beneath layers of learned behaviors, but they ceased to live in accordance with who they are. They forgot themselves.
Even these oppressed souls can recover their true selves, reaping great psychological benefits in the process. I conclude with an insight by Steven Stosny, Ph.D.,
“A person with a strong core self cannot be verbally or emotionally abused. But the relationship with an abusive person most certainly will be damaged. This bears repeating: Your partner—or anyone else—cannot emotionally abuse you once your are in touch with your core self and your core values; only relationships can be emotionally abused.”