Why ‘Who are We?’ is a Better Question than ‘Who am I?’

Seeing Self in Others, and Others in Self

Allan Johnson, PhD

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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

For many of us, it can be difficult to accept the parts of ourselves that we do not like. We are often at war with ourselves, constantly fighting with the voices in our head. Maybe we struggle with the way we look, maybe we struggle with the way we act, maybe we struggle with the way we think. The problems with self-acceptance are complex. They arise from our own experiences, our judgements about ourselves, and the way we compare ourselves to other people. If we have been wounded, suffered trauma, or been treated badly, we easily get stuck in the past or judge ourselves harshly. This can lead to an inner critic that is constantly with us, telling us that we are not good enough and not worthy of love. It can be hard to overcome these kinds of sticky thoughts and beliefs because we identify strongly with them. It can take a long time to come to terms with the truth of our experiences and also with the way we label ourselves.

The way we treat ourselves has a big impact on the way we treat other people. If we constantly blame ourselves, we are unlikely to treat other people with compassion and respect. Part of the difficulty we have in dealing with our negative self-talk stems from the familiarity and comfort of these thoughts. We have identified with these thoughts for so long because they are so familiar to us, so we often tend to justify them and make them seem more valid than they actually are. To overcome this, we need to pay attention to our thoughts and not let them dominate us.

The early American psychologist William James used the term ‘stream of consciousness’ to describe the spontaneous flow of thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions that assails us throughout the day. It is a kind of inner monologue — the chatter and twittering of the mind. Most of the time we are not really aware of our stream of consciousness, but it is always there: on the way to work, in the background when we are watching our favourite show, or when we are having a conversation with another person. It is a kind of inner narrative that helps us make sense of the world. We move from one topic to the next so automatically that we are not even aware that we are thinking. It’s a kind of ‘default setting’ within us that kicks in when…

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Allan Johnson, PhD

Integrative Coach | Mindfulness Teacher | Academic | Books with Palgrave and Bloomsbury