There is an ultimate aloneness to human existence. No matter how close you are to someone, it is an illusion to think they truly understand you or you truly understand them. At some level you can share your experiences, but ultimately you are alone with your own experiences and you will get along better in life if you accept that and figure out what it means to you.
Being alone and recognition of that reality is part of the maturation process; part of becoming an individual human being. Nobody else has your unique DNA, experiences, feelings, thoughts, and needs. Don’t just accept that uniqueness, celebrate it. It’s what makes you you. It gives you a natural monopoly on something that is truly unique in the world.
Most people hide from this basic fact and end up being absorbed into a relationship or group or culture and accepting the values and expectations of others. In their flight from their ultimate aloneness, they end up living according to the standards and dictates of others.
Most of us do indeed accept the culture, the standards, and the expectations handed to us from others. We go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, work towards retirement, and eventually die all because that’s what we are “supposed” to do. Sounds great doesn’t it!?
My friends often ask me for advice on what do do about some issue. I don’t know why, but I think it is partly because I’m older than most of them (much older than many of them). I think they see me as some old grandfather that dishes out wisdom! I hate to give specific advice. When somebody asks “What should I do?” or “Should I do X or Y?”, I don’t want to answer specifically.
I cannot be them. I cannot put myself into their situation. I cannot get inside their head. We are different individual, alone with ourselves. To tell them what they should do is assuming that I can put myself in their place and I cannot. Despite that fact, there is no shortage of “for your own good” advice that gets dished out. I’m sure you know what I mean.
The only way to be truly free is to discover that unique person that is you. Many of you don’t know who that is because you’ve grown up and lived in the presence of pressures to behave according to the norms of others; your parents, your friends, your culture, and your partner. These have likely exerted a great influence on what you think are your values and tastes. This means that who you think you are and what you think you like and need, may just be a result of what you’ve absorbed from others. It doesn’t represent the real and unique you. Taking on the values of others leads to a lot of frustration and unhappiness.
- Accepting the presence of a family member you would rather not be around?
- Accepting a relationship (any kind of relationship) that is no longer (or may never have been) healthy and happy?
- Afraid to end unhealthy relationships because you fear the drama of the breakup or you believe to end it would be cruel or selfish?
- Accepting a job you really didn’t or don’t now want?
- Living somewhere when you’d rather be living somewhere else?
- Letting those close to you dominate you to keep the peace?
- Caring for or supporting a relative because “It’s the right thing to do”?
- Accepting commitments and obligations that restrict your time or freedom because it seems right or because you didn’t realize the consequences when you accepted it?
- Doing anything because someone else thinks you should?
If you are doing any of those things or anything else out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or because you’ve been taught you should, you are caught in a trap of family and social restrictions.
It is often the case that we are not doing what we really want to do, but are doing something because we think we should want to do it. We’ve absorbed some value that is not consistent with our true nature. We are living according to those false values and are creating internal conflict within ourselves. This leads to stress, discomfort, and unhappiness.
For example, we may push ourselves relentlessly to be successful because we think that we value a certain kind of success. Deep inside we just want to relax and enjoy life. The false value is something that we’ve absorbed from family, friends, or society.
Ways to Discover Your True Self
Your true self was probably born with you. It is your deep and natural core before you were socialized to be something different. It’s unpretentious and following it will lead to your most authentic joy and happiness.
Pay Attention to Your Reactions and Feelings
What makes you uncomfortable? What makes you happy? Watch for surges in positive and negative emotions and note what caused it. Don’t be afraid and don’t repress. If you discover something you don’t like about yourself, it doesn’t help to pretend like it isn’t there. You may not like it because you’ve been told by everyone your whole life you shouldn’t like it. That’s not a reason.
When I’m expected to do something just to please someone else or when there is some obligation to do something involving someone else that I don’t want to do, I get those surges of negative emotions. It’s not me. The fact that these things might not bother some other people is irrelevant. They are not me. If I repress those and allow that inner conflict to exist, I’m simply fighting who I am adhere to someone else’s values. Who made that rule anyway and why am I supposed to live by it?
What other people do is their decision and their right and what you do is your decision and your right.
If you don’t spend some time alone, you will likely be influenced and inhibited by other people. You simply have to get away from people you know to think and experience without that inhibiting influence. You can then discover things about you that you might not otherwise have known. When I vacation by myself, I do different things than when I vacation with my family or others. And it’s not just because it’s a different kind of vacation, it’s because when I’m not being influenced by others, I am much more likely to do what my true self really wants to do.
Do Something Different
I didn’t think I would like symphonies, operas, or ballets but I do. If I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t know. Do as many new things as you possibly can and pay attention to your reactions.
Pay Attention To Your Fantasies
What do you fantasize and dream about? Seriously, those are a signal to you that you need to explore. Try to experience some of them and see what happens.
Your Life Purpose
This is not the same thing as your true self, but a related and interesting exercise can be found at Steve Pavlina’s How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes
“Your life can be an adventure – a continuing stream of new pleasures, excitement, and satisfactions. You can have meaningful, problem-free friendships; you can have love that’s intense and exciting without burdens and compromises; you can produce income in ways that are fun; you can having thrilling experiences that don’t lead to bad consequences.” — Harry Browne
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