Self as a Construct

The Self is a reoccurring theme that I commonly cite, reflect upon and emphasize. I have found that the end result of my travels and personal challenges is the feeling of a permanent change in Self, rather than just the storage of a profound memory. The act of  interrupting routines and habits encourages a shift in how I see the world and as a result, a type of transformation takes place.

So what essentially do I mean when I refer to Self?

In one context, “Self” is a term that is almost synonymous with Ego (the psychological force which acts on personal drives), especially  when the it is used to describe an individual as Selfish or Selfless. In this setting, Self is that which establishes one’s personality and behavior as distinct from others. It is a concrete boundary that refers to one’s uniqueness and separateness. Selfish concerns are those that are only focused on pursuing desires, but at a basic level, it is related to survival and continuation of one’s life.

A further elaboration of Self relates to the essential characteristics of a person. In this case it overlaps with the concept of authenticity. For example, in a fit of rage, a person can hurt someone else and the next day apologize, claiming, “I was not acting like my Self.” Here, Self describes a set of values placed on intentions. Those values describe one’s identity, a sense of “Me-ness,” that coincides with an ideal set of behaviors that one wants to represent into the world.

To examine this term from another cultural lens, Buddhist philosophy describes the Self as Anatta, which can actually be translated as “not-self.” In this perspective, the belief that one is distinct and autonomous is illusory. It is a distraction from the true interconnectedness that binds all beings. The Self is a hollow vessel and recognizing this gives freedom from attachment and resentment.

In my conceptual framework, I incorporate elements from these definitions, but I do not think of Self as a noun or a quality of a person. Instead, I view Self as a verb, in particular a type of a process.

Self is that psychic process that integrates personality, behavior, impulses and ideology. It is wholly a construct and can be altered by experiences, thoughts, emotions and biology.

The Self does not determine one’s individuality, but it influences one’s belief in separateness and unity. For example, let’s consider two events where I prioritize the needs of others first. In one scenario, on a walk home from dinner on a cold night, I cover my wife with my jacket and decide to shiver the rest of the way. In another situation, I elect to stay late in the hospital to care for a sick patient. The activity of the Self combines the behavior with my consciousness. On the surface, I am acting “selflessly,” but the true influence of Self is the inner mental life that surrounds these behaviors. With these altruistic actions, I may have separate motives. In the first scenario, I may prioritize the needs of my wife as greater than mine and truly want to suppress my inner desires to support her.  In the other, my decision to work late is made not because I internally have a devotion to care for another, but because it builds the perception that I am a hard working, dedicated doctor.

From the outside, no one can determine my intentions. In both cases the actions achieve a similar aim, which is prioritizing the needs of others. From a practical standpoint, the inner consciousness does not matter when it comes to human interaction.

The Self is not subject to judgement or outside evaluation. It is a process and deeply personal. It influences how one conceptualizes their sense of ME and how it relates to others and the cosmos at large.

The process of the Self is an internalized reflection. It is subject to a set of ideals and values and as a result, one can have a distorted view of Self, which oftentimes is a source of adjustment and personality problems. Other times it is a source of frustration and low Self-esteem.

By impacting Self, one is altering the activity of the inner world and as a consequence influencing interaction with the outer world.  The sense that one is living a good life or reaching happiness is a process of Self and this is a continual state of Becoming.

Self is a construct. It is never fixed and changes according to life experiences, health and ideas.

Many religions and philosophies would like to determine the BEST way to pursue Self-Actualization, however, dogma is only a crutch. Only YOUR journey through life effects its form. The commitment to cultivate Self is a declaration of total freedom and only YOU have the power to control and alter your inner life.