Dear Dr. Norquist:
I keep noticing that I act differently depending on who I am with. With my girlfriends I’m silly and girly. With my parents I only show the part of me that they can accept – the goody, goody part. At work I’m quiet (so different then when I’m with my friends). With my boyfriend of the last two years, I only show him the part of me that he likes. I feel lonely a lot. I guess I don’t really know which part of me is really, really me. I guess my question to you is really big – how do I find out who I am?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You are probably very adept at sensing what others need from you for you to gain their approval and acceptance. This attentive focus on the outside world has provided you with certain adaptive skills that allow you to navigate your social environment. Solid dependable connections with others are important for health and happiness.
However, you need to be in touch with a genuine sense of who you are and what you need in order to establish relationships that feel solid and genuine. A genuine sense of self is experienced through an awareness of what your internal “felt sense” and bodily sensations are telling you.
I encourage you to take the time to pay attention to the information that your internal sensations have to offer you. Notice how your body responds when you hear or read something that feels “true” to you. Notice how your body lets you know when you are in a situation that doesn’t feel safe, or when you are with someone who you feel isn’t trustworthy. Notice how you feel (and where in your body you feel it), when you say “yes” to something that you don’t really want to do or don’t really agree with. This is information from your genuine self.
To get to know who you are, you need to have your awareness in your body, in the present moment, paying attention to a felt sense of what is right for you in that moment. This is your authentic self. The more you pay attention to the information it is offering, moment-to-moment, the more in touch you will be with your genuine feelings/needs/hunches/truths/wisdom/perceptions, and bodily needs. You can then decide how to act on this information in the world, and in your relationships. This will put you in touch with your authentic power as a person. It will also allow you to be genuine in your relationships, which will ameliorate your loneliness and allow for more fulfilling relationships with others. Give it a try and let me know if this is helpful.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2015 Chaitanya Counseling Services