I am a 31 year old, and I confess I have a growing, in-the-process sense of self: “the way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purpose within the world.” Deborah Teasley, Study.com.

Who are you?
What do you like to do or not like to do?
What are you about?
What truly gets you excited about life?
What makes you angry?

We are engulfed in a culture constantly sending all sorts of messages: what to buy, what to believe, and how to spend your time. What are you allowing your eyes, mind, and heart to take in? These things can greatly affect us whether you like it or not.

O be careful little eyes what you see… O be careful little ears what you hear…O be careful little feet where you go…

O Be Careful, Little Eyes – Colin Buchanan

As much as people are encouraged to do what they love and buy what they love, I can’t help but wonder if these subliminal messages are delaying this generation from discovering their truest sense of self.

I’m not sure what your family background is, what culture you were raised in, nor what experiences shaped your life, but I believe we can all challenge, grow, and refine our sense of self. Remember – that means what we think about, our beliefs, and purpose within the world. Re-evaluating these things can be a healthy practice.

In Western culture, self-sufficiency and independence are encouraged and celebrated. It has become a “selfie” driven and self-absorbed society. In many Asian cultures, it is expected to “save face,” which means “to desire — or defines a strategy — to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to maintain dignity or preserve reputation.” Alida Brill, Psychology Today. Essentially this boils down to the family unit having more precedence and value over the individual, often leading to the detriment of one’s sense of self. Though I wasn’t raised in the stereotypical Asian American family, I indeed was plagued by the lack of sense of self.

Everything was dictated for me growing up. I wore polos and t-shirts. My hair was either down or in a ponytail. No shorts, no open-toe shoes, no jewelry. I was prohibited from hanging out (because that translated to literally “hanging on the streets”) unless it was at the park or at our house, and boy am I thankful for the few friends that actually wanted to spend time with me. After school I went straight home. After church I went straight home. “No extracurricular activities or that will take time away from your studies!” Well instead of extracurricular activities, I began delving into innocent behaviors which later turned into full-fledged unhealthy addictions and unhealthy coping methods.. desperate for ANY kind of control in my life – and of course we know that those behaviors unfortunately end up controlling us.

As a little girl I quickly learned to stay mum, not ask questions, and show no expression: basically appear invisible and follow the status quo to avoid getting in trouble. It seemed that everything I said, did, or expressed was questioned, weird, or wrong. At the end of the day I was forced to accept whatever happened to me, no questions asked.

I felt utterly unapproved and unaccepted. I felt ashamed of who I was; I felt unwanted; I felt insignificant no matter where I went or who I was around. No one could convince me otherwise.

I refused to give myself any attention. I conditioned myself to dismiss any sense of self as a survival tactic to avoid feeling pain. It was my escape from facing my feelings. From facing this thing called life. From facing me. I didn’t know who I was.

I focused on everyone else’s wants, needs, and feelings rather than my own and this did MUCH damage. I defended everyone but myself, even if they were hurting me or attacking the core of who I was. I spent hours and hours catering to everyone but myself, that when I finally had time for myself, I’d be running autopilot in obedience to the voices telling me what I “should” do or defaulting to unhealthy coping methods developed over the past few decades!

Taking “saving face” too far can also progress into believing a lie I bought into for far too long: I have no value. This greatly affects what is connected or tied to me – my dreams, my goals, my belongings, my relationships. There is a great lack of respect towards all of these things. Many times I get excited to buy a book, start a project, plan anything, but have trouble following through. Why? You guessed it. Because it’s connected to me.

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I know some things. I don’t know some things. Don’t we all?

I won’t say I don’t know anything about myself, but I do believe I’m starting the discovery process later than the social norm.

I love the great outdoors. I love staying active. I love meeting people and sharing lives with others. I love planned and spontaneous picnics. I don’t like olives and can’t stand cutting onions (my eyes hurt really bad – sometimes I wear goggles). I’m very unmotivated to workout when I’m not doing a group class or when the weather is not cooperating with me. When I see others stuck in limiting and negative mindsets, I want to help. When I see others pursuing their dreams and goals, I love to cheer others on.

I’m not sure if you caught that, but everything listed above mostly includes things outside of me. My sense of self has grown in relation to what is outside of me (environment, other people, even things about me), but it is severely stunted to what resides inside of me – my heart, my thoughts, the inner workings.

TODAY, I am starting to give myself permission to have fun, to hear my thoughts and face my feelings (this terrifies me!), to acknowledge my desires, to reawaken my dreams, to get excited, to look at myself in the mirror, to take care of myself, to spend money on myself, to challenge my beliefs (and not just trust and believe everything I hear), and not feel bad about it, and definitely not apologize for it!

If you are able to relate with me in any way, late start or not, confused or not, let’s begin this journey together, shall we?

It’s never too late. ♥

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To my family: I’m not sure if any of you read my blog, but if you are – I love you. Even now as I write, I face the fear of rejection and fear that I am not helping you “save face.” But I believe that through my story, many people will be encouraged and will have someone (me/others) to walk with through these challenges. This is a place to share, belong, and believe in one another. I hope you see that I am writing only to encourage and empower, never to tear anyone down. I hope you believe in me and respect me for stepping out. I love you. ♥

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