Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
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How do we develop a sense of self, an identity? How do we decide, or discover what is important to us?
It is, I think, an ongoing process which starts early on, in childhood, but which never stops. And I think it happens partly in a gradual, evolutionary way, and partly in an abrupt, revolutionary way.
The process typically starts through our interaction with our parents or primary carers. They will start to teach us rules and values – their own rules and values, or course. Some of these will be taught overtly : “Don’t talk with your mouth full” ; “Say please” ; “Don’t hit your sister”. But we also learn in more subtle ways, by observing how our parents behave as individuals and as a couple – and whether they present us with a positive or a negative role model, we still learn from it – either wanting to copy it, or do the opposite of it. How important is physical closeness to you? How do you deal with conflict? Is silence comfortable or scary? All these things will be influenced by our observations from an early age and will continue to be powerful throughout our lives.
As we grow up, we are exposed to more influences and ideas – from school, friends, other families, from religion, and also from TV and other media. And we will start, without thinking about it, to sort and filter these ideas and experiences so that they start to knit together. But it’s rather like building a house without a detailed plan of what it’s going to look like. We tack a room on here, and another one on there. We decide we don’t like that last piece we added and knock it down again. We want to add a second storey and have to redesign parts of the first storey to make room for a staircase.
The more stable our childhood is, the more time and space we have to construct our building – our sense of self – in a controlled and coherent way. If our life is subject to a lot of change, we are more likely to need to be involved in emergency repairs, abandoning parts of the house that fall into disrepair, suddenly decamping to a new room that feels safer.
Teenage years are typically a time when we try to sort things out. Rebellious teenagers may reject their parents’ values and “go off the rails” – exploring alternatives that may feel better for them. Typically such exploration will lead on to a period of regrouping, when they re-evaluate what they’ve rejected and often “settle down”. Other people may re-evaluate things at different times, going through “mid life crisis” perhaps.
To return to the analogy of the building, sometimes when everything seems well-constructed and stable, there can be an earthquake. The death of a parent, the break-up of a long-term relationship – or, topically, the discovery that the TV personality we admired as a child is actually a sex offender. Such earthquakes can rip away foundations from our house and seemingly leave it in ruins. Then we have to sort through the debris, to see what can be salvaged and rebuilt, what needs to be thrown away, and what replaced.
The whole process of working out who we are is a complicated one, and one that for the most part, we do not think about – until there is a crisis. But when there is a crisis, though it leaves out house in ruins, it also represents an opportunity to build a better house, on firmer ground, with proper foundations, and to build it in a planned, coherent way…an opportunity for a fresh start.