The world inside a person’s head may have very little to do with reality from anyone else’s perspective. We are all lead protagonist in the movie of our life, and for some people, the distance between imaginary self and actual self is so wide as to be dangerous. How do we know who we are?
It is really easy to be persuaded by all the things we think we are. We may have decided that we are nice people. Kind, good, generous, etc. Anything we do can be interpreted in that light, and so we cast ourselves as such martyrs, such heroes for making the slightest effort or putting up with the terrible demands of the people around us. The result from the outside, can be that we make our nearest and dearest feel useless and miserable.
Some of us spend a lot of time imagining what we’d do. This is often an issue in Pagan circles, where the lines between the make-believe life and the spiritual life are blurred at the best of times. I’ve met a lot of people who have told me they think they could write a book, and who have a big emotional investment in that statement. There is a long way between imagining yourself as a hugely successful published author, and having written a book. In our heads, maybe we’re doing book tours across America and fending off fans, but if we’ve not written a book, much less got one published, reality and sense of self can become sorely disconnected.
It is easy to let who we think we are and what we think we do replace the actualities. That can be just as easily a negative process. If, for example I think I’m a lot less attractive than I am, my scope to mess up interactions with people is vast, because I will misunderstand signs, and misread intentions. I may have done this along the way, I am unsure.
While an entirely self-referential sense of self is easily held, getting any sense of who we are in the world is incredibly difficult. Seeing through my own beliefs and assumptions to even be able to experience a different view is hard for me. I have recognised that I am far too quick to embrace negative feedback and far too slow to recognise the positive. This is just as harmful to my relationships as imagining myself some kind of irresistible goddess would be. There is no virtue in under-estimating your influence, or in undervaluing your strengths. Modesty and being humble may have been touted as Christian virtues, but they aren’t Pagan ones, and they are a real barrier to honest and open interaction. The virtuous path lies somewhere balanced and in the centre.
Taking time to try and see what we do, and trying to hear how others respond to that is an uneasy process. It can be challenging. Whether the feedback is good or demoralising, if it is a long way from where you think you are, it’s equally disorientating. However, good relationship depends on good flows of communication.
Alongside this, it is also important to try and share honestly with people how they affect us. If someone inspires or uplifts you, if someone enchants you, or gives you hope, taking that moment to tell them is worth a lot. Having been on the receiving end of this is a huge morale boost, it gives reason and meaning to what I was doing, and a sense of where I fit in the world, and I assume the same will be true for everyone else. The more we share and connect, the better. The more we lock ourselves into little, private reality bubbles where our imagined selves dominate, the less visible to us our actual lives will be, and the less control we therefore have over them.
Only in our actions can we know ourselves. Who we think we are, is guesswork. What we actually do is the real measure.