Do you find yourself struggling from time to time, trying to reconcile your self-image with the reactions and opinions of others? Do you let the approval of others interfere with you becoming more of who you truly are? Do you struggle with trying to defend, explain or justify your choices when others disapprove? I know I have bumped up against these challenges throughout my life. As much as I have grown over the years, this struggle continues to plague me even today. I guess the old adage from Richard Bach is completely true in my case: "We most teach what we need to learn."
For many, myself included, the challenge lies in the difference between self-actualizing and self-conceptualizing. Your self-concepts may be perfectly aligned with who you truly are, or they may be nothing more than, well, concepts.
The Approval Trap
Do you ever pretend to be independent of the opinions others hold of you? I know that I often find myself in that trap these days. Some part of me still desires to please other people beyond reason, while a deeper part of me, my Soul-Talk, encourages me to stand in the integrity of who I am, of what I perceive, and of what I know.
That can be difficult when being, perception and knowledge run afoul of those to whom I am given approval authority over my own experience. When I am in deeper levels of alignment with my own soul, I can recognize the contradictory, even conflicting opinions others may hold about or toward me and remain loving, caring and in a state of acceptance. In one way of looking at this, when I am centered in my soul, it's easy to allow others to disagree without needing to become defensive or critical.
When I'm living more out of the concepts of who I wish I were, I tend to become defensive and critical or even find myself abandoning something that I know to be true in the name of acceptance or approval. Of course, the more I abandon the integrity of who I am, the less truly meaningful approval I have, and so downward goes the spiral until I wake up and stand in the depth of my soul.
I recall a time, long ago and far away, when I was working with a big name client. I really wanted to please him and bring the value to bear for which I had been hired in the first place. As often happens in change-oriented consulting, consultants must endure the very behavior they were hired to change.
In this case, the CEO had a very powerful, argumentative style and he kept pushing on me, debating if not criticizing virtually every point along the way. Eventually, I found myself caving in to the push back and began to waiver in my advice. Underneath it all, a part of me feared the criticism and apparent disapproval, which in a way were challenging of my own self-concept. However, I finally wound up confronting the CEO, reminding him that he had hired me for my insights and advice and yet seemed to keep pushing them and me away. I underscored that he had every right to reject what I had to say, but that I had a duty of care to bring the insights and advice to him.
Much to my surprise, he immediately came back saying that he always pushed back in order to determine just how committed the consultant was to the advice. From that day forward, our relationship matured and we were able to make considerable improvements across his organization.
What's the Difference Between Self-Concept and Self-Actualization?
According to Mosby's Medical Dictionary (Eighth Edition, 2009), self-concept means:
the composite of ideas, feelings, and attitudes that a person has about his or her own identity, worth, capabilities, and limitations. Such factors as the values and opinions of others, especially in the formative years of early childhood, play an important part in the development of the self-concept.
Self-actualization, originally introduced in 1939 by Kurt Goldstein and popularized by Abraham Maslow in 1943 through the introduction of his hierarchy of needs, runs pretty much directly against notions of self-concept. As Maslow wrote in his 1954 landmark book, Motivation and Personality, "What a man can be, he must be." He argued that human beings desire to become more and more who we truly are to become everything that we are capable of becoming.
In my Soul-Talk lexicon, self-actualization represents the process of becoming more of who you already are, while self-concept is more about your Self-Talk, about trying to become something or someone you may hope you are but fear you are not. While your Self-Talk represents an amalgam of beliefs, hopes and fears that you have accepted about who you are, your Soul-Talk emanates from the depth of who truly are, encouraging you to grow, to blossom, and to expand.
Concepts conceived in the mind often represent abstract ideas generalized from perceptions about life. Who you are, however, is far beyond something abstract or a generalization. Who you truly are requires nothing abstract, nothing conceived in your mind. Rather, who you truly are stems from your depth of being, from your soul.
Where this gets intellectually and experientially dicey lies in the apparent contradiction that your self-concept could actually arise from the depth of your soul, from the awareness that you are more than your fears, hopes and beliefs.
Stuart Emery, of Actualizations fame, wrote a great book on the challenge entitled You Don't Have to Rehearse to Be Yourself. Indeed, rehearsal is not required if you are actualizing who you truly are; if you are simply trying to live up to a concept of who you might be, you may find rehearsal seems to help, but never suffices.
So, the next time you find yourself challenged by other's opinions, ask if you are being challenged because you are trying to live a false or generalized concept of who you wish you were. It could be that you are being challenged to stand in the integrity of who you truly are. If you do stand in the depth and integrity of your soul, you may find that their opinions matter less and less, while paradoxically you may gain even more respect and approval for your courage.
Please join me for a free "Discovering Your True Self" tele-workshop June 13th from 8:30 pm EDT until 10 pm. You can register here.
I'd love to hear your take on this subject. How have you been able to actualize more of who you truly are? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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