These questions can help you get a better sense of who you really are.
Are you struggling to know yourself? Do you wonder what you are at the core? Might you want to get to know the many different parts of yourself better? In this article, we'll dive into some different areas of research to help you explore the many different parts of yourself—your values, beliefs, goals, emotions, and more. Exploring these different parts of yourself can help you feel more confident and sure of who you are.
Who Are We, Anyway?
When we know who we are, we have a clear self-concept—or a clear image of our material self, intrapersonal self, and interpersonal self (Epstein, 1973). To know our material self means that we know about our body—for example, its size, shape, and appearance. To know our intrapersonal self means that we know our emotions, needs, values, opinions, and other internal processes. And to know our interpersonal self means that we know how others see us. All of these are parts of who we are.
The Material Self
Exploring our material self is probably the easiest part of knowing who we are. So let's start here. At least that way, you'll be sure you know some things about yourself. You can get to know your material self better by asking yourself the following questions:
What do I look like?
What color are my eyes, skin, and hair?
What is my weight? What is my height?
Do I have any interesting aspects of my appearance?
The Intrapersonal Self
When we’re trying to get to know ourselves better, we're probably mostly referring to our intrapersonal self—or our internal qualities and experiences. Yet our intrapersonal self may be hardest to understand because there are so many parts to it. For example, our values play a big role in who we think we are—they guide our decision-making, help us to understand the type of life we want to lead, and may determine the social groups that we belong to (Smolicz, 1981).
To better understand your values, take a moment to ask yourself which values make you who you are:
Authenticity Adventure Balance
Bravery Compassion Challenge
Citizenship Community Creativity
Curiosity Determination Fairness
Freedom Friendships Fun
Generosity Growth Honesty
Influence Justice Kindness
Knowledge Leadership Learning
Love Loyalty Openness
Optimism Recognition Respect
Responsibility Security Self-Respect
Social Connection Spirituality Stability
Status Wealth Wisdom
Like values, goals may also guide us through life and be an important part of our identity. For example, researchers suggest that each of us has ideas or visions of our future self. These visions are of what we might become, what we would like to become, and what we would not like to become (Markus & Nurius, 1986). So ask yourself, what are your goals?
Our needs are also a part of who we are. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we need to satisfy deficit needs—like food, water, and shelter—before focusing on other needs like love, self-esteem, self-actualization, and selfless pursuits. The needs we are currently focused on likely play a big role in who we are. So ask yourself, what are your needs?
Beliefs are another big part of our identity. Our religious beliefs, political beliefs, and other opinions may be at the forefront of who we think we are. We even frequently use the phrase "I am" to refer to our beliefs. For example, maybe I am a Christian, a Democrat, an Atheist, or a Republican. We identify with our beliefs because they make us who we are, determine who we might spend our time with, and affect how we live our lives. So ask yourself, what are your beliefs?
The Interpersonal Self
An interesting thing is that we tend to view ourselves in ways that are similar to the way other people view us (Epstein, 1973). Researchers thought this was because we humans, as social creatures, learn a lot about our identity from our interactions with others.
To better understand your interpersonal self, it can be helpful to think about some of the more obvious parts of yourself that can be seen by others. You might ask yourself the following questions:
What is my profession?
What is my race or gender?
What is it about my appearance that is most apparent to others?
What impressions do I give people when they first meet me? What about after they know me for a bit?
How do I fit in society? What role do I play?
This can start to give you a sense of who you are in others' eyes.
Knowing who we are can help us navigate the world and better understand our role in it. By exploring our values, needs, beliefs, and more, we can better understand the many facets of ourselves and perhaps more easily move in the direction we desire.
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Epstein, S. (1973). The self-concept revisited: Or a theory of a theory. American psychologist, 28(5), 404.
Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American psychologist, 41(9), 954.
Smolicz, J. (1981). Core values and cultural identity. Ethnic and racial studies, 4(1), 75-90.