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  • Rachel Gardner, LPC

The Elusive Idea of “Being a Self.”




You may have heard folks talk about “being a self,” “building self,” “defining self in a relationship,” or increasing one’s self-confidence or self-esteem and the like. But what on earth does “being a self” mean, when you get down to it?


On the one hand, I think there will never be a satisfactory answer when that question is asked from the standpoint of demanding a quick fix, thinking an “expert” can give you “the” answer, or irresponsibly hoping someone else can do the work for you, or at least give you 10 easy steps to achieve it. One could write endless anxious blogs from that position and that black hole would never fill.


But if you’re asking the question with genuine curiosity, and you’re hungry to learn, and willing to own your life choices — then lean in. I’m interested in that conversation.


Here’s one attempt to answer that question — and it represents the thinking of just one, small, not particularly special human person, among many possible answers. And truth be told, I’m thoroughly interested in each human being’s original answer to this question, and find the conversations that can emerge from encountering one another’s uniqueness far more riveting than some dogmatic proclamation claiming to own the “right” answer.


I think being a self has to do with radically owning your own footprint in the world. It has to do with taking responsibility for how you act, what you say, and what you do with what you inherited from all those who came before you. It has to do with keeping your sight razor-focused on your own growth before God, despite many daily temptations to fuss with the splinter in your neighbor’s eye.


It’s like a stance wherein one strives to be self-contained and also generously receptive at the same time. It’s a stance where I can say something important even if it sets others off and where I can be okay when/if they don’t agree or approve —  while at the same time not pulling away after such an encounter. A stance from which I can offer attentiveness to the other and choose to hang in there no matter how uncomfortable. And in offering attentiveness, a sort of free connectedness, the underlying solidity of the self just gets more solid each time — and does not diminish.


Being a self means holding out openness to others to receive them, and also offering oneself — without keeping tabs on how often this gift is returned, only on how often you offer it. It means having the courage to confront and address really difficult issues without allowing oneself to indulge in an “us vs them” mentality, but rather always considering that self could be dead wrong and maybe the other one sees something that I can’t see. And yet also able to be steady and speak clearly when I have a conviction about something.


I think being a self is what happens when you decide that come hell or high water, you’re going to strive to be the most mature member of your family or relationship network, regardless of what others do, because it’s who you’ve decided to be in front of God. And when I say that, it doesn’t mean you think your family members are immature lol, or that you’re competing against them, what it means is that you aren’t going to pass the buck or refuse relationship because someone else didn’t step up to the plate. Because ultimately how that other person handles life is not your territory, and that other person has to face their Creator too. Honestly, who knows what they are up against and what the world is like through their eyes?  That’s not for me to judge. And just think: if multiple members of one family could think this way, or even just one person in multiple families… just how much could change in the world.


Anyway, like I said, that’s one person’s attempt to describe what it means to be a self. What do you say about it?


Rachel Gardner, LPC


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