When you post a picture on social media do you use a filter? It certainly is a handy gadget. To be able to put forward your "best" self. In fact, many social media sites now have filters that can remake you to look like a cover model for a magazine in real time. Fantastic and frightening.
In 1653 England there was no filter to put on your picture. No Photoshop, no air brushing. Still, it was common for portrait painters to try to flatter their subject by softening or removing any blemishes. When Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England he did not want to continue in the vain traditions of the monarchy. The story goes, that when it was time for his portrait to be done and he told the artist, “I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me… but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts and everything as you see me. Otherwise, I will never pay a farthing for it.”
The account’s accuracy is debated, but the sentiment has arrived and when we want to hear a story without the troublesome or unappealing bits removed, we say we want it "warts and all."
In this day of presenting the perfect picture of yourself on social media it can be hard to imagine putting yourself out there "warts and all.” But when we are trying to discover ourselves, to figure out who we really are, we need to be willing to look at the bad as well as a good. However, far too often, when we're creating our own “self portraits,” we are sometimes painting with a brush of negative self talk. When faced with self examination we are far too quick to notice the blemishes and imperfections and ignore the things that are good about ourselves. The saying is, "warts and ALL!” All includes the good things, as well as the bad.
Too often we allow our inner person to create a self dialogue that is full of hyperbole. We think of ourselves in a set of extremes. We exaggerate our shortcomings and and beat ourselves up for our failings, or we let our vanity take over and only see the good things about ourselves.
Instead of shining a flashlight on the corners of our personality we need to open the curtain so light floods in and we can see the whole room. But just like flipping a switch in the dark room when the light first comes on we have to give our eyes time to adjust and then take inventory of everything we see. It's not an immediate process and we have to give ourselves the grace we need to get to know the woman we are.
An important aspect of knowing who we are is understanding who we have been. One way to rediscover the self of our past is to write a letter to the girl or woman we used to be. Tell her the things you like about her. Express the things you wish she had done differently. Recall moments when she was fun, happy, sad, creative, angry, etc.
Imagining who we will be in the future can also help us better understand who we are today. As we identify our dreams it will unlock an awareness of our values and the potential we perceive inside ourselves.
Discovering who you are will be quite a process but there are plenty of tools to help you. Well and Good website reminds us that the journey requires time and patience. PsychAlive calls it the most important adventure of your life. If you want a jumpstart you could take some personality tests that might get you thinking. Both the High 5 Test and Principles You are in-depth personality profiles. Positive Psychology offers 17 self-awareness activities and exercises.
Look, I don't pretend I have a handle on this. Many days I'm not sure who I am at all. But one thing I do know is that in order to learn to love myself, I have to get to know myself. It's not always pleasant. It can be frightening to look into the mirror in the bathroom let alone into the mirror of my soul - but I'm positive it will be worth it. “What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Thomas Paine was right, we have to be willing to pay the price for our positive self-esteem.