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Self Identity and Suffering

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

I believe that starting from the time you are in the womb, until a few days or weeks after birth, a child has very little concept of feeling separate from anything around them.  They have an innate identity which comes from a place of primal emotions as well as whatever necessary knowledge or wisdom they retained from prior life-times.  This is the baseline from which we all start our lives, the rest is learned from the experiences we have moving forward.

How one identifies themselves is a collective mashup of beliefs a person acquires starting at a very young age and continually evolving throughout their lives.  Initially these beliefs are put upon them by parents or whomever is around them from birth to the age of reason (The age at which a child is held capable of discerning right from wrong). 

One of the basic precepts of life on Earth is that there must be a sense of separation in order to truly experience what it is to be human.  Creating a self identity is important in order to create a separation between the self and everything else.  This, in-turn, helps you become an individual with your own life, goals and purpose. These attributes help you navigate relationships, become part of a community and feel like there is a sense of belonging somewhere in the world.  

In Sean Webb’s book “Mind Hacking Happiness Vol 1”, he talks about the concept of a “Self Map” that we all have.  This Self Map is constructed throughout your lifetime from both positive and negative experiences.  If you can imagine a target or an image of concentric rings and at the center of this target is what you would consider your “Self”, or who you are as a person and what are the most important things you need to survive.  This would include the basics like food, water, shelter, clothing.  If any of these things become threatened, you would likely do whatever you could to protect those things in order to survive. 

As you move out from that center point, each ring signifies beliefs you have that have different levels of importance to you.  The closer the ring is to the center the more important the belief is to you.  So for example, the next ring closest to the center could be beliefs such as, “I am a good person”, “I am open minded”, “I love my family”, and so on.  A ring mid-way out on the target might be something like, “I am a good softball coach” or “I am a good driver”.  And on the other rings you might believe, “I like pepperoni pizza”.

As you live your life and you have interactions with others (whom have their own self maps), they will undoubtedly express their thoughts and opinions about the world directly from the framework of their Self Map.  When you experience the beliefs of others, the mind will take that information, compare it to your self map, and then create the necessary emotional response to it.  This process is automatic and comes from the part of your brain (the Limbic system) that has the responsibility to keep you alive. 

In the initial course of human brain development, the Limbic system was on line and necessary to keep you safe from threats of the environment (like lions, tigers and bears – oh my!).  As time moved on and humans evolved, the threat levels from the environment changed and become less due to how we evolved intellectually.  However, the Limbic system stayed in tact and it still doing its job to protect us.

Each time an experience you have is matched up with an “item or entry” on your self map, the mind will decide the level of threat that experience has to your survival.  The emotional response to those threats, generally speaking, has a direct affect on your level of happiness and contentment.  The more “items” on your self map, the more likely you are not going to be content in who you really are. 

For example, if you are a die hard Minnesota Vikings fan and you happen to be at a bar watching a football game against the Green Bay Packers, you might hear someone talking down about the Vikings. As you listen to the person, the mind matches that with your “identity” as a person who is a Vikings fan. If your belief as a fan is closer to the center of your self map, the higher your emotional response will be to the “threat”. In effect, the degradation of the Vikings is also a degradation of who you believe yourself to be.

When you consider the concept of self identity, and you compare it to the suffering of the world, I would contend that much of the distress is caused by feeling that our identities are being threatened. The up-side to this issue is that we can change our minds and choose a different response to what we experience. Choosing a different response is the path to mind mastery. Mind mastery is a path to contentment and happiness.

Mind mastery, as described in Sean Webb’s book, is growing awareness through the practices of mindfulness. As you experience various emotional “events” (like a demeaning comment about the Vikings), you can consider why you are feeling the way you do about that comment. Are you mad, are you uncomfortable, are you irritated? Then you can consider, what belief you have on your self map that may feel threatened by this comment.

Once you’ve identified that (I am a diehard Viking fan because my dad was and my grandfather before that, so I am too), then you get to decide how important that belief really is to you. Once you have decided this, you can choose how you want to respond. You can also choose if you want to move that belief of being a Vikings fan out further on your self map or even off the map completely. The further out or off the map, the less emotional effect any comment related to the Vikings will have on you. This is mind mastery.

I have discovered through my healing practices that I have a primary negative core belief. This belief was created over years of various experiences. I had very little guidance trying to figure out how to navigate my life and feeling like the choices I’ve made, the ideas I have, or the way that I think meant nothing to or disappointed someone else. Having this belief sitting at the core of my own mind became a primary point on my own self map. This core belief is what fuels the protection of my Limbic system.

Each experience I have is matched up to verifying whether that experience validates or invalidates my negative core belief. When it does validate it, the emotional state I fall into is depression. Likewise, if someone has an expectation of me to meet some sort of goal or know a bit of information, or to be able to process a large amount of new information, this also validates my core belief because I don’t believe in myself or what I’m capable of. This then causes me a huge amount of anxiety.

Much of the suffering I’ve had in my life through anxiety and depression can be traced directly back to how I see myself as a person and the value I place on myself. For many years now, the Universe has been showing me that I needed to look into mind mastery as a way to improve my life, but I discounted this. I didn’t believe that mind mastery would have any affect on my quality of life. I didn’t believe that there was anything that could truly change what I perceived as the “truth” of my own worth as a human being. I now know that in the past I wasn’t ready to make the choices I needed to, in order to make the necessary changes. I had to have more emotional and physical proof that I had to experience even more pain and suffering to really push me over the edge.

The proof that finally convinced me was when my sensitivities to the world became more acute and clear as I became older. Even though I’ve known that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) for a few years, I never really considered how sensitive I really am to the world around me. Once I realized that some of the emotions I was feeling were not my own, I begun to understand that it was possible to know if what I was feeling was mine or not. Knowing I could determine this, I realized finally that I could choose how I wanted to feel about anything. About this time, the Universe was showing me videos with Sean Webb who was talking about mind hacking and I knew this was just another reminder that I needed to really dig into this.

As I got deeper into understanding that many of the emotions I felt were really a symptom or effect of some other external stimulus. I started to notice that I can be emotionally effected by the words people speak, the food I eat, the person I’m with (in person or even remote), or the building I’m in among countless other external factors. I realized if these external factors could effect my emotions, I could take my power back and choose how I wanted to respond to those factors. The responsibility was my own to make these changes and that has made all the difference to my overall emotional state.

I have found that implementing some simple mindfulness practices in my life is crucial to mind mastery. Practices such as mediation, auto-writing or journaling, nature walks, breathwork, etc are all good practices that can be implemented easily into your life. Mastery of any kind is not realized from a one-and-done sort of methodology. It’s an ongoing practice that can take years to perfect. This may sound daunting, but from my experience in using these practices for a few short months, it has already paid off with big benefits.

If you are struggling with emotional upheaval, you may want to consider how your mind really works, and if you are sensitive, some of what you are feeling may be from an external source. Being content in your life is a birthright. It is worth the process of discovery to uncover the true source(s) of your emotional challenges. Don’t give up. You are so amazing and the world needs you to shine your true self in order for it to be complete.

Dwight Raatz – 06/26/2021

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