In my session last night, my therapist had an interesting thought about being happy. “The better you like yourself, the better you are able to be true to who you really are.” We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about this, but after my appointment I started thinking. Do I like myself? Do I know who I really am? And once I figure that out, will I still like me? These are a couple of difficult questions, but isn’t that the goal of therapy? Asking yourself the hard questions and honestly looking at the answers is what it’s all about.
So what do I ask myself first? It’s like the ‘chicken and the egg’ question. Should I try to figure out who I am before deciding if I like the answer? Or asking if I like who I am and then see if it matches my true self?
There are many positive things that I’m happy with. I treat the people I come in contact with day to day with respect and understanding. It doesn’t matter if they are close friends or family, coworkers, casual acquaintances or total strangers. I try to treat everyone equally and fairly. The people I love I love all the way. I give 100% to my friendships; always willing to support them and be there for them regardless of how it affects me. I work hard, and have been successful at pretty much any job I’ve ever had. I see myself as sophisticated and worldly; smart, creative knowledgeable and insightful.
Every one of those traits has a qualifier. I do treat people well, but it’s so they will like me. I love too much too quickly, and allow myself to get hurt in the process. I treat the women I’ve been involved with like a princess… because it makes me a prince. I do work hard, but I also have a big lazy streak, and cover it up with keeping the focus on the things I accomplish and hide my failures, often by blaming others. I’m not nearly as sophisticated as I’d like to think… sometimes it feels like just an act. Deep down I’m just a simple man from a small town. I am smart, but my knowledge is shallow and incomplete. I catch on quickly, but I’m not an expert at anything. I’m a jack of all trades, and master of none.
Then there’s the fact that I’m bipolar. I feel like I must hide this from everyone, and it makes me feel like a fake. I’m not letting people see who I really am, and presenting myself as healthy. When I’m depressed, I not only don’t want anyone around me, but they don’t want to be with me either. And when I’m manic, I scare people. And I do really stupid things that put myself and others at risk. There is nothing likable about me when it comes to being sick. And I’m sick all the time.
So how does that relate to who I am? I do think that everything I’ve described about myself is true. I honestly care about others. I am smart. I do work hard and I’ve earned every success I’ve ever had. I do appreciate the finer things and enjoy the more intellectual pursuits. I am a good friend and they can always count on me to be there for them. I make mistakes of course, but I deal with them honestly and learn from each one.
Yes, I have a disease that impacts every facet of my life, and most times in a negative way. But it doesn’t change who I really am inside. And probably the best part of it all is, because of my illness, and because I’ve spent so much time and effort looking deeply into myself I’ve been able to develop the insight into myself and others that enable me to honestly understand and accept the good and the bad. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and can apply those lessons to make myself even better.
In short, I’m a good person.
So do I like who I am? I guess I do. But I’m not satisfied with who I am. I need to take the lessons learned and better define myself. I need to minimize the qualifiers and emphasize the positives. I need to get better at controlling and maintaining my moods and stay as stable as I possibly can. Yes, I like myself. I’ll like myself even better as I grow.
My therapist is right. The better I can make myself, the more I’ll like myself. And the happier I’ll be with everything.