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Get to know your true self while self-isolating

By April 9, 2020November 28th, 2022No Comments
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What happens when I am alone?

This question (and its variants) is likely echoing throughout the globe as we settle into the realities of COVID-19. We are all grappling with isolation in loneliness in some form, being forced to cut back on the social engagements that were ever-present in our lives only weeks before. A sense of grieving right now is also present for many… mourning the realities that ‘could have been’ right now with the relationships we treasure.

As social beings, we put so much time and energy into our relationships, to the extent that our relationships become part of our identities. This social side of our identity is referred to as the “collective self”, which is basically an amalgamation of our individual selves intertwined with the extent our life that has been ‘peopled’ (e.g. the people that we grew up with, our current relationships, etc.; Gaertner et al., 1999).

Theoretically, every person that we make conscious contact with adds a layer to this “collective self”, which in turn influences how we approach life emotionally, behaviourally and perceptively. We relate to others locally (i.e. I am a sister), globally (i.e. I am an American) and collectively (i.e. I am a human). We notice how our emotions shift when we are around certain others. We certainly notice the impact social separation has on our sense of self.

Social belonging and forming secure relationships are some of our primary drives as humans, and we are in a constant – albeit subconscious – attempt to escape isolation.

Even if we don’t always necessarily enjoy the people that surround us, this need to belong and integrate socially continues to drive our behaviour (Maslow, 1954; Yalom, 1980).

Although our attention predominantly diverts to the relationships in our lives, it is important to remember that this “collective self” is only one side of our self-definition. We are both a collective self and an individual self, and thus, have two main ways to garner information about the self – feedback from others, and looking inward (Brewer & Gardner, 1996; Lindeman, 1997).

We have outer and inner worlds that make us who we are, and because our fast-paced external world entices our senses and draws in feedback from various sources, it makes sense that our social identities would be a part of ourselves that we get to know quite intimately. However, this time of COVID-19 comes as a stark contrast to the fast-paced life we’ve been so accustomed to – a world of going, getting, changing, doing – where we are really forced to slow everything down and take stock of our immediate environments. And as chance would have it, these immediate environments likely don’t have a varied set of people in them.

Now, the timely question is: What happens when I am forced to slow-down, to dis-engage socially? Who would I be if I took the “relationships” – momentarily – out of the equation?

What other parts of myself could I get to know in the process?

This collective pause is a great opportunity for us to get to know our “personal selves” as an individual identity, whilst we are somewhat separated from the outside world of social feedback and distraction.

Although you can get to know yourself in an unlimited variety of ways, perhaps it might be helpful to start with reflective prompts that can guide you on that inward journey.


Your emotions

    • Identifying our emotions can be an overwhelming process, because in themselves they are complex: they are influenced by all experiences encountered consciously and subconsciously, by our physical state (e.g. lack of sleep), by our mental state (e.g. interpretations), and they aren’t always clearly distinct. Much of the time, our emotions are fused with other emotions (from many experiences simultaneously) and it can be a long, difficult process to untangle the web to get to the source. Although identifying emotions is a big topic, a great starting point is by considering 3 aspects of your emotions: your emotional body, your emotional triggers and your emotional boundaries. Consider:
      • Emotional body: What part of my physical body seems to be activated right now, even if I can’t name this emotion? Have I felt this before, or is it new? Does it feel comfortable or uncomfortable, and how might that help me categorize this emotion?
      • Emotional triggers: What events/circumstances have preceded this emotion showing up? A certain place, person or activity? Is it an emotion that I want more or less of? How will that influence how I engage with this trigger?
      • Emotional boundaries: Does it feel like I’m in control of my emotions right now? Do these feeling belong to me, or am I holding them for someone else? Is there something I can change in my environment to better manage what I’m feeling?

Your self-esteem

– Being able to better navigate your emotions can aid in the efforts of understanding your self-esteem, which is essentially the feelings and thoughts that you hold about yourself. Your self-esteem, whether perceived in a favourable or unfavourable sense, have profound impacts on your wellbeing and actions you take (Rosenberg, 1965). Consider: How might my self-esteem be impacting my sense of identity, in the realms of image, worth, confidence, efficacy and compassion?

Your needs

– We all have needs that drive us. If our needs are not met, this can lead to seeking fulfilment in maladaptive ways (e.g. risky behaviour). The first step to       meeting needs is to identify them – be as precise as possible. Consider: What do I need right now? How can I fulfil this need in the way that aligns with my values?

Your main cognitive drives (personality)

– Figuring out the built-in template your brain is wired with can be extremely enlightening when it comes to decision making and navigating your life. Take a personality test like the abbreviated Myers-Briggs test here ( to discover the lenses you tend to approach the world through. Consider: Who am I behind my name? How do I show up for my friends and family? What do I like, dislike and fear? How do my cognitive drives influence my beliefs and assumptions about the world around me?

Your values + mission

What moral codes and principles are important to you? These are your values. Do you feel like you have an inherent calling, to show up in the world with a specific purpose? This is your mission. Both your values and your mission are connected, but they are different to goals – goals are achievements that can accumulate along the way, but it’s your values and mission that drives your life energy, focus and intention. Consider: What makes life most meaningful to me? What am I always trying to chase in life? Are my habits living in accordance with what I value? How do I want to be remembered?

What did those reflections bring up for you? Whether they felt deliciously revealing, uncomfortably intimate or strongly affirming – remember, they are just examples of starting points. Any prompt that facilitates greater awareness will help you expand your sense of noticing and acknowledging a wide range of aspects about yourself.

Self-exploration isn’t for the faint of heart – this excavation process means digging through the dirt to expose what’s underneath, and that can be an overwhelming process.

If any of these elements are difficult or distressing for you to unveil alone, that is completely understandable, and it might be easier done with a therapist, mentor or loved one to help guide you.

The paradox in this sentiment is that it encapsulates our dependency on others – even when we are trying to discover the path to our inner selves, we need relational feedback to help turn a light on the path, so we are not getting lost in the dark. It would be impossible to take the relationships out of the life equation forever, and as a quote from the book Into the Wild eloquently suggests: “Happiness is only real when shared “(Krakauer, 1996). Sharing experiences with other humans gives life meaning.

Still – we can choose to invest time and energy into the most intimate relationship we have at same time – the relationship we have with ourselves. And what a prime time to engage in this relationship – if there is a silver lining to social distancing at all, it would be the gift of stillness. However you chose to spend this stillness, may the act of being still lead you to a path of beautiful inner discovery.