How to Get to Know Yourself Better (or Anyone Else) in About 15 Minutes
Too many of us live at a great distance from our true selves and at a great distance from others, as well. It is not unusual for people to keep the most important and impactful parts of their life stories under wraps, sometimes most of their lives—even in friendships and marriage. We human beings do this for many reasons, but here are three central ones:
- A desire to wall-off our disappointments, anxieties and unrealized dreams, in order to avoid feeling the pain that remains associated with them.
- Worry about being criticized by others.
- Concern about being too self-revealing and, therefore, seen as “needy,” “vulnerable,” or “damaged.”
Attempting to keep these parts of us buried not only deprives us of emotional intimacy with others, it also reinforces any unconscious belief that we don’t deserve to be unconditionally loved, because of the difficult, complicated chapters in our life stories.
Well, here’s the truth: People do not bond with one another by celebrating one another’s achievements or resumes. They actually bond with one another because they resonate with one another’s pain—what they have had to confront and what they have survived.
Given this, there’s a shortcut to getting to know yourself or anyone else. You can use it by yourself (to uncover some of the real sources of your own pain), or you can use it with anyone willing to take that journey with you past the usual interpersonal barriers. Here it is:
Imagine that you’re reading your own life story—your autobiography. You’re holding a magic highlighter in your hand. Anything you highlight, all the way from childhood right up to today, can be erased from your story. It’s true that many of us would never remove anything from our stories because every, single thing has contributed to who we have become. Don’t worry about that. Identify threeevents in your life or themes in your life that might TEMPT you to remove them because they were the most painful or anxiety-provoking or embarrassing ones
If you invest 15 minutes pondering this information yourself, you’ll be on a path toward more self-knowledge. If you share the information with another person, who also shares his or hers with you, then the two of you will be on a path to true intimacy. The exercise will cut through lots of pleasantries and get to what has been painful, for each of you. This triggers empathy—in both directions. And empathy is a miracle of the mind and soul that is the real glue of interpersonal attachment.
Life is too short to remain strangers to others—or to ourselves.
Keith Ablow, MD