How we form our view of ourselves and how the world sees us has evoked discussion for centuries.

Different views of ‘self’ form the basis of our understanding of identity and how we think about our identity. Plato suggested an ‘essence’ of the self, separate to the physical self. Existentialists such as Sartre believed in the primal experience of living and dying, rejecting the notion of an essence of self. Descartes was another who believed in a difference between mind and self, “I think, therefore I am”

Freud, as a psychoanalyst, sees the self as a growing, developing entity that is subjected to experiences resulting in a healthy self, or a self which adversely affected by negative parenting or painful experiences. Jung believed in the power of the unconscious mind to overcome interruptions formed by the ego. Lao and other eastern thinkers saw the ego as a false sense of self, or illusionary self, that can be moved through meditation. They influenced Fritz Perls, one founder of Gestalt Psychotherapy, who saw self as something only to be experienced in relation with another. Perls influenced Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the founders of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

Many self-improvement practitioners follow the path of Humanists, such as Maslow who picked up on Goldstein’s concept of ‘self- actualisation’ and made the goal one of finding a real or core self, an uncovering of self that could be actualised as a crucial element of human experience.

If all these philosophers and influential thinkers differ in their opinions so much, how are you supposed to make sense of how you find your identity and purpose? These brilliant thinkers have made invaluable contributions. I subscribe to the view that self is formed in relation, which is not surprising as I studied Gestalt Psychotherapy.

What’s your view? I’ll elaborate on mine in next week’s article.