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How to Redefine Your Sense of Self

by Justine Haemmerli October 15, 2020

What Stories Do You Believe About Yourself?


What words from people who are no longer in your life are still very much alive for you?


What stories were you told by people who are now gone, that you carry with you still?


These could be stories that your old lovers and partners said about your body, your love, your personality, your habits.


What words did they say about you?


How do these influence your sense of self today?


Today we're going to do a guided reflection activity to help you bring those stories to the surface, and make a conscious decision about whether you agree with them and want to keep telling yourself these stories about you, or whether you want to say goodbye to these portraits of yourself, and create a new one.


There's no right or wrong answer - the purpose is to help make these narratives about yourself conscious - bring them in front of your eyes so you can see them, instead of just having them running on automatic in the background.


That way, you can make an actual choice about whether or not you want to keep, edit, or toss them.

This gives you more control over your sense of self, how you feel about yourself, and the way you move throughout your life.

Portrait of You: Activity


This activity should take about 15 minutes, and you can do it with a paper and pen, or you can download the free template I created to accompany this activity (see below).

Portrait of You - A Guided Activity
Click the link below to download.

Download Now

Okay, let's get started!


Draw an outline of yourself on a piece of paper, and keep it next to you.


We will now move your awareness down your entire body.


Take one hand, and you're going to place it on each part of your body, starting at the top of your head and working your way down to your feet.


At each point, pause. Listen for what story you're holding on to that part of yourself.

Depending on What Works Best for You, You Can Try Any of These Variations:


  • Ask out loud "what do I think about you?" as you place your hand on your body part, and say out loud the first thing that pops into your mind. Record yourself with a video on your phone, or a voice text recorder. When you're done, play back the recording, and write down your answers on your paper, or on the free template.

  • Close your eyes and listen to any thoughts or intuitive messages that pop up as you place your hand on that part of your body. Then open your eyes and write them down on the corresponding area of your drawing.

  • Do this activity with a friend - have them place their hand on your head, shoulders, arm, etc, moving from your head to your feet. Say out loud whatever comes to mind when they touch each part of your body, and have them write down what you say on the corresponding area of your drawing. Or, place your own hand, and say your own answer out loud, with your partner recording your answer on the paper.

Person of Color Woman Hands Over HEart

Feeling Stuck?
Here Are Some Guiding Prompts to Get Ideas Flowing:


  • What physical sensation do you have in this area? Tightness? Sharpness? A shrinking to be smaller? Anxious fluttering? Heaviness? Emptiness?

  • What comments from others come to the surface at each point?

  • What memories are you holding in these different parts of your body?

Look at the “portrait” you have drawn. As you look at it, what feelings and thoughts arise for you?

What patterns can we start to see?


On a fresh piece of paper, or on the next page of your free template, write down any repeated words, feelings, or images you see in your writing.


If you can whittle this to 1-2 sentences, great. If you'd like to keep it as a list, also great.


Now that we have a sense of the stories about yourself that you're holding on to in your body, we're going to explore the stories of your identity that are created by your relationships.

Portrait of Your Relationships: Activity

Sisters Cooking Together

On your paper, draw a wheel, with you in the center, and important people’s names in the little circles at the ends of the spokes.


You can draw your own, or I made this free template that you can download, that has everything setup exactly as you need to do this activity.

Breakfast Table Spread Coffee Phone

Choose one color for yourself, one color for other people.


On the line between the two of you, write one word that characterizes the story you have of how you were towards that person.

Remember - this is not necessarily what you felt towards them, but what story you were told about your relationship to that person (ex: if you were told you were a difficult child, you would write that on the line to your parents, even if you didn’t believe that about yourself, or intend to be that way).


On the other side of the same line, use the “other” color to write 1-2 words that describe the story you were told about what you received from them.


Again, you're writing the story you were told, not necessarily what you felt.


For example:
  • A parent might have told you they sacrificed everything for you, even if you didn’t feel that way; this is the story you were told, so it is what you’d write on the line.

  • A friend might have said you always gave them nonjudgmental support. Whether or not this is how you felt inside, this is the story you were told - so that's what you'd write on the line.

  • A partner might have said they got too much attention from you. Whether this is was your intention or not, it's the story you were told - so you'll write it.

Caucasian Woman Holding Child

Time to Start Seeing the Portrait of You Emerge:


Once you have finished your wheel, take a fresh sheet of paper (or, turn to the next page of the template).


Write all the “you” words in one cluster.


Write all the “other” words in another cluster.


What patterns do you see in each?


Once you've noticed some repeated phrases, feelings, or images, take a moment to write down 1-2 sentences that summarize the main themes of your writing. Try writing it as an "I am" statement.

Remember - you don't have to believe, or agree with this portrait of yourself. Regardless of how you feel about it, this story has been operating within you, you've been carrying it as a narrative of who and how you are.

By bringing it to the surface so we can look at it, you'll be able to decide what you want to do about it, and take greater control of it.

Next Steps: Gaining Clarity

Person of Clor Woman Staring Out Window

Now that we have brought up some insights around the stories you carry about who you "are," we are going to use the Clarity Deck to help us work through what to do with all this information.


Below, you'll see four Question Cards turned over. Choose the one that you are most drawn to. This is the card you will start with.


Then, click through the slider to see your card flipped over, revealing the Question on the other side.

Next Steps: Writing About Your Card


  • Once you read your Question Card, take three minutes to write about how this Question relates to the writing you did earlier, regarding your "self-portraits."

  • Once you finish your Question Card writing, you can select a different Question Card from these four, or you can stop here for now, and return to the other cards later in the week.
Brand Ambassador Journal Writing

Once you have concluded all your writing, read over everything you have written.


I would suggest going through and underlining everything that is particularly interesting or important, reading over the underlined parts, and writing down any key take-aways on a fresh sheet of paper.


What next? These insights might take a little time to integrate into your mind, and your sense of self.

What you are doing here is shaking up the old stories you hold around your worth, your relationships, your personality - so it will take some time for you to fully grasp any changes that you'd like to make to these stories, or even challenging some that you've had for years, that perhaps you're starting to realize might not suit you any more.

As You Think About These Over the Next Few Days, Here are Some Ways You Can Continue to Build Off of What You Started Here:


  • If you go to therapy, bring your writing to your next appointment as a starting point for discussion with your therapist.

  • Share your insights with a friend or partner and ask for any input they might have - but be sure to frame your request for feedback very specifically, so you guide them to share with you exactly what you actually need and want.

  • While having breakfast, or before going to bed each day this week, write for 1-3 minutes about any new thoughts you have around this larger writing you did here.

Let me know below what insights came up for you through this activity - I hope it was interesting and informative, and I look forward to hearing how it's supporting your growth!


PS - As an added bonus, I included a Self-Care Quiz below the Blog Summary.

BLOG POST SUMMARY:

  • The stories that you're told about YOU color your belief about yourself. You make a conscious decision about whether you agree with them and want to keep telling yourself these stories about you, or whether you want to say goodbye to this multi-faceted portrait of yourself, and create a new one.
  • The Portrait of You Activity helps you discover what these stories about you ARE.
  • The Portrait of Your Relationships Activity examines the relationships in your life. Once both these activities are completed, a fuller version of you is created. Remember - you don't have to believe, or agree with this portrait of yourself. Regardless of how you feel about it, this story has been operating within you, you've been carrying it as a narrative of who and how you are. But by bringing it to the surface so we can look at it, you'll be able to decide what you want to do about it, and take greater control of it.
  • In the Gaining Clarity Activity, what you are doing here is shaking up the old stories you hold around your worth, your relationships, your personality - so it will take some time for you to fully grasp any changes that you'd like to make to these stories, or even challenging some that you've had for years, that perhaps you're starting to realize might not suit you any more.
Justine Haemmerli
Justine Haemmerli

Educator, Consultant, Founder of Girls Gone Happy


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