After many years of relationships and trying to shape and change myself so I could fit whoever it was I was dating, I realized that I didn't really know myself anymore.
I didn't know what kind of music I really liked, I didn't know my favorite hobbies, I didn't know what my clothing style was... I had changed so many things about myself because I was trying to build my identity off of my boyfriends.
(A note- and we'll talk about this later: Being challenged and experiencing new things aren't inherently bad. Not at all. But I wasn't honest with myself about my true opinions and feelings, and those lies became who I was. But yeah, we'll talk about that later.)
During my freshman year of college, I decided that before I could date again, before I could get to know someone new, I had to get to know myself. But where do you start with that?
Well, here's what I did. I realize that some of this sounds really cheesy and stupid, but it worked for me. I had to start from scratch, with little things, to build my confidence in my self-knowledge and self-esteem. I put all my discoveries on a PowerPoint presentation, because, as I would learn, I'm a big ole' nerd.
Stuff You'd Put on a Questionnaire
I started with the things you'd learn about someone if you were meeting them at a conference, or as an ice breaker game. Like I said, I had to start very small, very basic.
Favorite Color, Favorite Food, Favorite Season, Favorite Beverage, Favorite Number...- I went online to a paint company website and went through paint chips to find my actual favorite color. I tried out lots and lots of different foods- some I'd never had before. I made pro and con lists about seasons. You get the idea.
Favorite Kind of Music- This one was so hard. Two of my previous boyfriends had been very "into" music, and their favorites had become mine. I listened to tons of music in lots of different genres and then considered what it was that I liked about certain songs. And I realized that I actually hated several songs that I thought were my "favorites."
My Actual Personality Type
We'll talk about this one more in depth later on, but I took several personality tests to help me get to know myself better. It was very helpful.
We've all got 'em. I just didn't realize that I had some, too. When my roommates or friends would point out a funny thing that I do (like taking a sip from a friend's cup without asking- didn't know I did that), I'd write it down.
After I got some of the basics out of the way, I dug deeper. I thought about things I didn't like about myself, my values (like honesty and patience and hard work), what makes me excited, what scares me. I wrote goals for myself- honest, thoughtful goals- for the first time. I took stock of my faith walk, and started to incorporate spiritual disciplines into my life. I also did a lot of thinking about those past relationships- about what went wrong, about my contributions to issues, about what I really wanted in a relationship and what kind of guy would be right for me.
I realized some of the big (big, big) problems in those relationships, and committed myself to making sure those issues didn't come into my relationships again.
In the end, I learned a lot about myself. Some of it was pretty silly (my favorite color is periwinkle, I'm afraid of ladders, and I don't like scary movies), and some of it was really helpful in showing me why I am who I am, and what that means for my life.
Most of all, though, after that year of self-discovery, I felt like I had a solid foundation. I knew who I was, and could build from there. I was able to change in a healthy way, and instead of changing my identity to fit a guy, I could decide how I wanted to grow, and in what ways.
You can't expect to be in a healthy relationship if you don't have a healthy relationship with yourself. When I lied about who I was, I was also poisoning my friendships and my dating relationships, because they'd never get to know me. I had to know myself, first and foremost, before I could truly get to know anyone else.