Who Are You?
To me, one of the most meaningful scenes in the 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland—based on the novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There—is when a caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?”
Caterpillar: Who are you?
Alice: I hardly know, sir. I’ve changed so many times since this morning, you see?
Caterpillar: I do not see. Explain yourself.
Alice: I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir; because I’m not myself, you know?
Caterpillar: I do not know.
Alice: But I cannot put it anymore clearly, fore it isn’t clear to me.
Caterpillar: You? Who are you?
Alice: Well, don’t you think you ought to tell me who you are first?
Alice: Dear, everything is so confusing.
Caterpillar: It is not.
Alice: Well, it is to me.
Alice: Well, I can’t remember things as I used to.
I can’t count how many television shows, films, streaming series, and songs I’ve encountered which contain a similar motif. What may seem like a simple question turns out to be one of the most difficult to answer.
Who are you?
Dear reader, what is your answer to this question? In the simplest terms, a person may offer one’s name as an answer, stating something like, “I’m John Doe.”
However, John’s name isn’t who he is. Rather, it merely addresses how others refer to him. Likewise, Mr. Doe isn’t a collection of fingerprints, retinal scans, or DNA samples, because these elements suggest what he is.
Similarly, John’s place in time—perhaps captured in the memories of others who could pick him out of a police lineup—suggests little more other than when or where he was (e.g., walking through a park a week ago and now identified as a suspect of a crime from behind a two-way mirror).
Even when attempting to describe why he is, John may offer a materialist perspective about his moment of conception. Examining how, what, when, where, and why do not explain who John is.
When I began incorporating the caterpillar’s technique into my psychotherapeutic practice, I realized how many of my clients couldn’t answer the straightforward question. That is with the exception of one person who plainly stated, “I am G-d and so are you. We are all G-d.”
Mostly, I receive confused looks from people who go on to ask why I pose what’s perceived as a rudimentary question. After all, if the therapist you’ve received treatment from for the past several years doesn’t know who you are, it may be time to search for a new clinician, right?
Would it surprise you to know I am not today the same as I was a decade ago? If still alive a decade from now, I likely won’t be the same as I currently am.
Who then am I—the version of Deric from 10 years ago, the one who is presently writing this post, or the imagined person 10 years into the future? Looking at old photos and videos of myself, I hardly identify with what I see.
Presuming the reader understands the concept addressed herein, I invite you to think about the complexity of an unambiguous question that may be virtually unanswerable without devoted time and attention to the contemplation of this matter.
Even if one were able to unequivocally state who one is, there may not be a method of objectively verifying the declaration. I could profess that I’m the King of the Shadow Realm, though my assertion is an unverifiable claim.
Further assuming that the reader doesn’t reject the premise of this post, I encourage you to practice unconditional acceptance (UA) with yourself, others, and life. This is a technique I use when practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
“Unconditional” means that John Doe doesn’t say to himself, “I will accept myself only when I can answer the question about who I am,” because John’s rigid condition defeats the purpose of UA. Instead, John can tolerate and accept his own ignorance related to not knowing who he is.
Dear reader, what lesson may you take from this post? How might an exercise in UA about your own identity transfer to other areas of your life? Keep in mind the following portion of Alice’s conversation with the caterpillar:
Alice: Dear, everything is so confusing.
Caterpillar: It is not.
Some—if not most—matters in life may seem confusing, because we rigidly demand that we should, must, or ought to have answers that likely don’t exist in the first place. Rather than disturbing ourselves with unhelpful demands, we can simply practice UA and continue moving throughout Wonderland.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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