Embarking on the long, amazing, but arduous journey into the examined life and towards self-actualization is profoundly fulfilling and necessary if your wish is to become what psychologist Carl Rogers called a fully functioning person. It leads the way to uncovering your true essence; the who and what you really are, deep down inside. And it will help you to become the best that you can be. It`s about searching for and facing truth, ditching the rose-coloured glasses, and dropping all illusions and defences. It’s an extremely compelling, rewarding, and most importantly healthy thing to do. But the examined life doesn’t come easy. It is not without discomfort and in fact, it may often be painful. It also takes an awful lot of self-reflection, to the point where you may start to feel a little narcissistic about the whole thing. Unfortunately, you have to deal with the narcissistic guilt because there really is no way around it. Self-examination is, after all, about examining the self: that`s you. It`s all about you – or more specifically in this case – all about me; the id, ego and superego/me, myself and I.
I realized early on in my journey towards self-actualization that it would require plenty of introspection and self-examination. What I didn`t fully anticipate was just how all-absorbing it would become. Once you start to peer inward for answers, you realize that there are many, many more questions than you could ever have anticipated. The more you dig, the more you need to know. The more stones you turn, the more undesirables you tend to find underneath. It’s exhausting work, yet it’s fascinating; addictive even.
If you are one of the inward-focussed (read introverted) as I am, it will be a little easier as you will already know your inner landscape very well. It will be a familiar and welcoming place to you. After you have been on your journey for some time, you will begin to know all of the corners of your secret garden. You will know exactly where to go to find your reflecting pool, or that peaceful, quiet spot for contemplation. You will create your own mental dock of the bay, and you will go there often. You will get to know your happy place and your sad place. Your moments of loneliness will lead you to a haven of comfort in your inner garden, and your exhilaration will seek to find its place in the sun where it can fully expand and be set free. You will experience the full spectrum of emotion – good, bad and evil - but mostly, you will be inspired.
Reaching for the summit inevitably forces you to think about yourself in every possible way imaginable; from every direction, within and without, up and down and all around. However, what feels like selfish indulgence is the unfortunate but necessary side-effect of deep introspection. Without deep introspection, you can`t expect to greet yourself on the other side of Maslow‘s summit. It is important to remember that what feels like selfishness and narcissism now, is in fact what will lead you to become less self-centered. It will, in the end, result in taking you to a place where you will be better able to give of yourself to others.
It will open you up, deeply and widely, and that’s where you will find the fully functioning person that you were meant to be, just as Rogers and Maslow promised.
And, if on the way towards the summit you encounter obstacles – which of course you will – keep in mind that there is no gain without pain, no growth without angst, and no genuine insight without deep (self-centered) introspection, and self-examination.
It really is the only way to get to where you want to be.