The search for the subjective self

Rembrandt's self-portrait
Rembrandt’s self-portrait

The search for the subjective self

To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self. And to venture in the highest sense is precisely to become conscious of one’s self. -Kierkegaard (May, 1953)

When we embark on a quest to find the subjective self, we enter rough terrain. For that reason, many choose not to go at all. The journey does not come with a map. The compass comes from within.  Along the way, there will be some foreseen and unforeseen obstacles, yet only inward searching for subjective awareness can move the quest forward. The journey is never-ending. It is not a race and your time is not recorded. There is no scale to measure results and outcomes are not tangible. This adventure is an exploration to find something that is important, that lies beneath and is something we hope to bring to the surface.

This journey takes place inside the individual. Liken the journey to the process of finding and unraveling a mummy. As the layers are peeled away, our core being, our subjective self is revealed. One becomes newly aware of the distractions, pressure, and norms put upon us by the outside world that makes this a trying journey. The lack of awareness has allowed the objective world to take our subjective hostage. Only the individual can negotiate his or her own release.

To free the subjective self we must find it, listen to it, and embrace it. Only then can we live with fruitful vitality in the state of being. Bringing awareness of the subjective to one’s consciousness will foster the possibility of further developing the subjective self and thus living a more fruitful and genuinely authentic existence. To be fully alive is to be committed to continually evolving and to find our identity in the process. We cannot deduce a fixed identity. We are constantly “in transit” (Bugental, 1976).  Lack of awareness of one’s self and one’s plight to be and become is prevalent in today’s society; it breeds apathy which in turn, causes a void of passion and vitality for one’s existence.

To become aware of one’s self is not an easy task: it is hard to locate, define, or describe (Hoffman, Yang, Francis, Chan, 2009). The search, however, contains the possibility of living harmoniously in accord with who and what we are. It is a difficult yet rewarding endeavor. The quest for the self can become a convoluted endeavor as it is easier to comprehend that which is tangible or objective. It is hard to look, listen, and be aware of one’s subjective self. “The more consciousness,” remarked Kierkegaard, “the more self” (as cited it May, 1953, p. 82). Becoming attuned to our inner consciousness is compulsory in the search for our subjective self.

While embarking on this quest it is important that self and the subjective are understood. The latter embodies and synthesizes what individuals truly are; that is the subjective self.

Self refers to a person’s composite image of who/what one is. It usually includes, among other things, an image of oneself in relation to family, work, friends, and so on. It contains the person’s assessment of self’s strengths and weaknesses, of personal traits, of what is valued and what is feared.  A person’s self grows by accretion over the years and may seldom really be examined to see whether it is up-to-date and truly representative. Yet, again and again, we make choices and profoundly influence our lives in terms of this implicit image. (Bugental, 1978, p. 5)

The subjective, the inner voice is the key to discovering one’s authentic self. The subjective is hard to ascertain because we are programmed to perceive based on the surrounding external environment.

Subjectivity refers to the inner, and separate, realm in which we live most genuinely. The furnishing or structure of this realm are our perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and emotions, values, and preferences, anticipations and, fantasies and the dreams, and all else that goes on endlessly night and day, waking and sleeping, and so determines what we do in the external world and what make of what happens to us there. (Bugental, 1987, p. 7)

That means one lives in and experiences the external world yet is not bound to the external world; individuals are the conductor of their one-person orchestra.

The subjective discovery process is never-ending. Life is like a river. It has a constant flow. Sometimes things are good, sometimes things are bad. There is a continual stream of existence. The river of life encompasses matters that are within our control with the understanding that things will occur that are beyond our control.

It is time we become aware and partake in this fruitful discovery process!

— Robert Buonfiglio