Who Am I?

How to Understand Who We Are

S. W. Stribling
7 min readJun 22, 2021


who am i, tribalism, how to understand who I am, i don’t know who i am, self-awareness
Wild. Free.

[This story was originally published here.]

‘I release my partner from the obligation to complete me.

I release my parents from the feeling they failed with me.

I release my children from the need to bring me pride, so they can write their own paths to the rhythm of their hearts, as it whispers in their ear.

I don’t lack anything, I learn from all beings, all the time.

Thanking my grandparents and ancestors who came together to allow me to be alive and follow my path today.

I release them from past failures and unfulfilled desires, knowing they have done their best to travel their way of living with their standard of consciousness.

I strip my soul before their eyes that’s why they know I don’t hide or owe anything.

I must be faithful to myself more than ever by walking with heart wisdom, I know that I am fulfilling my life project, free from family loyalties that can disrupt my peace and happiness, this detachment is my responsibility.

I surrender the role of the savior, to be the one who unites or meets the expectations of others.

I cherish my essence, my way of expressing it, even if not everyone can understand me.

I honor you, I love you and recognize your innocence.

I honor the divinity in me and you…

We are free.’

— Shamanic Blessing translated from Nahuatl

A bit different than the photo above, but most of us are wandering the Earth. Perhaps we are accomplished, settled, and even fulfilled. Yet, no doubt, many of us carry a very real and deep concern:

We don’t really know who we are.

Of course, we can say our names and where we are from and what career choices we have made. And this generic outline of ‘who we are’ is usually enough to satisfy ourselves or anybody listening to us.

But it doesn’t take long for this shallow biography to lose its value. It doesn’t take long for us to want to look a little deeper at who we are in the terms of:

  • What am I honestly worth as a human being?
  • What do I truly value most in this world?
  • How do I really feel about _____?

We could, of course, just look at our bank accounts to see our worth or resort to our religious or political views to define our values. Yet that isn’t really who we are, is it?

who am i, tribalism, how to understand who I am, i don’t know who i am, self-awareness
Don’t worry. I’m going to explain further.

When we feel lost about who we are, we often allow ourselves to be adrift in this world taking any and all praise we can get to feel valuable and worthy even if it isn’t who we truly are.

More than searching for praise by writing a comment most people will agree with or posting a picture most people will like, we are more likely to accept the condemnation others put on us. If somebody says something that makes us feel like a ‘bad’ person, we will accept it as truth because we have no internal knowledge about ourselves to rightly deny it.

We are helpless to the opinions of others.

We will wait and wonder what other people say we deserve before coming to an answer on our own. We will look to join groups that will applaud us for everything we say or do, even if that means saying things we don’t really know anything about. Whatever the crowd loves or believes, we will be there too — laughing at jokes that aren’t funny and accepting opinions that are in trend.

We will do all of this and deny our true talents and thoughts for comfortable, fashionable wins.

We get stuck in a dangerous and easy habit of obediently looking for public opinion. ‘What did this guy say about our president?’ Okay, I’m jumping on that bandwagon. Rather than checking our own internal gauges, we mirror ourselves to the world’s slightest inclinations to know what we should want, value, and feel.

who am i, tribalism, how to understand who I am, i don’t know who i am, self-awareness
3 notifications! Maybe somebody liked my popular opinion in a group of people that all think the same way.

Look. I get it. It’s hard. We should be kind to ourselves once we realize we are just another face in the crowd. No one is really born with the ability to define themselves independent of a social world. If we are lucky, we may have had someone teach us in our early life who we are through mirroring our actions and feelings rather than just saying, ‘Oh, look who’s a happy boy.’

‘Stop squeezing my cheeks, Mom. I’m very unhappy right now.’

Based on how most of us were raised, if we tried to paint a picture of ourselves that was based on how we truly felt mixed with how people mirrored us to teach us about ourselves, we would be a Picasso painting. Is that why Picasso painted the way he did?

If we had been taught early what we were like and not what people wanted us to be, we would have the strength now to build on that. We would have the courage and confidence to defend ourselves against the rushed and malicious intentions of other people’s thoughts about us or the world around us.

Knowing who we are is a result of having someone who knows who we are.

A godhead is never an object of its own knowledge. A knife can’t cut itself and fire can’t burn itself. We need someone to see us for who we really are and then successfully mirror this image so we can see it and study it and know it.

who am i, tribalism, how to understand who I am, i don’t know who i am, self-awareness
This monkey is probably more insightful than most humans walking the earth today.

How does this mirroring work, you ask? Well, much like we use a physical mirror to study our physical selves (and know our image), this other human would mirror our thoughts and feelings to give us an accurate picture of who we are on the inside.

  • It must have really been painful to lose your grandpa.
  • It’s okay to feel sad on your birthday.
  • Painting really brings out your creativity, doesn’t it?
  • You must be quite the strategic mind based on the games you like to play, eh?

These small gestures that reflect us through others teach us about ourselves or affirm what we think we already know. Now, ideally, these gestures aren’t just teaching the other person who they are, but also saying, ‘It’s okay. I accept you like that.’ Even better if they like that about you, but let’s not get too greedy.

Of course, these reflections are only interpretations of the other person, but they still help far beyond trying to post a picture or comment we know others will like just to feel validated for something we are not.

who am i, tribalism, how to understand who I am, i don’t know who i am, self-awareness
What we look like according to Picasso.

Still, mirroring can go very badly if not done well.

  • Being told we are upset when we are contemplative can make it difficult for us to connect with our emotions.
  • Being repeatedly told our actions are ‘no good’ makes us feel condemned and not accepted.
  • Being ignored will make us feel invisible, that we are unworthy of attention or focus.

Most of us grew up with one, if not all, of these mirroring problems. It’s okay. Once again, as self-aware and capable adults, we can start to solve the problem now.

It won’t be easy, but if we can find a wise friend or afford a good therapist, they can help mirror and then validate us correctly. With their eyes and input, we will finally be able to see ourselves for who we really are and not who we have been trying to convince ourselves that we are.

  • We begin to understand what we want and not what we think we should want.
  • We can see how we really feel about certain issues in life and not just reflect the latest meme.
  • We can take our own side against the crowd, unafraid to say no to them all.
  • We can avoid being swept away in a wind of ‘truths’ that are in vogue so that we may possess our own truths.

When we get to this point, we won’t beg for compliments or recognition. We won’t be frightened by ‘but what if somebody contradicts me’. We will be original in our thinking and true to ourselves.

We will have learned the rare, yet necessary, art of knowing (and being okay with) who we are.



S. W. Stribling

Creative and thought-provoking material with a touch of humor. Author of the ‘Sin & Zen’ series. www.wstribling.com @SWStribling