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Most of us seem to possess an underlying essence that makes us who we are — a constant that remains with us throughout our lives.
This essence has different names according to various spiritual or philosophical traditions. Buddhists call it the "self," but reject the idea that we all have a unique self that sticks around throughout our lifetimes. Other monotheistic religions might call this essence a "soul" that outlasts our physical bodies and is judged based on our worldly deeds after death. Other philosophical traditions might refer to this as our "ego."
While people have pondered these concepts for millennia, neuroscientists and psychologists are just starting to unravel many of the neurological and environmental mechanisms that combine to create this perception of integrated selfhood.
Most people feel that at a certain point, their body ends and the rest of the world begins. This sensation is known as the embodied self.
The perspectival self allows us to experience the world from a first-person point of view. But there are also certain contexts where this perspective can be disrupted. There are even cases in which our point of view, or the mind’s eye, can appear as if it is operating outside of us.
A depersonalization disorder is a condition in which people feel they are watching themselves go about their lives. Individuals with this disorder often say they feel disconnected from reality and are moving through life on autopilot.
Depersonalization experiences usually co-occur with traumatic events, or prolonged severe stress.
The volitional self is related to feelings of agency and free will. Human beings, like any other organisms, have to interact with their environment in a way that ensures their ongoing survival. While human beings cannot consciously control the internal states of their body (i.e. heartbeat, bowel movements, adrenaline levels), they can control which actions they take to ensure their survival. Theorists suggest this inherited ability may be inextricably linked to our feelings of agency.
The narrative self is associated with the autobiographical nature of our memories. Scientists have observed that dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions can have significant effects on our narrative notions of selfhood. As these diseases advance, memory and other cognitive functions can decline. Patients commonly forget careers, family members and meaningful life events. In some cases, people even experience drastic personality changes.
The social self relates to the roles we play in different social contexts and how we perceive others perceiving us. As deeply social creatures, most people spend a lot of time considering others’ opinions of us. We crave connection and validation among our peers.
Some researchers might even argue that without other people around us, we couldn’t form a concept of self.
Solve the problem or leave the problem. But…… Do not live with the problem.
Our various selves.
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