In light of recent personal experiences, I have uncovered the importance of looking inwards. Today’s society makes it easy for us to not pay attention to how we feel, why we act the way we do and what we need to do in order to have our best selves out there. In a time of turmoil, it is easy to blame outside surroundings. With resources such as technology and the knowledge that society shapes a lot of what and how we think, it is especially easy to hold an external locus of control. We blame society and technology for our depressive states, our bad moods, our negative feelings.
I propose a solution to this attribution epidemic: Look inwards.
Personal reflections help us to understand ourselves in terms of our own experiences and situations. To begin personal reflection, we must first look at other people. In social psychology, the social comparison theory suggests that people compare themselves to other people in order to obtain an accurate assessment of their own opinions, abilities and internal states. Thus, naturally, we are always comparing ourselves to our peers. This may seem detrimental to our self-concept, but it actually has the reverse effect. In comparing ourselves to other people, we assess our own skills and notice need for improvement or adjustment in terms of internal states.
In relation to this topic, I would like to entertain the notion that strangers facilitate this process even more than the people we are familiar with. I am taking a SAGES course this semester called Among Strangers. This course focuses on the figure of “the stranger” and what about strangeness makes them unfamiliar yet recognizable as a stranger. In this class, I have realized that upon meeting a stranger, many of us initially look inwards in order to compare them to ourselves. If the individual does not relate to us in any way, we identify them as a “stranger”.
The process of first comparing the individual to ourselves and then making a decision about the strangeness of their being doubles as a process of self-reflection. We determine whether or not the individual’s interests and personality traits are cohesive with what we consider to be normal. We look in at ourselves and ask, “Am I normal? Do I like these things?” Meeting strangers helps us to therefore learn more about ourselves.
Going through sorority recruitment a couple of weeks back—meeting and talking to thirty-plus girls, who at the time were all strangers to me—drove me to really look into myself. I was forced to talk about my passions and to, articulate them in such a way that I never knew I could. I realized just how passionate about people and the study of people I really am.
Since then, I have been able to deal with personal issues and internal dissonance. I have looked at what really matters to me and have been able to put those things first. I cut out negative people and habits. In these last three weeks, I have felt more like myself than I have my entire life. I know what I want, how I want to achieve it and who I want by my side.
I share this testimony for any of those struggling to find peace within themselves. Whether it be struggling with personal issues or with the rigor of Case Western Reserve University, I challenge you to look inwards and to evaluate where you are and what you want. In this, you will find a humility that allows you to appreciate yourself and others around you.
Side note: Take care of yourself. Sleep regularly, eat healthy foods and try to exercise. These habits will give you energy, will spike your self-confidence and will allow the process of self-reflection to come easier. However, don’t get too involved within yourself. It is important to remain socially interested in order to avoid getting lost in your own personal struggles. Surround yourself with people that help you improve but who you want to see improve as well.
If you are experiencing extreme difficulties with mental health, I encourage you to reach out to the many University Health and Counseling Services on campus.
Courtney is a first-year student majoring in psychology. And maybe sociology. And maybe cognitive science. One of her talents includes not being able to decide what she wants to do in life.