As promised, we are going to be providing you with resources to help you connect to your Core Self.
To learn more about how trauma and invalidation can separate a person from their Core Self, you can visit this post:
Disconnection from the Core Self is Dissociation as a Matter of Existence
A lot of people, especially those with long-term experiences of trauma, neglect, or being misunderstood, have had to form masks as their way of existing. These masks have interacted with the world to such a degree that the person has lost contact with who they are, their Core Self.
Knowing who you are, at your Core, is the beginning of breaking the grip of so much generational and complex trauma and a life of existential dissociation.
What is My Core Self?
Your Core Self is the voice inside of you asking, “Who am I?” Your masks do not feel pain. The pain is felt by your Core Self.
But it’s possible that you grew up never being allowed to set boundaries, that you were pressured to perform as more neurotypical, white, straight, wealthy, or other identities as a matter of safety.
Over time, you may have dissociated from your Core Self, regarding it as a burden to be discarded.
If you feel like you have no— or very little— idea of who you are, then reconnecting with your Core Self will be a journey for you.
But first, what the Core Self is not
Your Core Self is not a fully formed human hiding inside of you. It is not a statue cast in bronze and set in concrete.
Your Core is more like clay that can be worked and molded and formed over time. Your experiences, relationships, education, and circumstances will impact your Core—to a degree.
Even for people who know themselves well, their Core Self is different from what it was five years ago, or even one year ago.
Who Am I?
Attached is an image of a worksheet (created by me and drawn by Kate Jones) that is designed to help you learn more about who you are.
And here is a free printable PDF.
Completing the Worksheet
When completing this resource, keep the following in mind:
- You can’t do it “wrong”
- Your identity is your perception of yourself, not what others think about you
- If you’re not connected to your Core Self, your answers will likely change dramatically as you do reconnection work
- It may be hard to understand the difference between what is your Core and what your masks are
- The dials and sliders represent how dominant certain aspects of your identity are. This is not how much you love those aspects or even how much time you spend on them. It’s how much you see them as defining your Core Self (examples below).
- Your identity can be made of social intersections (race, gender, heritage, religion), values (justice, nonviolence, compassion), experiences and hobbies (rock climbing, welding, vinyl record collector), relationships (spouse, parent, grandparent), or passions (cooking, art, film).
How to know the difference between your Core Self and your masks
Do this worksheet expecting to show it to your family.
Do it again expecting to post it on social media.
Do it again expecting to show it to your classmates/work colleagues.
Do it again expecting to show it to your romantic partner (or crush) if you have one.
Do it again expecting to show it to the congregation at your place of worship (if applicable).
Now do it again expecting to show it to no one ever.
Compare and Contrast
If you were influenced by who was going to be reading your sheet, it’s likely that you’re masking to an extent that you’ve lost connection with your Core Self and your masks are interacting with others at the existential level.
You can compare and contrast each version to help you understand yourself better. If you put “Richly Blessed” in the dominant column you expected to share with your religious congregation, but put “Proud parent” on the version you intended to show your family, that will give you some insight into your masks.
Whatever you put on the version you intended to never show anyone is closer to your Core Self.
I’m going to show you my current Core Self worksheet and talk through my process to illustrate what identity looks like for me and why I filled out my sheet the way I did.
1. Antiques: 3.5/11
I have always loved antiques. They connect me to my grandparents and history in a way that textbooks never did. I also love the lifestyle of antiquing as it’s something many of my family members enjoy. There’s a thrill in the buying, selling, treasure hunting, storytelling, and negotiating that goes along with it. Often, it is a way to honor a specific person’s history.
For many people where I grew up, this is their only way to survive financially. There are flea market encampments in the vacant parking lots of closed and burned down businesses.
2. Psychology: 2/11
My grad school degree is in psychology. I know a lot about it. My understanding influences how I see and interpret the world around me. It used to be a much larger piece of my identity, but as other facets became more dominant, this has become less and less a part of my Core.
3. Decolonizing: 11/11
Perhaps my longest-running and deepest passion is decolonizing. I was getting in trouble in kindergarten for protesting the injustices of romanticizing the slave traders and genocidal settlers in history lessons.
In 1998, I was introduced to colonialism as more of a framework for understanding what I saw at the root of all inequity. Everything I think and do is filtered through this lens and will likely always be an 11 of 11 as a dominant facet of my identity.
4. Plants, glass, and stones: 4.5/11
My love of plants, glass, and stones is deeply interconnected with other parts of my identity, like ancestry, antiquing, and even decolonizing as they represent aspects of my native culture, history, and ancestral traditions.
5. Communication Rights 10.5/11
Communication rights is newer to my Core Self than other aspects of my identity, but it’s such a deeply held passion that I see as one of the greatest human rights crises of our era. Because this is so central to my Core, I often get on everyone’s nerves by bringing up communication rights for apraxic nonspeakers in conversations where it is inconvenient for the dominant narrative.
This facet is inseparable from decolonizing, as I believe in the inherent worth, dignity, and rights of all people and focus on populations most denied those rights.
6. Teacher/Education: 2/11
I was a public school teacher for 14 years. This was historically a very important part of my identity. However, I began to lose hope in the possibility of a free and appropriate education for all children.
While I have deep knowledge and experience in this field, it is no longer dominant in my identity.
7. Melungeon: 11/11
Melungeons are a tri-racial/multiracial isolate, made up of Native Indians, Romani/indentured Europeans/Eurasians, and formerly-enslaved Africans, who lived in specific pockets of Appalachia. They were forced into hiding, downplaying, and erasing their cultural and ethnic heritage to survive.
These are my ancestors, and I’m determined to know them and honor their truths. Connecting with my ancestors is connecting with my Core Self.
8. Autism: 6/11
For a time, being Autistic would have been an 11/11 with regards to its dominance in my sense of self. It answered so many questions and gave me an avenue to explain what was previously so misunderstood.
I’ve always been autistic. Being different has always been a part of my story, but the construct of autism as Core to me and my work is relatively new.
9. Parent: 4/11
Parenting my child is my top priority. I love her more than I love every other human alive.
But, being a parent is not a big part of my identity, or what makes me who I am. Instead, my identity moreso is a big part of how I parent.
10. Poor: 9.5/11
When I say Poor, with a capital P, I am not talking about my current financial status (though that tracks). I mean that I am from the generational Poor, from the poorest and least educated region of the country, from generations of coal miners.
Both of my grandfathers died of black lung. My father has 100% black lung and has already had quintuple bypass surgery twice after massive heart attacks. He has no cartilage left in many of his joints. He worked 72 hours a week, came home jet black with only the whites of his eyes visible every day. He blew his nose when he would come home, and even that was jet black.
Twice, mountains collapsed on him.
There were no other jobs. Men worked the mines, they collected aluminum cans and scrap metal off the side of the road, or they became a preacher. That was it.
I feel that more than neurology, being from the culture I’m from sets me apart from others. It is a story of resilience and generational curses, of oppression and survival, of grief and loss, but also of community in a way the rest of the country has never experienced.
I was ashamed of this most of my life. I tried to mask it away. I worked so hard trying to lose my accent. I didn’t ever want to tell people where I was from.
But now, I embrace this part of my Core Self as an important part of my cultural history and my understanding of the world. It is authentic and true to me.
Your Identity Journey
I added a space to record the date on this worksheet so that you could document your journey to reconnecting to your Core Self over time.
The more you get to know yourself, dominant aspects of your identity at this point will be eclipsed as you develop your passions, lose the shame instilled in you by traumatic influences, drop your masks, and set boundaries to protect your Core Self.
It’s okay to do this over and over until it feels true. In fact, it might be very therapeutic. You may feel a sense of triumph as you drop masks and what was never serving you and you learn what is worth honoring and protecting.
I can’t recommend enough how important it is to do at least one version of this that you do not intend to share with anyone. If you’re living your life disconnected from your Core Self, then your masks are reactions to the moods and behaviors and perceptions of others.
To get through the masks, you need to remove the scorn or praise (two sides of the same coin) of an audience.
It’s work, but your Core Self is worth the effort!
Meet our friends!
Check out our community coordinator, Sarah Waldecker’s sheet!
And chief decolonizing officer, Jude Afolake Olubodun’s!
And student rights consultant, Mari Cerda!
Stay tuned for more examples and more resources to connect to your Core Self.
If you’re sharing your journey to reconnect to your identity online, please tag @NeuroClastic on social media.
- My family’s autism services are working for us, so we will probably lose them - May 24, 2023
- What autistics mean when we say this world is not made for us: How fun activities push autistics into the margins - December 23, 2022
- Being a Great Parent to Your Autistic Child at Fall Festivals and Halloween Events - October 31, 2022
this is great! 🤩
I love this concept, but don’t quite understand how to use the knobs and sliders and how they’re already written in. If the first thing I think about is (for example) 7/11, do I still write it in the first field, where the knob is at 4/5 ? Thank you! -emily
P,S. I know all about the Melungeon people (I’m glad the heritage is being reclaimed!) because I play Bluegrass, and some of the very greatest Bluegrass musicians (including some of my old bandmates) were Melungeon and from the Virginia /Tennessee border.
Thank you for sharing this outstanding resource, and your story. Also, RIP Loretta Lynn, who may be among your kin (at least in spirit).
I’ve really needed a resource like this, thank you for making it and being transparent with your own identities and stories. I’m eager to try it.
Love the idea of this, will definitely be taking part!
Until the end we still don’t know what we will do, what kind of person we will become
What? I don’t understand this at all? I’m meant to pull traits out of thin air when I’m saying I don’t know who I am? No framework? I don’t get it. I’m being completely serious, I couldn’t begin to approach this.