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Mapping the Territory of the Self

Image by Nikki Rosato

I love the idea that the self is ultimately mysterious, that it is far more than we can imagine. On the other hand, shedding light on the murkier aspects of myself – and facilitating this in others – has been one of my greatest pleasures.

Before we set out on any journey, it’s useful to know the territory we are working with. At the same time, we are always more vast than we can know. It is out of our vastness that miracles and surprises come, which create a gorgeous sense of joy and awe in the discovery process.

In what follows, I offer a lovely tool, which we use at Kailo Mentoring Group: a way to begin to map our inner territory, the landscape of the self.

Mapping the Self:

This is a process of exploring your formation. You'll discover ideas and forces that helped create who you are. This is a process of mapping your child view of the world that you have carried into the present. You will explore moments in your life, particularly moments in childhood, where you came to a conclusion about yourself or the world. The more we shed light on our unconscious or less-conscious beliefs about ourselves and the world, the more we have a choice in how we live.

Moments, Beliefs, Rules, Parts:

What we remember matters. We’ve had thousands and thousands of experiences and yet we only remember a fraction of what we've experienced. According to Alfred Adler, we choose our memories because they confirm our beliefs about ourselves and the world... and those beliefs create who we are.[1] If there is a moment or memory that really stands out for us, we can unpack it to reveal a piece of our worldview.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Moments: Create a list of moments – memories and stories – that stand out in your life.

  2. Beliefs: Choose one Moment and let yourself enter into your child-mind and imagine from the child’s perspective what you might have believed this experience meant about you and/or the world.

  3. Rules: Explore how you decided to live or be because of that experience.

  4. Parts: Ask yourself what parts of your personality all this inspired.

  5. Now go back, choose another Moment and begin again.

Here’s one example from my own life:


I’m 8 or so and I go to dinner at a neighbor’s house. They are having pork chops and I don’t know how to cut my meat with a knife and fork. (My family are kind of hippies and we eat with our hands or with a spoon or fork, we don’t really cut anything at home.) They assume I’m spoiled and my mom cuts my meat for me. The mother is very condescending and says everyone will wait until I cut my meat and I cut it awkwardly while they all watch.


There are things others know that I don’t know.

I’m lacking. I’m stupid.

I don’t fit in. I don’t belong. I’m weird

I’m not enough.

Regular / normal people are mean and judgmental.


Avoid / judge normal things.

Pretend you don’t care.


The feral child

The rebel

The girl who doesn’t care

The one who refuses to be normal

The dumb-dumb/incompetent one

Choice, Growth & Freedom:

For me, the process of tracking Moments was revelatory. For one thing, I came to see that my beliefs and ways of being aren't so mysterious. I can track where they come from. My beliefs weren’t irrational when created but often don’t reflect my current grown-up world. Maybe they served me at some point in the past but they don’t necessarily serve me now.

Often, a number of beliefs are shaken in this process. For me, some of the beliefs that came into question were: There’s something wrong with me. I’m unlovable. Normal people are to be avoided. The world isn’t for me.

This inquiry helps create more of a space between having the belief and living as though the belief is true. As Victor Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”[2]

You are unique, your Moments are unique, and what you make of them is unique.

I believe this inquiry is ultimately sacred. Simply the act of shedding light, the act of bringing consciousness, is a kind act, and a movement towards greater freedom and possibility.

[1] Ansbacher, Heinz L. and Rowena R. Ansbacher. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1956, 351.

[2] Frankl, Viktor E. Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.

**The “Moments, Beliefs and Rules” aspect of this tool is inspired by The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential’s assignment called “Family Rules, Myths and Beliefs”. The Parts piece is inspired by Richard C. Schwartz & Internal Family Systems.

#selfknowledge #beliefs #insight #parts #growth #freedom

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