Senses of Self

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), there are “senses of self” –

  • There is the thinking self, or the conceptualized self. This is the part of you that makes judgments, plans, and has beliefs and memories. This is also that part of you that generates thoughts about yourself. For example, “I am… young, kind, compassionate, smart, etc.”.
  • Then there is also the observing self, or the self-as-context. This is your continuous and going self-awareness of your own experience in the present moment. This is the part of you knows what is going on within you while it is happening. For example, “Now I am feeling this”, or “Now I am remembering this”. This is the part of you that is able to observe what you are thinking, feeling, or doing, in the moment.

It is important to practice being your observing self as this is the part of you that does not change. Your thinking self, or how you conceptualize yourself, may change over time, or even in the moment. For example, not doing so well on a test might have you changing how you think of yourself (“I am not smart”) but your observing self can let you know that how you are feeling may be impacting your thinking self. Similarly, your thinking self can impact your observing self, for example, identifying with a mental health problem, such as “I have depression”, or “I have anxiety”, might keep you stuck and prevent you from enjoying what is happening around you. The observing self can pull you out of your thoughts and into the present.

The observing self, in a lot of ways, is similar to mindfulness. Our brains like to think a lot, and sometimes, it’s important to pull them into the now so that we can live life more fully. Try tapping into your observing self and give your thinking self a break!

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