Knowing yourself

To know others is wisdom, to know yourself is enlightenment.

The understanding of yourself, will ultimately allow you to see life as it is, this is a great gift, even though its understanding might not seem so pleasant at first. To understand yourself there are many ways, I can only share those which I found to be useful, you ultimately have to decide what makes sense for you. If you expect to find universal truth written in these words, then I will have to disappoint you, they are only tools and guides to help you on your way.

The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. - Socrates

I will not beat around the proverbial bush, every human being, within the limits of their mind, and so long as they are not ill, contains a far greater spectrum of humanity than most people would think on an ordinary day. It is the story of the ego, the story of the hero that we try to live, which distracts sometimes from the greater humanity. Carl Jung understood this and spoke of the unconscious parts of our minds, the wild nature, as compared to the neatly maintained garden that most people consider themselves.

album cover inner path
Album cover for, how closely related do you consider walking the inner path and knowing yourself?

A small warning before proceeding, a lot of Carl Jung's work and derived work falls into the so-called psychodynamic category, which mean they try to explain how the mind works on the inside, without having the ability to measure the insides of our brain and fully understand what is going on. Being critical about the validity and applicability to a situation remains important. With that in mind, psychodynamic models offer a decent approximation that can help you understand yourself.

If you are not familiar with the MBTI personality typing system, then I suggest you have a look here for the 16 personality types it identified. MBTI recognizes 4 so called dichotomies:

  • Introversion - Extroversion
  • Sensing - Intuition
  • Thinking - Feeling
  • Perceiving - Judging

The MBTI type codes are related to the preference in each 4 of these. Although MBTI-proper is based on these dichotomies, here I will only use the types from MBTI, and instead use the work of John Beebe to further describe these types. The reasons are many, but for an INTJ like myself my primary mode is information gathering, like you would expect from someone with a preference in Perceiving. Outwardly I may seem more like Judging type, because I extrovert my thinking. All of this is not so obvious without looking more carefully at how an INTJ deals with information. An INTJ my primary ways of processing information are Ni (introverted intuition, which can also be called conceptual insight) and Te (extroverted thinking, which can also be called effectiveness). Some people call these cognitive functions (, however the more accurate way to describe them would be based on the work of John Beebe. A summary of John Beebe's work can be found here, although for a more story-telling type of article with better readability by John Beebe himself see Now back to the actual definition of a "cognitive function":

Cognitive function attitudes combined with collective archetypes becoming personal complexes. 

That's quite a mouth full, but let me explain. Take Ni as an example:

  • The cognitive function here is: Intuition or perception of that which cannot be directly perceived from reality.
  • The attitude here is: Introverted, drawing information from my internal world, rather than the external word.
  • The collective archetype here is: The hero, Ni is the thing I use to rescue the day.
  • The personal complex here is: It is my choice to use Ni as hero, and not as (for example) it's total opposite the demon, which would be the case for ISxJ's, so Ni is part of my personal hero complex.
Yin Yang symbol.
Yin Yang symbol, with its origin in ancient China, from the same time period as the Daoist philosophy, represents the balance between two complementary aspects of life.

Up until this point I've looked at Ni and a little bit at Te, for me they are the hero and the good parent, the good parent is the thing I use to help or teach other people with. But Ni-Te only tells a part of my story, or any INTJ for that matter. Next in line of information processing are Fi and Se, Fi being concerned with personal values, personal feelings, authenticity and people. Fi is part of my so-called eternal child complex, it is the thing I strive to grow in. Se is about concrete perception of external reality, it is the thing that grounds me, and prevents that I get stuck in my own head. Se is special for me because it's of my Anima complex, and the Anima deserves a bit more attention.

Carl Jung already observed that humans are oddly split into masculine and feminine, believing that the stereotype of a man (the masculine) and the stereotype of a women (the feminine) actually apply to real people. So the hero complex in my case is much more masculine than it is feminine, but it doesn't tell the whole story about me. The complementary part, much like the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol, is the Anima (the woman within a man). In the case of a woman it would be an Animus (the man within a woman). My Ni draws information from Se perceptions, but it does so unconsciously, and such is the initial relation with the Anima as well. It is the women within me that I rejected when I was young, the part that I considered to be nice, but only if a woman played it. Through dreams I eventually came to meet Sophia, the archetype of wisdom, the supposedly final stage of the Anima. And that began the journey of becoming conscious of this side of me, it's like the second me, and without it I would be disconnected from people, from myself, from life itself. The Anima plays a connecting role, in the sense that it can be conscious, but it is at the edge of consciousness, so it has an easier time talking to the unconscious, and thus plays a mediating role.

I've talked a little bit about the Anima now, I must also discuss the Shadow. Where the Anima is good, but initially projected onto other people (read: women in my case), the Shadow archetype represents all that was negatively rejected. It can be truly dark and destructive, or simply different. The Demon archetype I talked about earlier is a sort of anti-Hero, buried deep within the Shadow. In my experience it is only there because it's a different kind of Hero, than that of the personal Hero complex, and thus the Ego has a hard time accepting it. There can also be truly dark content in the Shadow, but it is better to examine this, than to pretend it doesn't exist.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. - Carl Jung

Finding an accurate image of Sophia is really hard and depends really on how the collective archetype expresses itself in a person, for me it is a women unusually present in a forest, this is the closest thing I managed to find.

The journey of uncovering the Shadow is not a path for the faint of heart, but ultimately rewarding, because it brings greater understanding of yourself, which can in turn lead to greater understanding of those around you. Be aware that if you are not dealing with the Shadow yet, the images from the unconscious might blur with those of the Anima/Animus, thus turning a creature of potential wisdom into a dark version of it. An intolerant, cruel or otherwise unpleasant women is hardly what the Anima truly represents, but in the beginning it may seem this way.

So far I haven't really talked about what motivates you, an excellent tool for that is the Enneagram. You can find the basic type descriptions here Enneagram, simply put, looks at what drives you. As a type 1 I used to be a perfectionist, and to this day my standards are high. This also meant that my main fear was being imperfect. I sometimes joke about following the fear, but it can really tell a lot about you. Enneagram tought me about what drove me, about my fears, but also about growing by embracing a complementary type, namely the type 7. Type 7's are really about experiencing and enjoying life, which was just the cure the stuck up perfectionist needed. It's good to be aware that the Enneagram type descriptions don't always match up with everyone, even if the basic motivations do, the reasons for this require you to understand Ego Development Theory, but that is a topic for Vertical Development, and this topic goes way beyond what is intended for a basic understanding of yourself.

To close of, Enneagram has a useful concept known as health levels, it tells you something about how fixated you are in your Enneagram type. Less fixation gives you the flexibility to live life and adapt to whatever it throws at you. Beware however, that the ego is always tempted to attribute greatness to itself, so there is risk of overestimating your own health level. Nevertheless it's a valuable tool to gauge where you stand, when used properly. More information about health levels can be found here

Map of consciousness
Map of consciousness as defined by David Hawkins in the book Power vs Force, note that the colors are additionally added, and the numerical level has been removed because the method of determination and its accuracy is strongly disputed, and some naming has been improved to be less biased.

The health levels of Enneagram give some impression of the healthy and unhealthy levels that a human can inhabit, but this is not the only tool that exists which creates such a view, the map of consciousness by David Hawkins does something similar. When I encountered this it seemed like useful tool for grasping at a conceptual level where a persons consciousness resides, however there were a few problems that I want to point out. The numerical scale that comes with this method is highly problematic, because it is derived using a method known as applied kinesiology, that appears to be a pseudo science that is used to create the impression of a scientific basis. When you consider that individual topics (such as books, companies or people) can be rated at this 0-1000 numerical scale, for which an example reference list can be found here, you will begin to realize this numerical value is a bit of a joke. Nevertheless the simple table view may help you get a grasp for the difference between states that are healthy to be in long term, and those that are not healthy to be in long term. I found it difficult to asses how useful the God-view column is, because my personal experiences do not include a typical view or experience of the god concept. However, considering that religion sometimes resorts to guilt and shame to keep its followers, I figured that it may help those with a less than ideal religious experience to reflect on their own experiences.

The topic of knowing yourself is far bigger than what I can write on this page, this is meant to be a start for your own journey of discovery, or to bring new ideas to a journey that is already underway. If you have questions, you can always use the contact form, and ask me. If possible I will try to extend this page with more insights. Good luck on the journey of life.