In this article I wanna try to outline the differences among the meaning behind the ‘discovered’ self and the ‘constructed’ self. The psychological journey in gaining insight in the (practical) differences of the two could help in learning how to navigate through life changing situations or challenging times in general. That is at least how it works for me and how it is shown in books like ‘man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. He was apparantly able to find bliss in the harsh conditions of a concentration camp.
So to my understanding the constructed self aids as a functional agent for our daily life in contemporary society. A self that is founded upon external values that shape our identity, like that car one is driving, that career one has to land or a particular beauty ideal one must have to attain. Depending upon one’s society, the constructed self is made to act in a certain way in that society to survive. An example is that one can have a very competitive side, not because it is really apart of them, but because capitalism and most advanced societies simply have competition as a founding principle in economic life. Therefore, the constructed self is socially enforced by for example the (soft control) cultural ideology to compete among other (hard control) social governance mechanisms like the power of law and, currently seeing, martial law.
Despite the practical uses of the constructed self in coping with the challenges each one of us experiences in there given society, it could cause a sense of constant unease and restlessness in finding a fitting personal identity that has resonance and purpose in contemporary society. A good example, I think, is when there are times of great upheaval, crisis and change in which many people could loose many of the things that formed their sense of identity, like that hard earned career, spouse, house, health or wealth. All of these things are still external values that shape our constructed self including the level of confidence and security that might have been given to relating to ourselves in that way.
Therefore, having a good sense of ‘self-discovery‘ or better put, knowing how to tap into inner resources that aren’t depended on external values is in the end how people and societies recover and show resilience through difficult times. This is also showcased in the book extreme economies with could be a resourceful book in learning how to navigate through crises and remain spirited to know that the human psyche is extremely flexible in being able to endure if needed and thrive under seemingly hopeless circumstances like that of a concentration camp, tsunami wave, whatever big thing you have out their basically testing the resilience of what it means to remain human. One could imagine that a concentration camp does not offer many ideal opportunities to rely an external resources for remaining grounded so to speak.. Therefore, people like Viktor, a student of the psyche himself, was able to apparently experience bliss even if it was just momentarily and short lasting, it was enough of a spark to bend his psyche under immense pressure, resulting in a human being becoming a diamond basically, being able to thrive after such trauma is off course mind bending. A metaphor aligned with this philosophy might be that knowing how to learn or knowing how to make money is more important then the amount of money or knowledge someone currently has.
To end this article by saying that these ideas aren’t new. Ralph Waldo Emerson already coined it quite nicely in his ideas about ‘self-reliance’, that during difficult times, it is not the constructed self that will persevere, but the discovered self that shows to be sustainable. That part of us that is innately grounded in our being, out of which a new constructed self can reemerge to help us cope with an ever changing environment. It is exactly this idea of reinventing oneself that in my opinion is a key ingredient in pursuing sustainable (personal, economic and spiritual) growth.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or hit me up on the street.