The psychological study of one’s self is called an autoethnography. Generally, ethnographic studies are inquiries into groups, large or small, which share a common culture. Culture is what develops when people share a set of myths—stories and beliefs. The more adamantly people believe their shared mythology and the more elements they have in common, the stronger the culture. An autoethnography is a researcher’s attempt to systematically study and understand their own values, beliefs, and stories—as they reflexively observe them through reflective study of personal anecdotes and experiences—and place them into the context of their environment.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how and where I fit. In therapy, I share anecdotes and stories with my therapist in an attempt to make sense of what I have experienced and understand my own mythology. It’s important to recognize that I call these stories ‘myths’ because they are true for me, in my experience and interpretation, but not necessarily for others observing externally. In other words, we all make sense of our world in ways that we individually understand and the beliefs that come from our experiences become our reality. Our reality is our lived mythology.
As I continue to dig into my personal mythology and revisit my long-held beliefs about myself, others, and my environment, I see patterns. It is in these spaces that the opportunity for personal growth comes. Some of the patterns are helpful to me while others are detrimental. The work of therapy is sorting through them.
In my experience, the strongest and most frequently observed patterns have to do with approval seeking (i.e., wanting other people to like me) and social rejection (i.e., being ostracized or excluded for not conforming to a group’s norms). Looking at my experiences with a wide lens and with the benefit of hindsight, I recognize the continuous messages I have received about the importance of fitting in and of changing myself to suit others. As I look at the environmental triggers of my depression, I realize that nearly all of them result from my feelings of isolation caused by not belonging in my work environment. The other tendency I see is my efforts to adapt my work environment to create a place for me to fit and the utter failure of those attempts.
Trying to take lessons from these experiences, I’m learning that too often I try to fit myself into environments that were not designed with me in mind, that reward values and beliefs not aligned my mythology. However, my desire to be liked and belief that fitting in is evidence of my worth as a person overrides that. The most challenging aspect of this autoethnographic study in which I am both researcher and subject is using the information I’ve gathered and conclusions I’ve drawn to take new steps going forward.