One of the many requirements to become a licensed clinical psychologist involves training at a full-time pre-doctoral internship. During a one month period, aspiring psychologists travel across the nation to interview for such a position. Applicants scramble to secure a competitive site while training programs interview a host of eager candidates. The number of interviews applicants experience within the time frame is remarkable (my process included over ten interviews within a span of three weeks). Reflecting upon my experience, I realized that training directors and prospective supervisors asked strikingly similar interview questions. While questions were phrased differently, they ultimately focused on my values, beliefs, passions, and dreams. Interviewers wanted to know, Who am I?
Variants of the question, Who am I?, are experienced beyond the realm of interviews. Some may be asked by romantic partners or new friends. For others, it may exist as a mantra during a time of crisis or a period of transition. I must admit that I become irritated when confronted with this question, as it seems to reflect our larger individualistic culture. This question appears to be birthed out of a society that seems to believe that the answer to Who am I can be determined by individual choice or personal responsibility. Who am I? not only reflects our individualistic attitudes, but also primes individualistic responses. For example, responses often consist of personal achievements, accolades, or accomplishments, which may breed self-involvement and pride. There is nothing wrong with the apparent connection between Who am I? and individualism, but I wonder what is overlooked when viewing the question within this narrow lens?
Rather than Who am I?, could it be that the more relevant question is Who am I with? The simple addition of the preposition with redirects attention to the breadth and depth of our relationships. Instead of focusing on one’s abilities, it increases awareness to the presence of others. It takes the pressure off one to perform, achieve, and attain and emphasizes the value of community and otherness. Rather than priming responses reflective of one’s self-interest and achievement, it directs attention to relatedness.
Who am I with? may also inspire one to ponder the development of his or her personal identity in relationship to others. I believe that individuals fully understand themselves in reciprocal, give and take relationships and that one’s uniqueness is illuminated when placed in contrast to others. Thus, it is in these relationships where personal identity emerges. Said in another way, our distinctiveness is not sacrificed but revealed through give and take relationships.
Underlying Who am I with? is the assumption that we are social animals who are dependent on relationships. Could it be that the answer to the question Who am I? is not only found within the depths of the inner self, but may also be elucidated externally in relation with others? Might the relational process between the therapist and client in psychotherapy inform the client’s personal understanding of Who am I? May your next Who am I? be accompanied by an equally challenging Who am I with?
Written By: Timothy K. Wong, Ph.D., Psychological Assistant (PSB 94020788)
Supervised by Bruce Brodie, Ph.D. (PSY 6574)