The 5 Levels of Understanding Yourself

Mark Manson

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H ey there, you beautiful bastards. Today, we’re diving into the infinite complexities of the self.

We’ll be exploring the concept of self at five different levels, from simple explanations to brain-melting ideas that’ll leave you questioning your very existence.

Ready?

Let’s do this.

LEVEL 1: THE CHILD SELF — I CAN CONTROL MY HAND!

At this level, the concept of self is pretty straightforward. Whatever you feel or control in your environment is part of you.

You can control your hand? Boom, part of yourself. Can’t control the chair without touching it? That’s not you.

Simple, right?

LEVEL 2: THE TEENAGE SELF — WHO AM I, REALLY?

As we grow older, we start to realize that our self isn’t limited to our physical body.

Abstract concepts like being compassionate, talented, or born in a specific place come to define us. Our sense of well-being becomes tied to how others perceive us, and our self becomes a socially negotiated concept.

LEVEL 3: THE COLLEGE STUDENT SELF — SAY HELLO TO THE EGO

By college, we’re aware that there’s tension between our self-definition and how the world sees us. To protect our sense of self, we develop psychological defense mechanisms. This is Freud’s definition of the ego.

A healthy ego is essential, but when our self-definition deviates from reality, it becomes toxic, leading to emotional dysfunction.

LEVEL 4: THE GRAD STUDENT SELF — ARBITRARY DEFINITIONS

At this level, we realize that the concept of self is just an arbitrary definition, like any other. Our definitions of self are based on our experiences, environment, and culture.

The fluidity of self is a psychological mechanism that helps us function in society. Essentially, the ego is an evolutionary adaptation of our minds.

LEVEL 5: THE EXPERT-LEVEL SELF — THERE IS NO SELF

Here’s where things get trippy. There is no self. Our belief in our existence is just an illusion spun up by our minds. Nothing truly exists, and life is transitory and ill-defined.

By training our minds, we can see through this illusion and experience reality as a manifestation of existence. There is no such thing as death — everything is present and has always been.

NEED HELP FIGURING OUT WHAT TO GIVE A FUCK ABOUT?

I wrote a 50-page guide on personal values to help you do just that. Check it out.

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Mark Manson

Author of #1 NYTimes Bestseller ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’. OG Blogger. Psychology Nerd. I enjoy cats and whiskey. But not at the same time.