Who Am I—Really?

The most basic questions in life are often the most difficult to answer. “Who am I?” is one of those questions for which there is no easy answer, for there is no one answer.  Maybe it’s because the question of identity is not a single question, either.


Fixed or fluid?

While we may change externally over time, underneath, are our core values the same? Does the saying, “A leopard can’t change its spots” mean that we don’t change our nature—even if we want to? On the other hand, Walt Whitman famously proclaimed, “I contain multitudes.” Do we have multiple aspects to our identity? If so, can we get in touch with them?  


To a New Identity 

For decades, Freud’s assessment that the primary drive of humanity is the pursuit of pleasure was accepted. Enter Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, philosopher, and notably a Holocaust survivor, who transformed our consciousness with his view that the search for meaning is the central human motivational force. And what CiWPPster could ever forget Maria Sirois’ distillation of Frankl’s philosophy into this one existential question: “Who am I—in the presence of this?”  

This assumes that we can make choices and drive change. Will we rise up to the occasion or crumble in defeat? Will you pivot or crumble Are we friendly and open or cautious and self-protecting, or are we more closed-minded? Our choices determine our identity and the meanings of our lives. Or maybe it is the reverse, where identity drives behavior. 


In the Beginning …

With the culmination of the Jewish holidays, we are about to renew the yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah, and very soon, we will read the first question in recorded history, when God asked Adam: “Where are you?” This was not a game of hide and seek; God was not asking Adam Where he was, but Who He was.  

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the famous Chassidic rabbi known as the Alter Rebbe) explains that “Where are you?” really means, “Who are you—at this moment of your life?” In essence, God was asking Adam to consider, “Who are you now, that you want to hide from Me, your Creator?” 

And we see how in addition to meaning, the question of identity is also connected to relationships. As no man is an island, it’s fair to say that we don’t even exist except in relation to someone or something. 

This pivotal time of year is a great time to reflect on who we are and where we want it to go. Who are we aiming to be in the next year? How can we access and understand our diverse parts to bring forth the most meaningful for the moment? And how can relationships help us see those parts of ourselves that we don’t even know are there?


As part of the WBI/JCC Online Positive Psychology Hour series, Hanna will present a webinar titled “Who Am I—Really?” on October 7 at 12:00 pm. Join her to explore the complex issues of identity, with the help of a cognitive psychology tool known as Johari’s Window. We will discover what we conceal and reveal, and what the challenges of our relationships and the present moment illuminate—so that we may navigate our ongoing search for meaning with greater internal awareness. Register now

Hanna Perlberger

A family law attorney of 20 years, Hanna is an alumni and former faculty member with WBI’s Certificate in Positive Psychology. Hanna was fascinated to see the connections between Positive Psychology and Judaism. But Hanna also saw tools Hanna could use that would help her connect more deeply to her Judaism. Judaism can tell you how to behave, such as being kind and accepting of your circumstances, but not necessarily how to do it.  These connections made the Torah more personal to her. Hanna started a weekly blog called “Positive Parsha,” looking at the weekly Torah portion with a Positive Psychology twist. Those blogs evolved into her book, A Year of Sacred Moments: The Soul Seeker’s Guide to Inspired Living, which leads the reader through a guided journey of the Torah. Coaching is a natural fit with CiPP. Hanna has been certified in many coaching modalities. Synthesizing all the things Hanna loves to do, she is launching the Shalom Bayit Project, to help Jewish couples and singles learn how to build the “Peaceful Home” from the ground up; and in going beyond “traditional” matters of the heart, Hanna supports individuals in cultivating inner peace, resilience, and positivity during challenging times.

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