How to Self-construct


self-construct (self • kon • strukt'), v.i.

to take responsibility for engendering

your unique gifts by completing the job

left unfinished by your parents.

Life is too short

to devote too much of it

to activities that are not at the heart of

what it is to be human.

- Martha Nussbaum

nce upon a time, one man and one woman conceived a child that turned out to be you. How your world received you, respected you and trained you has underwritten your particular biography. The overarching goal of this website is to provide you with a kind, careful and thorough evaluation of how life has been treating you, how you have been coping to this point and what you can do now that will allow you to self-construct a more potent and fruitful narrative. If you and I are successful, from this point forward your biography will be written such that you wouldn't mind living this life all over again.

The Process

All of us talk to ourselves. We mutter, we cajole, we yell. We editorialize and critique. We may even crack ourselves up from time to time. What few of us do, though, is calmly discuss. It's important to understand that the hallmark of good parenting is discussion, and this is true for self-construction as well. If we had good enough parents, we instinctively internalized the way they would talk things through to reach a thoughtful decision about what is likely best for us. To the extent our parents provided poor examples of consensus-driven guidance, however, our ability to do so for ourselves will be compromised.

Good parents start preparing us to take over the reins of our lives when we are 10 or 11 years old. They do this by giving us a little less guidance, a little more freedom and an abundance of patient debriefing over dinner. Poor parents are simply unclear on the concept of training their children to self-construct. Cruel parents actively sabotage a youngster’s attempts to manage his or her own life.

The goal of this website is to help you create a healthy, flexible and kind parental unit that will fit neatly inside your head and provide you with unflappable consultation as you take over the job of engendering your unique gifts. There are several theories that underlie the material presented here. First, obviously, is the belief that we need to have wise internal discussions about what is likely best for us. Next is the notion that those discussions are most potent when the discussants have a dialectic relationship with each other that provides opposing perspectives on the problem at hand. The two most powerful orientations for dialectical parental voices are expectation and support. The expectant voice used in the model parental unit for this website is an extension of what the existential writers felt was the surest cognitive route to optimal mental health. The supportive voice builds on the processes for psychological growth that are formed in relation to context, experience, other thinkers and time as described by feminist writers. To put this in more prosaic terms, I have tended to use the existential writers to flesh out the "father" voice of expectation and the feminist thinkers to embody the "mother" voice of support. Taken together, the luminous writings of these two groups provide us with exquisitely comprehensive examples of instructive parental voices.

The Content

In addition to improving how you talk to yourself (the process of self-construction), it is also terribly helpful to upgrade the content of those discussions. To that end, I have mined the field of psychology for what I consider to be the best and most current thinking in healthful living skills. That rich material, in addition to my years of experience as a psychologist, underlies the content articles in the skills sections of the website. Additionally, you will notice two boxes in each article – one labeled FAWBOT and one labeled Good Question. The FAWBOT acronym stands for “For A Whole Book On This.” Within this box in each article will be both fiction and nonfiction books that I believe will be helpful to those folks who want more material on a topic. I will also include links to websites that can provide current and robust psychological content. The “Good Question” box is your invitation to help both deepen and clarify the content of this website. Please reach out with any questions, concerns or input.

The sequencing

Over the years of working with clients, I have found that there is a particular order of learning that seems to most effectively correct and augment poor home training. I have mimicked that sequencing in the order of the articles. As you review the material provided on this website, you can skim over the material you already know, review the material you mostly understand and study the material that is new to you.

In a nutshell, preparing a mind to hold wise internal discussions involves:

• eliminating the obstacles that prevent you from liking yourself

• exploring the elements of good parenting

• replacing cultural lies with existential, feminist truths about the human struggle

• understanding:

o basic psychological concepts

o complex psychological constructs

o relationship skills

o existential skills

• making the commitment to self-construct utilizing these concepts

It's possible

Completing all these steps is not necessarily easy, but, luckily, there’s no complexity involved that would preclude any of us from learning now what we need to know about creating a self-directed life. Brick by brick, as you read through the articles on this website, you can put all the skills in place to help you build a fine life. At the end of the process, you will be in a position to self-construct with a capable, customized parental unit humming away inside your mind.

Here is an overview of the sequencing:

A Self-Guided Tour of Your Upbringing

In order to be accountable to ourselves for ourselves, we need to know ourselves. But it’s hard to get to know ourselves if we don’t like ourselves. Herein lies a huge psychological kill switch: to the extent our upbringing was characterized by an unsympathetic, harsh or evil tone, getting to know ourselves by looking back over our past will be too uncomfortable to manage.

The articles in this first section will support you through the process of exploring just how unhelpful your particular childhood was and ease you out from under any shame you may feel about your past.

Making Peace With Your Past

We all want to move beyond bemoaning how awful our childhood was. In order to do this, we must understand the specific ways our upbringing left us ill-equipped to handle the art of self-construction. Only then can we correct the inadequacies that have handicapped us thus far.

This section outlines the particulars of a solid upbringing and provides you with models of effective parenting that you can use to correct any elements of poor parenting you experienced growing up.

What we need from our childhood is this: to be equipped with a well-designed set of voices that we can internalize and refer to as we consider our next move.

Truths You Need to Know

From an extraordinarily early age children understand that fate is going to affect them on a daily basis. Caterpillars in jars are going to die, games are going to be lost and wishes are not often going to come true. If the adults in our world brush aside our concerns about how hard we are struggling with some of these difficulties, we will be misled about our level of competency. This section shines a light on the main categories of misinformation that sabotage our ability to trust our perception of the world and of ourselves.

Basic Psychological Skills

It is very tricky to figure out what you don’t know that you don’t know. Basic psychological constructs are thoroughly described in this section to allow you to scan through them and fill in any blanks you may have as a result of your unique upbringing. You will know most parts of most of these skills, but trust me when I say that all psychological skills work much, much better with all their parts in place.

Complex Psychological Skills

This section is meaty. The skills described here are foundational to a sound life and can take years to master. But each step you take toward mastery will align you with a more authentic version of yourself and thus a more powerful version of your life. Every one of these skills is worth the effort.

Relationship Skills

All people need people, so good relationship skills are nonnegotiable if you seek to have a fine life. If you accept that only through connection with divergent others is the ultimate growth into our full-bodied self possible – and the corollary, that only through egalitarian behavior can attachment truly occur – the tasks of this section will position you to create that necessary interpersonal intimacy. And please be sure to read the article on the architecture of love in the complex psychological skills category above.

Existential Skills

Here’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to designing a potent life – a life you wouldn’t mind living again. We cannot truly self-construct until we understand what it means to exist as a human. What is true for us now has been true for all humans for all time. This section scours the minds of the great existential thinkers to outline astute strategies for the most rigorous self-construction projects we can imagine.

Finding Work You Love

Since the definition of self-construction is to take responsibility for engendering your unique gifts by completing the job left unfinished by your parents, what you do with those gifts should necessarily connect with your world of work. Again, using both existential and feminist thinking, the articles in this section walk you through the process of putting your gifts to work in a manner that brings you joy.

Will One Thing

The article in this section covers the good news – there is an heuristic for remembering how to implement all the skills underlying self-construction – and the bad news – once you have read and absorbed the material on this website it will be your fault if you back away from the task of authentically constructing your self. Luckily, both feminist and existential philosophers and novelists offer many inspiring examples of how to tolerate this challenge. With choice, chance, and cheerleading, we can each achieve a solid, self-constructed life.

© Copyright 2014 Jan Iversen. All rights reserved.