Sense of Self

“At about nine months an infant develops an intersubjective sense of self. If the infant could speak he or she might say ‘I see that my mother sees me as lovable, so I see myself that way too.'”

‘Sense of self’ is kind of a buzz phrase in our time. Books, magazines, seminars, wellness clubs, therapeutic massage… many are dedicated to helping people find their sense of self. A sense of self is a necessary step in the developmental process, particularly social development, because a child’s understanding of ‘self’ comes from an experience with ‘other’. Developing a sense of self requires that one recognizes herself as distinct from others. Simply put, possessing a sense of self means knowing who I am, what motivates me, what makes me me.

The current research suggests that my daughter’s autism leaves her with a poorly defined perception of ‘self’. They say her ability for self-recognition is impaired, her identity fragmented. While I appreciate the research, a part of me wants to reject that notion with every fiber of my being.

But the question for me remains: how do I help my nonverbal, autistic child – who at times seems so hyperactive and disconnected – how do I teach her to “know” herself and to relate herself to the world. This is a daunting challenge and further reason for me to be on my knees before God.

Over the years, I have come to know that my own sense of self is derived from my beliefs in God and His Word. My mother used to say to us, “Remember who you are and Whose you are.” In navigating the world, it has always helped me to know that I am God’s daughter and my mother’s child.

My dear friend and college roommate, Chandra, went through the entire Bible searching for what God says about our identity. The result of her study is a wonderful Scriptural reference she entitled “What God Says About Me” in which she focuses on our Origin, Purpose, Lineage, Family, Nature, New Self, Freedom, Relationship with God, Role as a Woman, Relationship with the World, Eternal Life, and Character and Gifts. (If anyone is interested, I will gladly send you a copy. I refer to it often.) *Edit: Click here for a copy of “What God Says About Me”.

In addition to the unique and God-given gifts, abilities, and personalities that my children will discover as they grow, I pray to teach them some of the following things about themselves:

I am created in God’s image and blessed by God (Gen. 1:27, Gen. 5:1-2)

God’s hands formed me and made me, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 119:73, Ps. 139:13,14)

The Lord has a purpose for me and He will fulfill it (Ps. 138:8 )

God loves me so much that He calls me His child (1 Jn. 3:1-2) and He sent His Son to die for me so that I could live with Him forever (Jn. 3:16)

When I am weak, then I am strong. Christ’s power rests on me in my weaknes, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9,10)

I belong to God. I am precious and honored in His sight. God loves me and I am created for His glory (Isa. 43:1,4,7)

I am fiercely valued and forever loved by my family

These are the things I want my girls to know about themselves when I cannot be with them. When that Truth is challenged. When they are teased on the playground for being different. When they are repeatedly underestimated. When they fail and when they succeed.

For Rhema, the last time she was tested she had the receptive language of a 12 month old. No matter. We have a renewed commitment to read the Word of God into her ears. I’m trusting that the “Rhema Word” will come to her and bring understanding and teach her about her ‘self’.

9 thoughts on “Sense of Self

  1. hi jeneil! love your encouragement about identity! i think most of us need years of Jesus and/or therapy to get it sorted out. (i’m still working on it…)

    just fyi, “what God says about me” is available online (with a downloadable version) at

    love that picture of rhema… so gorgeous! i pray that her words would come spewing forth like a fountain… like in her “1-2-3-go” video, it seems like they are just bubbling up in her… i pray that God would give the breakthrough and they would break out!

  2. What a great post on identity. When I stopped teaching and began staying home with my daughter, I realized that the biggest part of my identity was defined by Teacher. I had an identity crisis, and God used that to help me see that my true identity is a daughter of the King.

    I know that Rhema does understand and that the Holy Spirit is speaking to her through the Word. Keep the faith!

  3. I love this picture of your daughter. I believe that God speaks to our children and surrounds them with his love and they can see it so much easier than we can. I’m praying for you and your family as you each find “self” in God.

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