People arrive in counseling with a history of self judgments, evaluations, thoughts, images, feelings, rules, memories, physiological sensations, roles, and impulses. These self-judgments have great potential to influence how we perceive our identity.
“Self as content” and “Self as context” are psychological terms used to define how we relate to our own sense of identity. With this concept, it is helpful to think of the mind like a train that runs on two tracks. The first track has thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. The second track allows an observing ability that promotes self awareness; it allows us to be watchful and discerning about what the mind experiences.
On the “Self as Content” end of the spectrum, identity is perceived as a collection of thoughts and feelings. It’s like a mind that is only running on one track. Psychologically, when a person takes on this perspective, they have an over attachment to thoughts and feelings. It’s like being wrapped up or consumed by our thoughts and feelings and letting them incorrectly define us. In this condition, we are psychologically inflexible.
On the “Self-as-Context” end of the spectrum, we become psychologically flexible, as the mind is now running on two tracks. In this condition, our sense of self goes beyond the experience of thoughts and feelings. Some refer to the second “watchful” track as the “mind’s eye.” In Christian language, this place is referred to as the center of the soul, or the heart. From a soul perspective, we are not defined by thoughts, emotions, memories or other bodily senses. Our identity rests in Jesus Christ.