We begin to identify ourselves based on our experiences in life and who others tell us we are. As we do this, we begin to lose touch with our innate sense of self. Labels are assigned to us – “sweet, silly, bad, smart, pretty, bossy, spoiled, creative, independent…” and we accept them, integrating them into our ideas about who we are. There are values we live by, and we become known to be trustworthy, kind, loving, or honest.
We accumulate life experiences that add to our self-perception – athletic, a champion, a child of divorce, a victim of abuse. We identify with certain groups. We’re empty nesters, snow birds, people in long-term recovery, retirees, widows and widowers. We’re yogis and meditators, Christians, Buddhists, Liberals or Conservatives. We may feel respected or dismissed based on our productivity, successes, failures, or for our wealth and material possessions (or lack thereof).
Over and over again people in our world are informing how we see ourselves. As you read some of the words I’ve offered, did you have a reaction? Do they conjure an image or an opinion almost automatically?
We take on roles – friend, sister, mother, attorney, teacher, therapist, nurse. These identities carry with them pictures and expectations. We build stories about what they say about who we are as a human being. What our tendencies and characteristics are. We begin to see ourselves through these lenses. We behave as if this is who we really are.
When something pervasive enters our lives, like having a child with disabilities or a teen who struggles with addiction, it can become all-consuming and feel like the entirety of our world. At times it requires all of our time, energy, and resources. And so, we lose bits of ourselves – the carefree, playful, easy-going, spontaneous parts. The creative artist or actor may need to take a back seat. Life is serious business, and so we show up in the way that is required.
Sometimes we receive physical and mental health diagnoses, and we become someone who struggles with depression, fibromyalgia, or someone living with diabetes or a cancer survivor.
There are many ideas we take on about ourselves over the years that become woven into our unconscious identity. When we take the time to reflect and get in touch with ourselves at a deeper level… when we begin to question some of the assumptions about who we are and what our life is all about, we may see a broader picture. We may have lost sight of the reality that our life is a rich tapestry of many, many parts and experiences. We may begin to see that we are continually growing, learning, evolving, and becoming. Stepping into the next version of ourselves.
Take a pause now and think about the identities that make up who you are in this moment. What defines you and your reality? How do you feel about that? Anything you’d like to consider from a different perspective? Where might you be holding yourself back with a limiting view of who you are? What pieces of you have been forgotten or hidden away over the years? Are any of them longing to come out and express? Who are you becoming? As you look at yourself and your life right now, what’s defining you?
“Accept no one's definition of your life, but define yourself.”
― Harvey Fierstein
What do you want to claim as who you are? What old stories do you want to let go of? How might your life change when you do?
We do not have to be defined by our best or worst moments. Going back to yesterday’s post about Change, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
I wonder what is possible when we begin to look at ourselves with fresh eyes.
What other thoughts do you have about how we define ourselves? What did I forget? #AtoZChallenge