Who defines you? Or perhaps the better question is: Who do you ALLOW to define you?
As children, we are defined by our families’ perception of who we are, and who we are to become. My mother was terribly afraid of being alone, and for that reason had a large family, and continued to adopt needy children long after she was able to continue bearing children naturally. I have often stated that she didn’t have a family as much as she had an ant colony. Because of my natural tendencies toward solitude, one of her continued admonishments was: You’re going to grow up to be the loneliest person in the world. She somehow managed to make it sound like a threat. I thought it sounded wonderful. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I came to see that she had been projecting her own fear of being alone onto my inclination to be by myself rather than participate in the chaotic and raucous lives of my 13 siblings. I preferred books to games, sitting in a tree to riding a bike, and exploring down by the lake to doing chores. I was the dreamer. I was the sensitive one who couldn’t bear the noise and overstimulation of such a large family. For all the years until adulthood, I thought there was something wrong with me for eschewing groups, instead preferring small, intimate gatherings. I avoided concerts or any place in which crowds tended to gather. I hated going to the mall because there were so many people there. And I fought that inclination toward introversion because I felt that it wasn’t my true nature.
Remember the child’s story about the ugly duckling? Here’s something I wrote in high school that reflects the way I percieved my world:
When I was so young
I read a lovely story.
It was about a duckling
newborn into a house of strangers.
He was different in every way
and was a dingy, dismal sight,
so his brothers called him ‘ugly’
for want of more knowledge.
Soon they all grew, he more than the rest.
He grew tall and sleek and beautiful
to the eye.
Everyone saw the change in him
and no longer called him different
but now, special. But the poor
lost duckling had lived so long
he saw no beauty in his reflection.
Too often he had been told
it wasn’t there
so he remained distasteful
in his own eyes.
Until he met another swan.
My family’s perception of who I was deeply influenced my perception of myself. I carried that perception with me for decades until I began to understand that I had allowed others definitions of me to also create my definitions of me.
It was a sobering and liberating moment. Sobering, because I began to question every definition I had allowed to influence my thinking. I then understood that my self-deprecating sense of humor was simply me broadcasting my self-perception. I was “weird” because I needed solitude to thrive. I was “strange” because I didn’t think like anybody else I knew. I was “this” and I was “that.” As you might imagine, none of them were self-empowering perceptions.
That moment was also liberating because I saw the ways in which I continued to allow others to define me. My rebellion against this situation was fierce and difficult. Many of us reach a point in our personal development in which we rebel against the labels and definitions we find ourselves saddled with. I often lamented that I could never perceive myself as others perceived me…and then I understood why that was. Because I didn’t recognize the definitions others had created for me…based on their own limitations, their own thoughts and ideas. In allowing others to place definitions on me, I was, in essence, allowing myself to be limited by those definitions.
Because we are raised within containers so that others might be better able to “understand” us, we must also, at some point, climb out of those containers and spread our beautiful, glorious wings. We are only as limited as we allow ourselves to be. And when others are allowed to place limitations onto us, they control us in fundamental ways…if even through controlling how we see ourselves.
I believe in creative visualization. Through meditation, I can imagine success for myself beyond my own previously limiting thoughts. When I learned that I am not the sum total of others’ perceptions, or my own emotions, or thoughts, I learned to fly creatively. That moment of freeing ourselves is perhaps one of the most triumphant moments we can experience.
How many definitions do you allow yourself to carry around with you? Who defines you?
You define you.
And the universe is no longer big enough to contain you.