Once Upon a Time....There was ME

We each have a narrative we tell about ourselves; a character we've created and inhabit. We act in accordance with the qualities we've attributed to this character, good and bad, usually running on autopilot, seldom stopping to consider if our story continues to serve us in the best way.

Jim prided himself on being a dedicated and hard worker - an admirable quality to be sure - but he worked so much and took on so much responsibility, it was wreaking havoc on his personal life and his health.

Greta thought of herself as a loving, giving, generous person. She prided herself on being the one people could come to in times of need -- and they did -- until eventually she found herself overburdened by "emotional vampires." Still, she felt guilty turning away anyone in need. She couldn't bear the thought of being "not nice."

Jack was terrified of making a mistake. The fear was crippling to the point where he could barely make a decision. Change was impossible because he could not move from his spot. He thought of himself as a coward, and this virtually guaranteed that he would never even attempt to change; his "destiny was already written."

There are the self-definitions that serve as pre-made excuses and self-fulfilling prophesies: Fran told me, "I've always been unathletic; that's why I don't exercise." She was always the last one picked when the kids were choosing teams and this led to a lifetime sense of humiliation and shame when it came to any kind of physical endeavor. (I can relate!) I certainly would not have encouraged her to take up a high-risk sport that required a great deal of coordination, but she was eventually able to enjoy the type of athletics in which she competed against herself (swimming, tai chi, yoga, bike riding) She was able to get past all the hard-wired negativity whenever she thought about any kind of physical activity and eventually came to enjoy the healthful benefits.

Rachel complained, "I always have the worst relationships. I don't even want to bother dating anymore, because I know I'm just going to be disappointed and have my heart broken." Over time, she came to understand that when she expected the worst, that's exactly what she got. She adjusted her expectations and started to enjoy meeting men, even if the dates didn't lead to long term relationships. Once she let go of these heavy expectations, she became more relaxed and thus, much more interesting and attractive.

Too often we define ourselves by our failures or flaws, blinding ourselves to our finer qualities. Dana thought of herself as unattractive and was convinced this was the reason nobody would ever love her. Paul saw himself as not very smart, and thus, "knew" he would never be successful.

While there may be some validity in such self-assessments, they are hardly the sum and total of who we are. Everybody has faults, weaknesses, flaws and things they'd like to change about themselves, but to define yourself by your negative qualities is self-defeating and sure way to keep you from accomplishing your higher goals.

True, Paul may not be the smartest guy among his peers, but by defining himself as "stupid" he blinded himself to his other fine qualities. He is a generous, sweet man, a loyal friend with many friends and co-workers who think highly of him and even love him. He's a hard worker and a loving husband and father. Eventually, he came to understand that his finer qualities are so much more valuable to his happiness and overall well-being.

Similarly, Dana finally embraced the notion that beauty comes from within. When she exuded happiness and confidence, men were attracted to her.

Greta strongly defined herself as a loving person, but she finally understood that enabling others to be dependent on her isn't a loving act. As the mother of a disabled child, she knew first hand how important it is to teach independence. I asked her to remember how difficult it was to teach her son a specific task -- she chose tying his own shoelaces. She remembered all the frustration and tears but she knew then, as she knows now, that it had to be taught, otherwise, at 30, he'd still be needing her to do up his shoes. Once she was able to view these other relationships from the same perspective, she saw that teaching others to take care of themselves was more loving than bailing them out every time they needed help.

Jack eventually understood that "mistakes" are really "life lessons;" feedback about the world. He was thus able to embrace them for all the knowledge and information he could get from them and this ultimately freed him of his fear.

Of course, it is important to differentiate between things that can be changed and things that cannot be. Sometimes, what we think is immutable, is changeable with the right effort and mind-set. And sometimes, we waste years (even a lifetime) trying to become what we are not.

Usually, things are changeable to a certain degree. For instance, Dave was not an aggressive-go-getter type, so becoming wildly successful in a highly competitive field was not in his future. Nevertheless, he learned to be more assertive when necessary and this helped him tremendously in business.

Larry was pathologically adverse to risk, which made life changes difficult if not impossible. He started his metamorphosis by taking easy, low-risk challenges to build up his "muscle." Once he had a string of successes under his belt, he started to feel more confident in his own judgment. And a few failures that didn't destroy him helped him understand that he could survive if things didn't work out as he'd planned.

You, too, can make these changes! It's your life! Isn't it worth the effort?



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© 2019 Adrienne Gusoff

August 2, 2012