When I observe people in my professional and personal life, I am struck by the pressures placed upon each of them by the outside world to be something or someone that in reality they’re not. I am no less exempt from these outside pressures.
This starts when we are small children and are pressured by peers and adults to be something that we are uncomfortable with or can’t identify with for ourselves. This continues throughout our life span. It manifests itself with parents, other adults, playmates, teachers, spouses, employers, employees, friends, different types of disagreeable people and various forms of the media. To some, this may seem like an extensive list. To others, it may seem quite the opposite in touching upon the many influences.
Though we all experience this on some level, when you are emotionally bruised, you are especially susceptible to outside pressures. For example, imagine being a single head of a family, female, black, poor and have a history of being emotionally, sexually and/or physically abused as a child and/or an adult. Unless you have been or are in this position, I would venture to say that it would be difficult to feel what that would be like. However, even with these experiences, you can define yourself not as a powerless victim but as a powerful person in your own right, who can rise above you life circumstances and be the person you are rather than what society falsely attempts to persuades you into thinking you are.
I believe that to truly be free, you must go through the introspection of defining who you are for yourself. Unless you commit to this journey, there are more than enough people in your world who are more than willing to do that for you. It may seem easier in the short run to continue living as you have been but in the long run there is a heavy price to pay. You may, in the long run, tolerating the intolerable because it seems too difficult to do otherwise. This behavior only reinforces behavior that ultimately does not lead to self reliance and personal fulfilment.
But how do you become your own person when there is pressure around you to meet other people’s expectations. This is especially difficult when you are perceived to fail to meet other’s real or perceived expectations, This can lead to your thinking that you have fallen short and are somehow flawed. If this continues over a period of time, it can not help but adversely affect your self esteem and confidence get a better place in you life. The results is that now we have someone who is not living to his or her full potential or even knows how to get to that level.
With all those previous years of programming and the everyday non-affirming messages you receive from others, how do you begin to appropriately define yourself?
You need to begin by becoming aware of patterns of behavior that are contrary to how you want to behave but tend to repeat. Usually this type of behavior occurs when someone pushes your button based on their needs and not yours. Recognition and a willingness to challenge such distorted beliefs within yourself can be a struggle. This is especially true when there are internal and external pressures to be otherwise.
Being aware and not acting out in some way when your button is pushed is easier said than done. However, it is crucial to perservere in this endeavor. In consistently examining your behavior in these situations, the why and wherefore, you will gradually see the pattern that you need to change. Writing things down and not lying , but being truthful, to yourself will help as well.
It would also be helpful if you journal at the end of each day, list three positive things you accomplished each day. The focus of the days usually are filled with what you should have done but didn’t or what you should do in the present or future. What you have accomplished during the course of the day is often minimized or taken for granted. Making a conscious effort to recognize the positives, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, will act as building blocks in developing an improved and more realistic sense of yourself.
An added difficulty in achieving an improved sense of self is focusing on any negative thoughts you may have of yourself and viewing them as realistic. Thinking of yourself in a negative light only reinforces a definition of yourself that is less than what you’re comfortable with. Yet negative thoughts about who you think you are only makes you uncomfortable in the company of others and vulnerable to their expectations. The truth is that negative self talk reinforces a negative self concept and positive self talk reinforces a more positive self concept.
As I shared with you earlier there will always be others out there who will attempt to define who you are and how you should behave. That can challenge some of your core values. What should be understood is that your core values help define who you are. Therefore, it is important to understand what your core values are and be prepared to live by them. For example if integrity is a core value of yours, then you need to exhibit a strong adherence to a code that exemplifies a sound moral and ethical standard. If you have identified honesty as a core value, then you should be exhibiting a fair and forthright standard in your dealings with others. You understand, of course. that though you have identified core values for yourself, there are always outside pressures attempting to move you in a different direction or who don’t espouse the same set of values.
Taking responsibility of defining yourself needs to take into account both your positive and negative experiences in life. There is a natural propensity to try to forget those negative experiences for fear that they will define who you are. However, these past negative experiences don’t have to rule or define who you are. They can instead be treated as learning experiences that can help in a positive way shape the direction you want to go in defining who you are and what you want to stand for.
This piece is rather lengthy but the road to ultimately define yourself is rather lengthy as well. I hope you keep reading my past and future blogs and find them useful in living a more affirming life.
As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. You can write me, Ray Shocki PhD, LCSW, LMFT, at firstname.lastname@example.org