May 19th, 2015

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How I Define Myself Defines my Entire Reality

Emma tells us in a Rise Up! session how understanding the third Principle to Being Human was the turning point on her quest to be her “true and authentic self.” “Rise Up! was the start of my breakthrough. In my family, being a childhood cancer survivor, I was the focal point of all the family angst, worry, and mixed-up love messages. I was the person everyone could stress over instead of them pulling together their own lives or thinking about the real source of their sadness; they didn’t have to put in the effort to follow their dreams or live their own lives.”

The “identified Patient,” whether it’s the addict, the physically sick person, or the child who “failed” the promise of earlier childhood, becomes both the “scapegoat” and the “hero” or “anti-hero” in families. Even enlightened families unconsciously dump all the hardship and emotions of the family on the one person whose “illness” can be agreed upon. In that way no one learns their own roles and definitions except in relationship to the suffering in the middle of the family’s emotional life.

Emma is a successful therapist today, a petite, dynamic blonde who laughs easily as she says, “I moved three thousand miles away from home in order to find out who I was. I grew up hearing, over people’s shoulders or from behind their hands, ‘yes, she’s well for now but…’ or hearing my siblings say, ‘I need a new dress, or a car, or help with my homework, but only if someone can take time away from taking care of poor little Emma.’ I was in remission ten years yet I couldn’t get anyone to see me as a person separate from illness. No one owned up to their feelings, failures, anger, successes or the burden they endured defining me as sick and then adjusting reality around that one identity. I felt both guilty for limiting them and limiting myself.”

“I went to college and then grad school and never told my story. I allowed myself the luxury of an identity made up on the fly. My past wasn’t the barrier to sports, late nights or bad food like it was as a kid. I threw myself at life headlong until I had a cancer scare. The family, uninvited, came flying across the country. They told my friends and doctors how ‘tortured’ my childhood was and how much ‘they sacrificed’ for me to get well. YIKES! Days later the mini health crisis passed but my old definitions remained to haunt me with friends suddenly treating me like the sickly person they hadn’t ever known me to be. At my wits end I decided a Rise Up! weekend might help me understand this ‘experience’ and find that elusive ‘opportunity’ that was promised. And honestly it did more than that for me!”

“Through the Rise Up! process of breaking down metaphors of childhood: ‘sickly, small, fragile, beautiful but weak; smart but no future; careful, she will break,’ I saw where I was still attached to the past. I found I ran from old definitions and turned myself into another kind of victim: one who had to prove herself worthy of being alive by defying all limits. In both identities I was a victim. The best part of the process was realizing and embracing qualities, like courage, insight, empathy and intelligence hidden in my ability to physically and emotionally survive childhood.

At Rise Up! we understand that OLD and tired definitions announced by others, do not count! It’s the world’s way to categorize, identify, make us stay home or leave home, attach forever or be blamed, be so beloved it launched us into the world, or so vilified we appeared to be the rebel, the “weird scientist, artist, bookworm.”

The words don’t matter as much as the intent in early defining games in families, schools, school activities and community at large. The intent carries the power of the metaphor. After all, what is a four-year old “sissy,” anyway? Or a five-year old “hero,” or a seven-year old “born rebel?” IDENTITIES that someone gave us, if they didn’t eventually cause harm are pretty silly and vapid! IF, however, they become a title we try to live up to or run from, they limit us, send us down every bad road imaginable, and, as Emma says, “I never knew who I was. Victim became the center of what I both loved and hated about myself; there wasn’t room for anything else.”

“In my rush and push to leave my sick self behind I never valued the experience of those years, never took credit for who I was in spite of and because of my illness. Of course I couldn’t find opportunity in the experience because I wasn’t looking at it correctly. At Rise Up! I found under old definitions were verbs and nouns that told a different and more powerful story of how I could choose to see myself. I do have a unique understanding of life and a maturity crafted from illness. I can rely on these qualities no matter the stage of life or challenge that awaits me. In a very real sense I own my qualities, they are a living legacy for my benefit and to help others.”

“Of course I now believe I can ‘Turn Every Experience into Opportunity!’ I have been doing it all my life! But until I could hear and evaluate the way negative metaphors constructed my inner and outer world I couldn’t deconstruct the words and absorb the deeper meanings of a True Self. I couldn’t find myself as a whole person living an authentic version of myself until I could live by my own positive definitions!”

To learn, Ten Principles for Being Human: How to Turn Every Experience into Opportunity, our Rise Up! journey for 2015, first we Stay, calm, center and gather ourselves. Then we realize, again, that all life is a beautiful, challenging dance of Gain and Loss and we embrace the paradox that is essentially life as we know it.

This month we begin the process of Defining Ourselves. For when we find out who we really are, what qualities we have earned and value, we come to understand we have all we will ever need to be whole, powerful, successful, and complete.


Featured Exercise:

  1. Stay: three deep, long inhales, exhales and center yourself deeply within.
  2. Although it can be painful, write a list of the most detested words that others have used to define you. Remember, intent and metaphor are important!
  3. Find a truly “trusted Advisor,” read them the list and ask if they experience you in any of these ways. Don’t ask why or how, just yes or no and assign a number 1-5 to describe HOW MUCH each word defines you from their experience of you now.
  4. BURN the list! Tearing it up into tiny little pieces helps too but burning is so much more vibrant a “NO!”
  5. Write a new list: “This is who I CHOOSE to be going forward!” YOU own yourself and your experience; no one else’s LIMITS can define you! PUT that list on poster paper, large and colored vibrantly, attach pictures, collage the list, write a MANIFESTO of who you are and will become because of these new definitions!