My Identity ~ Defined by OthersBy
Continuing from my last post which was about the root cause of avoiding feelings and the way that I came to accept that other peoples moods etc. were of MY making and therefore my responsibility to fix. Another thing I realized is that when I believe I have been the cause of something, even something good, it becomes part of how I let others define me and being defined by others was part of how I lost my identity in the first place.
I have written lots of stuff in this blog about how I came to believe that my actions and even my presence caused all sorts of consequences in my own life. For example; since I caused my mother’s bad mood, I got disciplined. If believed that if I had behaved differently then maybe she would not be angry in the first place. If I believed her headache was my fault then I would try not to cause her to get one. If I was better behaved, I would not be in trouble, I would not get punished, I would not get hit with a belt. I defined myself as not good enough and not worthy of love and even worse than that, I believed that I deserved to be defined that way. I believed it was the truth about me. The only thing I could do was try harder so that I would be loved, accepted and good enough. There are many events that contribute to the overall belief we have about our worthiness and about who we are and the following is a very simplified example of just one thing I adopted from others about my value.
In my childhood home, everyone loved my cooking and I pretty much took over cooking the evening meal from the age of 12 or 13 after my parents divorced. My brothers loved my baking, so I baked often. My mother appreciated the help and she loved that when she got home from work, the meals were taken care of. I saw myself as a good cook and a great baker and since cooking and baking were a major source of approval and encouragement I loved to do it. (Well I loved the approval and encouragement anyway.)
There was a drawback though. If I wanted to be a regular teenager and stay after school to watch the boy’s basketball game, my mother got upset. I got disapproval when I didn’t cook. Disapproval felt like rejection and I didn’t like that at all. My mother was a struggling single parent now, and she made me feel guilty if I didn’t want to help her with the cooking. I felt very sorry for her and felt it was duty to help in this way. Remember that I had already been taught everything was my fault; therefore I avoided doing things that resulted in others being disappointed in me. I learned a false definition of love, and a false definition of what made me valuable.
After all the conditioning about cooking from childhood I married a man who loves to eat. When I became a wife and mother I believed that I made my family happy (with me) when I cooked their favourite foods, and I also believed that they are unhappy (with me) when I don’t cook at all so eventually I accepted that my purpose and value was in cooking for them, just as I had accepted that my purpose and value in my family of origin was the same. I defined myself as a good cook, and therefore my purpose was to cook for my family.
One of the consequences of this is that my family also saw this as my purpose and value because by my actions I taught them that it was. This time my positive actions were taught with a negative result. They showed appreciation when I cooked and they showed disappointment when I didn’t. I taught my children what became part of a false definition of love just like it was taught to me.
When disapproval has been a huge part of life, approval is addictive, and I became known for my cooking. I was praised and encouraged for my efforts in the kitchen. My extended family (my in laws) also quickly jumped to reinforce my value as a cook and I found soon myself silently overwhelmed with cooking gourmet meals for 12 or more per night all summer long and carrying them out to the hay field toting two or three toddlers with me. I also found myself doing more than my fair share of the special occasion meals. It was nothing for me to spend 3 hours making supper on any given night.
As these patterns continue on, one false belief is added to another and eventually I believe that I am a terrible wife and mother if or when I don’t cook! It is possible to take any example like this and see how you have been defined by something you do and how you come to accept that as a definition of who you are. It turned out that I had learned to be who other people wanted me to be instead of who I really am. When I pursued my process of recovery and took a look at my real purpose and passion, cooking came up. Once I realized how rooted it was in my definition of who I am, I wasn’t so sure anymore that I even liked it. I am good at it, yes. But I have been used for it, I have been defined by it, and I had been abused by it too. I had developed a reputation for cooking and it became something that I was acknowledged for. I was pressured to “use my gift”. I still cook, but rarely do I cook for 3 hours straight anymore.
I can’t emphasise enough that all this conditioning happened over a long period of time and that the cooking belief is just one of many. What sorts of things can you identify with when it comes to what you did that you were valued for? Stay tuned for a more complicated example in my next post.
With truth in mind,