Who Do You Think You Are?
After putting together a half day workshop focusing on what makes us tick, this has made me consider on a wider scale what the pieces are that join together to form who we are.
Are we born with a unique skill set and original character traits or do we adapt, learn and respond to our environment and experiences? I believe it’s significantly more complex than the nature / nurture debate.
I often say that we are kids in big bodies and my grandad used to regularly comment that he was the same in his head as he was in his 20’s but his body let him down. The more I think of this, the more discrepancies I find. There may be an essence of us that remains the same. I am aware of my capacity to feel “twiney” when I am hungry, hot or tired but I no longer hurl myself to the ground, kicking and wailing. I also sincerely hope that should I survive to be in
my late 70’s I have acquired more wisdom and insight than I possessed in my chaotic 20’s.
During therapy sessions I am reluctant to focus solely on a presenting issue such as addiction, anxiety or confidence. Tips for behavioural change are useful for quick wins but I have found that facilitating someone to identify who they are and understand how their feelings and thoughts inform their behaviour ensures sustainable positive changes.
I often liken us to buildings or structures that rely on solid foundations to ensure stability and durability through the years. Nothing is ever built to last even with the most secure foundations. It is necessary to protect, maintain and repair a structure over time. There is little choice in our foundations, they are not of our creation. No-one asked to be born. It is however, not a foregone conclusion that shaky foundations mean a structure will collapse.
Repairs can be done and sometimes the support of lintels, beams and scaffolding strengthen and support a structure.
This is not by any means a “blame the parents” tirade. We are all influenced by external factors, we all make mistakes and are limited by practicalities.
It is usual to drift through life rather than having a purposeful life plan that we do not defer from. Decisions are made without due consideration and are a result of unwritten rules both familial and societal. There are expected, conventional paths to tread, education, further education or apprenticeship, live independently, work, buy a house, marry, have kids… There may be ‘wildness’ in younger years, but there exists a pressure to settle down and conform. I am not knocking this but often people wake up and realise that they are in a cage of their own making. While for some people this may lead to some mild dissatisfaction about their work and lifestyle, for others a deep resentment can manifest itself in unhealthy habits and destructive behaviours.
Our time is often spent reacting to life’s challenges which results in fire fighting. When there is talk of someone mellowing as they grow older, maybe this is about learning the benefits of a more responsive rather than reactive approach? Many things are out of our control, however we sometimes can forget that we are not powerless and we do have the power of decision making in how we respond to life’s ups and downs.
It heartens me that more and more I am witnessing people placing priority and value on a work / life balance rather than the impetus being on money and owning ‘stuff.’ There seems to be a desire in people to live a less complicated life and be driven by things to assist wellbeing rather than status or finances.
If we are to consider our younger selves and how they would perceive us? I think the majority of us can safely say we would have been horrified by our mediocre choices and lives and completely resolute to not turn into ‘us.’
I recall someone once saying that they felt the middle classes were the most boring of the classes but growing up there was an innate confidence and self - assuredness that was lacking in the lower classes. I’m not sure that I agree. I have observed working class folk who have been ‘dragged up’ and possess a real vision, work ethic and steely determination to succeed that is completely unwavering. Conversely, I am aware of middle class adults whose self worth is in tatters as a result of constant criticism and passive aggression.
If we return to the sand pit and reflect on our hopes and aspirations there can be clues in providing an insight into what was lacking or needed. Also we may be a grown up version of our inner child. How many fairies have grown up and found their sparkle, ability to fly and to scatter their magical dust to make everything better? The resourceful, solution focused husband and father may have been a knight who protected the kingdom, slayed dragon’s and rescued the princess.
For some children basic survival demands the development of self sufficiency skills. This is not to say that they lack the luxury of hopes and dreams. Many children escape a difficult existence through their imagination. It is believed that J R R Tolkein and C S Lewis created entire fantasy worlds to cope with challenges in childhood.
During adolescence we often are casting about without a sense of identity, purpose or belonging. Peers are far more influential than parents or carers. Nowadays the world is at a teenager’s fingertips via smartphones. There is a world of possibilities, information and influence. There is also the added pressure of social media and image, this can be body image or a supposed, desired lifestyle. Social media is responsible for a completely contradictory way of being. On the one hand you can be accessible to others 24 / 7, while
also living an isolated existence. Human contact is positive but not always genuine when it’s ‘virtual’. Also there is nothing ‘virtual’ about cyber bullying or sites and groups promoting suicide as a life choice.
As a teenager there is often a need to fit in, belong or, in contrast, a yearning to be different and individual. Music is such an influential medium during those years. Choice in music often dictates social / political conscience, clothing, appearance, friendship groups and even substances. LSD and cannabis were integral to the hippie movement in the 60’s promoting a
psychedelic and peaceful way of being. The disenfranchised working classes were attracted to the MOD and Northern Soul sounds as well as amphetamine to sustain late nights and dancing. The 90’s heralded raves and clubbing which saw the use of acid and ecstasy escalate. A substance can be attached to any genre of music but it is also about what is happening at the time, your peers and your location. Grunge may have been prolific in Seattle, not so sure of its impact in Settle.
Trends pass, people move on and just as teenagers are finding their identity, this doesn’t stop when you hit 20. Granted it tends to be at more break neck speed in teenage years but the process of self discovery continues until the grave.
The biggest insult that can be levied at a young person is to draw parallels with a parent but the reality is we do inherit or learn characteristics or behaviours. The choices we make about supporting a sports team and political allegiance can be heavily influenced or dictated. It is not as commonplace nowadays as more young people are going on to further education but it was previously expected that offspring join the family business, or dad would put a “good
word” in at his place of work.
We often unconsciously use phrases or mannerisms that we have copied from parents or carers. We unknowingly replicate elements of events such as birthday or Christmas traditions. We sometimes consciously avoid engaging in our parent’s behaviours or habits that we deem inappropriate or unhelpful and shudder at hearing our parents voices emanating from our mouths.
It is not just family or peers whom we adopt behaviours from. Celebrities are within reach via all media, often to the point of saturation. This has led to an increase in a desire to emulate people in the public arena. I have observed a certain, similar “look” amongst some young women of a certain age.
Reality shows have led to the mainstreaming of cosmetic enhancements and procedures. The beauty industry is a growing market with a constant flow of new products and treatments.
We are at the mercy of trends and fads in fashion and most life areas. There has to be progression, change is inevitable, nothing remains the same and things often come full circle but generally dressed up as a shiny new version.
Our experiences are so powerful in changing our values and views of the world. An example would be bereavement. “Grief does funny things to people” is an oft used phrase. A demonstration that our feelings shift our thinking which alters how we behave.
Often in the most traumatic of times we discover resources and strengths we never thought possible. Challenging times are often a conduit for change. If things are going okay with little consequences there is no impetus to change.
“It’s ok he / she has broad shoulders.” People are not born with broad shoulders they develop them as a matter of necessity in order to survive and continue functioning.