May 7, 2017

Defining Yourself

In a perfect world, we operate in complete understanding and self-knowledge.  We understand our motivations, we are rational in our decision making, and we do not allow emotions to override what we know to be an evidentiary truth.  In this Utopia, we are grounded in the reality of who we are and focus not on our failures but the lessons we learned from the tough times and the positive results that were achieved by rising above.  We are strong and self-confident, we accept praise from those we love and believe the good things they say about us.  Critics, while they exist here, are to cause us to examine ourselves, to course-correct where necessary but never to let them determine how we feel about who we are.  Likewise, those who reject us - employers, lovers, family, and friends are shrugged off as not worthy of us, not a good match, or unsuitable for long term companionship.

Unfortunately, in reality, the critic and the rejectors are often the very people we allow to define us to ourselves in our internal thought life.

We can allow the most hurtful insults, the most painful rejection, the lowest points of our lives to become the defining moments and characteristics that play over and over again like a broken record that refuses to stop.  The rational part of the brain knows that this is not the truth, the people that love us and encourage us, assure us that this is not reality but there is something broken inside of us.  Something that clings to the terrible.  Deep inside, we believe the critic and the rejector.

As Christians, we recognize this is the sinful fallen nature, the flesh and the blackness of who we really are without Christ.  Perhaps it is our way of punishing ourselves, definitely, it is a way for the enemy to keep us in condemnation, or at the very least it is something we do that is so buried that we do not really recognize that we are doing it at all.

There are studies that say that 80% of self-talk is negative.  How much of that comes from letting the critics and the rejectors define who we think we are?  How do these phrases that loop through your head at regular intervals frame your life?

Have you been fired from a job?  Do you hear the words, "I'm sorry but we are going to have to let you go." over and over again?

Rejected by a lover, "I just don't love you anymore.  You used to be fun, now you are so serious."

A false friend, "Sorry I haven't called, I've just been so busy.  We'll get together soon, I promise."  All the while posting picture after picture of themselves and other friends at events where you were not included or invited.

"Why aren't you more successful like your Brother Harry?"  The cruel and judgemental parent asks.

Overheard whisper at the family reunion, "Yeah, the youngest one over there, nothing but trouble.  In an out of rehab, drugs... I always knew that one..."

The exasperated teacher, "I just don't think you are going to be able to succeed in this class, Roland.  I've made arrangements with the Special Education Teacher for her to come and get you and take you to her class from now on."

These events, phrases, and times can be decades old yet they still haunt our psyches.  They still play over and over like a bad commercial, they still define who we think that we are.  Only when we recognize the pattern can we be free of it.

Consider for a moment, we take critics and rejection so personally because they are often rejecting the very thing that makes us unique - the thing that makes us who we are!  

If we try to remake ourselves into something we are not, we are not being true to ourselves. The critic will never take back their hurtful words, and new relationships that we might form are stymied because we are not being honest with anyone!

I have done this several times!  I was fired from a General Manager's job and given a list of reasons why they let me go, mainly that I was not sales oriented enough, that I was too operations-centric.  My next job?  You guessed it, full-time sales.  Several years later, I took another General Manager's job and was determined to do everything right - all the criticism the last company had levied at me, I made sure I did not do.  In the end?  You guessed it, they fired me for not being operations-centric enough and being too sales-focused!  It was bizarre.  I reeled.

In the end, we can not allow those who reject us to define who we are to ourselves.  That inner self, the inner dialogue should be defined by those who love us.  It should be filled with affirmations and love, not condemnation and regret.