February 24

Who Are We?

February 24, 2014

Marriage, Personal Growth

Meryl was bitterly complaining about her husband’s selfishness. Scott was thoughtless, inconsiderate, and critical, and she just could not understand how he could fail to see the effect he had on her. I explained that he was in constant emotional pain and therefore utterly incapable of loving her, but she argued with me that he SHOULD be able to love her.

“You can argue about it all you want, honey,” I said, “but that doesn’t suddenly give him the CAPACITY to love you.”

“But he’s my husband.”

“Irrelevant. Just because someone occupies a POSITION important to you—husband, parent, or whoever—does NOT give them the ABILITY to love.”

“But that goes against a core value for me,” she said.

“Oh?”

“I believe that we’re all born with a sense of self. Deep down we know who we are and know what our responsibilities are to people and things greater than ourselves—like our family, society, God, that kind of thing.”

“Your core value is wrong, my dear.”

I explained that to be sure, we are all born with certain characteristics, which come from genetics, perhaps spiritual traits, and even environmental influences while we are in the womb. We are born unique. We have a ‘self,’ as she put it.

But then—on innumerable occasions, from birth on—parents and others communicated to us that how we expressed ourselves was inconvenient to them: when we cried, when we were disobedient or uncooperative, when we were loud, when we got bad grades, and so on. It was unintentional on their part, but they told us that we were unacceptable, so we responded with behaviors that would make us more acceptable. We attempted to be quieter, we lied, we smiled to please people, we drove ourselves to be successful in school, and more.

Over time, we came to accept that who we really were—our self, if you like—was a sum of those behaviors we used to gain acceptance and to achieve power, pleasure, and safety. But that is NOT who we are. That is not our true self. We have come to accept the definition of who we are that was only a response to the demands and dissatisfaction of others.

I know a woman who is kind, sensitive, creative, warm, and courageous. These qualities are part of her true self, but she discovered this only after she had been unconditionally loved and exercised the faith to believe she was being loved. Prior to that she was characterized by people as difficult, rebellious, dramatic, controlling, and even crazy. But those were only reactions to the pain in her life. She discovered her true “sense of self” only in the cradling arms of those who loved her.

So yes, we are born with a self, but NOT a SENSE of it. In almost every case, we are deceived about that sense of self, and only with love, faith, and experience do we discover it.

PCSD

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