Friday, August 23, 2013

The Battle For Self-Definition: You Are Not Your Traumas

Ever since I was in my 20s, I have been intrigued by how, in day-to-day conversations, people define themselves. Most of the time, the definition is akin to a Freudian slip, where the individual is unaware of what they have just divulged about how they view themselves. Other times, the person is planting a seed-thought that will soon begin shaping her personality in unhealthy ways.

I am angry. “Hello, Anger, nice to meet you. I think. Maybe I should stand over there.”

I am depressed. “Ms. Depressed. So good to meet you! May I offer you this handkerchief?”

I am anxious. “Mr. Anxious. I’d like to shake your hand…once you stop wringing them.”

No, this is not merely semantics. Our words are powerful, carrying with them the ability to shape our souls. It is one thing to say that I am experiencing anger: quite another to define myself by that anger. Having a degree of anxiety is not the same thing as identifying my Self with that anxiety.  

If you doubt this is more than a word game, try this experiment: Rather than saying, “I am angry/ depressed/ anxious/ whatever,” say, instead, “I am experiencing some anger/ depression/ anxiety,” and feel the difference this makes. (If you really want to go deeper, begin saying, “I am anger-ing or depress-ing myself.” How does THAT feel, eh? No, no, you really, really have to put yourself into the statement. There. See? Feel the difference, here? It gives you more response-ability, more power.)

In helping a patient manage chronic pain, one of the first things that must be done is to help the person localize the pain. “No, your body is not wracked with pain, it is only in your knee.” It is (relatively) easier to manage the pain of a torn meniscus, than it is a torn body, yes? It is also (relatively) easier to manage and deal with an emotional upset I am presently experiencing when it is localized. I am not the upset: I am experiencing an upset.

Be very careful with declarations of “I am …” They all too easily cast spells that transform a Prince into a Frog.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

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