A former girlfriend of mine, after several months of cohabitation, recognized that she had been in love with the idea of me, not the real, flawed person who stood before her. That act of recognizing the truth set us both free to move on from a relationship that had become difficult. It can take a hard look in the mirror to re-establish what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we count on another to reveal what we fail to see.
Knowing myself is very important to me. Self-Cognition and Re-Cognition have been ways I have checked in on myself since my adolescent years. I was a geeky introvert in my teens, often taking myself off to ponder things by a nearby creek. That shifting body of water gave me sound solace when things were puzzling me. I could dramatize further and say I gazed into those waters looking for the reflection of the real me and that might be a step too far, even though I did watch a lot of television drama in those days. That creek was a sanctuary where time, and space alone, allowed me to keep track.
When I have let my emotions take over me and my temper gets lost, I do not like who I am. In those heated situations someone might say to me, in words or facial expression, “Who are you?” At those times I feel wretched, less than, and very contrite. It takes time to rebuild the person I thought I was after such a loss of self. For me, even a few moments of self-reflection can make the restorative difference. Sometimes I have sought out others to verify that I have not changed, just experienced a speed bump of growth. The benefit others can bring to the situation may be no more than an assurance that everything will be okay. That sounds so wonderful to hear.
These others we turn to, may be those through whom we recognize ourselves. These people aren’t necessarily our family. They have traits that remind us of who we’d like to be and we adopt them, in a way, because then we can associate with a collective of similar thoughts and attitudes. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. They become our clan or tribe. They become as familiar as family portraits in our hallways. They provide a picture that is not unlike a mirror, revealing the truth as well as triggering memories that ground us.
Sometimes I have been so lost that finding myself has taken a military style reconnaissance. Regular re-con missions are easier, keeping me abreast of changes and quickly calling me to account. The best thing I can bring to any relationship is the gift of me. Personal knowledge is powerful because it brings clarity and a map into the following day. I can rely on others for guidance, yet most of the time I navigate the various challenges of life whilst on my own recognizance.
Knowing I am bound by myself means I must respond when summoned.
Learning how to relate to another person is tough. We can be advised to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ or be asked the question; “How would you feel if they were you?” We have to be open to the idea that we are not the only person in the world. We must learn that others may have a different view yet still require our respect.
This learning about relationships takes time and can be distorted by conflicting messages or misguided influence. In my growing up time I learned early to question my mother and follow my father. These two dominant relatives were responsible for helping me decide the kind of person I wanted to be. I would often avoid my mom because of her inconsistencies. Her standard instruction to me was, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Whereas my father, man of few words, would lead by quiet example. I learned by watching his response to the world’s pressures.
It was easy to relate to my father. I watched what he stood for in life. He was good at relating aspects of his life journey through story. I adopted some of his philosophies of life into the pattern that was to become me. Relatively speaking I have found it easier to relate to one of my sons over the other two. It’s not a question of picking favourites. It has more to do with recognizing life style and the behavioural choices that go along with daily living. It’s also not about judgement, since my relationships with my sons requires a recognition of time and place factors. It may be easier to relate when a son is doing it my way (the familiar way) yet I’ve come to enjoy being introduced to other, equally satisfying, solutions to problems. I enjoy opportunities to update our relationship within current contexts so I can rediscover my sons. I hope I continue to be relatable to them.
My first wife instituted a bedtime prayer with our wee sons that ended with, “God Bless Mommy, Daddy and all our friends and relatives near and far away.” She was a fan of A.A. Milne and may have formed her opinions of the value of honouring friends and relatives from one of his books. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkr4E1Q1Dds
Relating to relatives isn’t easy. In-laws get the brunt of relationship jokes mainly because they lack history with us. Gatherings can quickly become shouting matches because, without a sufficiently long context, we have fewer ways to counter thoughts of ‘How can you think like that?’ or ‘You just don’t get me.’
There are ways we can make ourselves more relatable. Being consistent in our behaviour can be a start for people to recognize the patterns within us. Allowing someone else to know through our words that we have experienced some of the same life adventures can help open the door to a relationship. Until you hear the multitude of life stories you can’t really grasp the reality of all things being relative.
Each of us have had a Big Bang moment in our lives. Probably several: There is that seminal moment of our birth as we are pushed out into the world gasping, reaching, spreading ourselves outward into the unknown. That explosive moment when we discover that our actions get a reaction, when we make a gesture that gets a smile, or our first words bring delight and feedback. That first urge that helps us define our sexuality leading us to tentatively explore with others. As the universe within us expands we get a chance to define ourselves.
Some moments are pivotal. External factors sometimes lay out the timeline of development yet it’s your internal response to these life suggestions that will craft the person you will always be. These are the foundations of your central character.
Discovering our personal identity is the most important and exciting thing that we do as we grow. We define ourselves by our experiences. We can overcome harsh beginnings. We sometimes shoulder these realities as a cross we’ve had to bare. Actors must enjoy the temporary thrill of inhabiting another identity. They can choose a role that helps them display a weaker persona or they may get to play the part of an evil manipulator. The spectrum of human behaviours is limited only by their imagination.
I enjoy taking stock of the parts of me which make me whole. I like shuffling this deck of characteristics when I look in my metaphorical mirror. I wonder when I let one aspect of me dominate the other; does that make me more, or less? After suffering through a bout of depression in my forties I had to restore my identity step by step. I consciously rebuilt myself based on the memory of what I thought I had lost in my journey into adulthood. I recovered my birth name and created the story that was Robert. This identity wasn’t so totally new that others didn’t recognize me, but as I broadcast my newest self I felt a confidence that my message was being accepted and appreciated.
Canada’s Residential School system has left a huge scar on our collective identity. The policy was specifically intended to erase the identity of a whole race of people. Reconciliation will take time. Hopefully all of us, as individuals, will find new parts of ourselves. We have a daily opportunity to reshape our identities in grace and harmony.
Groups work hard at creating a communal identity. This is easy to spot in the sporting world as teams encourage support by inviting you to belong. Consider attempts made in communities to build identity: We are Marshall, We are Boston. We are Humboldt. Some feel they belong to a national ethos. I am Canadian! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pASE_TgeVg8
Clearly in the present U.S. political climate many may feel, “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” Part of a search for a collective identity has to include the varieties of the membership otherwise it will be hard on those who have felt left out.