If you were to look yourself up in a dictionary, on a page where you are clearly defined, what would that look like, and why?
How are we all defined?
Is it our career? Our family? Our culture? Our skin color? Our partners? Our values? Our religion? Or maybe we are defined by how others perceive us.
What Defines Us?
Over the past two months, I have taken a break from my “life”. I have been off of work, have moved out of a long relationship of 9 years, and have changed my environment in a way that has been a complete eye opener.
The first time I awoke in my new home, I lay in bed and was confused about how to start my day. It was as though I awoke in a new definition of ME.
After I strolled into my new kitchen and made a coffee for myself, I stared out the window at an entirely new view. It felt surreal. I felt like I had left myself behind, and had no idea where to begin in this new realm.
As I sipped quietly on my strong first brew of the day, I realized that the definition of me had changed. My personality felt new, and my outlook seemed to be confusingly brighter and more optimistic. Yet, I had no clue who this new person, in my bathrobe, was.
Where to Begin
Over the past 9 years, I would have defined myself as:
Christina- Noun. Dave’s life partner, Licensing Officer for the Alberta Government in the Children’s Services Sector. Writer, loving girlfriend, mother of a remarkable adult daughter. Enjoys sunshine, travel, deep friendships, coffee and wine. Loves to work out and run as long as she has the mental capacity. Thrives on laughter, humor, and meaningful relationships.
That was who I used to be.
Not much has changed, although I have been off of work for about 6 weeks to get my life in order. My employer is stringent on 100% focus on work, and if you are distracted by life events, you are strongly encouraged to take stress leave. I am still a Licensing Officer, but since I have been off, I am no longer defined as such. At least, not yet.
Everything else has remained mostly the same, except I can no longer be identified as “Dave’s life partner”. And that is strange to me.
I have been identified as “Dave and Christina” for over 9 years, and it snuck in and became my identity. If people spoke of us, they would say, “Oh, you mean Christina, like “Dave and Christina?” But, now that identifier is behind me.
And that is exactly what I needed.
I needed to change my definition in order to find happiness. I had no choice but to leave that life behind, in order to regain my power and to redefine who I am.
Looking at the definition I had for myself for the past 9 years makes me sad now. It concerns me, that the very first piece of my definition includes my partner’s name.
He Never Defined Me. Did He?
When I think of our relationship, I struggle in defining myself without attaching his name to me.
With that said, however, I know I was my own person.
I WAS my own person.
Yet, I can barely recall who I was before I was in my relationship.
I know I was a hard worker, I loved to laugh, and I had a creative mind. I also know that being a mother to my daughter was my priority and I prided myself on being a “good mom”.
I worked hard to get what I wanted, and I educated myself whenever possible when I had a goal in mind. I loved deeply, laughed often, and found humor in most situations that were otherwise challenging.
And, for the most part, I was independent and happy.
Over the past 9 years, of being in a relationship, that person got lost.
I am not saying that my life was absolute hell, nor am I saying that it was even a bad, or hard life. It was an easier life than I have ever had, financially, and it was a lifestyle that I wasn’t used to. I traveled often, we lived in a beautiful home, and I landed a wonderful career. I spent my own money, bought my own car, and was self sustaining.
But, my life was on someone else’s terms. My life was defined by what someone else wanted from me. My life was replete with expectations, rules, limits, and regulations.
That is NOT who I am. That is not how I am defined.
Never Let Someone Else’s Needs Define Who You Are
Here is the take away from my story.
You are NOT defined by your partner, your spouse, or anyone else. You are only defined by what you feel your own self definition is. If you are with someone who changes that definition, and you don’t want them to, you are in a toxic relationship.
Life is way too short to be defined or determined by other people. We are all responsible to be true to ourselves and to not allow others to create new images of us.
Relationships are important, and can be the most beautiful events in a person’s life. However, if you are in a relationship where you lose your own value, your own definition, and yourself in the process, that relationship is no longer a successful, full, quality one.
Building capacities of relationships involves two people, who are different in their own ways, and accepted for their differences by each other. Period. Causing or requiring another person to change who they are, in order to make your life better, is not healthy. You fall in love with a person for who and what they are, not in spite of it. Trying to alter a person to suit your needs is a recipe for disaster.
If you were to purchase a small tree, from your local greenhouse or garden center, you KNOW it’s a tree. You choose the perfect one, for you, you take it home and you plant it. You care for it, water it, feed it and help it to grow. Maybe you take time to prune it and you enjoy it for the way it flourishes, and you foresee a future with it, while you rest under its shade as it reaches new heights.
Chances are, you don’t look at the tree and tell it it needs to be something else. You don’t wake up one morning and expect to make your tree into a shrub. It is a tree. You picked it and cared for it, and helped it to thrive. You don’t get to decide that it no longer makes you happy. Maybe it sheds leaves in the fall, or perhaps it drops fruits on the ground and makes a mess at the end of summer, but you chose the tree because you wanted it. You should have known that it would take hard work and care, before you made the decision to plant it in your yard.
That’s how relationships are. You find the person who is perfect for you, and you help the relationship grow and thrive. You cannot do this by laying down expectations of change of definition, and expect that you will have a healthy, strong relationship. Just like you cannot coerce a tree to be a shrub, you cannot change the definition of another person.
Even if the other person has challenges, like the tree, it doesn’t give you the right to try and redefine who that person is. You can try and work together through the challenges, or accept each other’s idiosyncrasies, but changing them is never the answer.
One of the most profound lessons I have learned through this change in my life, is that I have my own definition. I am defined by my beliefs, my passions, my heart and my soul. I am driven to do better, feel better, and love myself better, since I have left my life behind me.
When and if I find another person to share my life with, that person will know that I will never lose who I am again. My definition of myself will not change, unless I make those changes myself.
If I am in a relationship, I will be true to myself, and will not bend hard enough to allow anyone to alter who I want to be.
My new definition is now:
Christina- Noun. Loving, caring person, with an abundance of empathy. Loving mother of her daughter. Licensing Officer for the Alberta Government in the Children’s Services Sector. Independent, strong, compassionate person. Loves unconditionally, laughs uncontrollably, and finds solace in her own personal space. Cares deeply for those close to her, and values deep, meaningful relationships with those who value her for her own definition.
This is a definition of myself that I am content with.
What is YOUR definition?