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Who are You? – It Depends Whom You’re Talking to
You thought you had an identity. Actually, you have many of them. This is not my original idea. The idea was first proposed by Kenneth Gergen 20 years ago in a book he wrote called The Saturated Self. I just came across some thoughts I had on it which I want to share with you.
Let’s take Carol.
Suppose she goes to work and she is a corporate attorney, a very successful attorney. She always gets her deal to the client’s best advantage. When someone thinks of Carol, they think “smart,” “successful,” maybe even “powerful.” But when Carol goes to visit her mom and dad on weekends, she’s not that same person. She’s their “kid.” Mom complains about her not being as pretty as the younger sister. Dad complains about her taking on a “man’s” career. At home, she’s messed up, sad, never right; in short, unsuccessful. So, will the real Carol please stand up. Is she successful or isn’t she? The answer, obviously, depends on which relationship you’re looking at. The problem is not inside of her. She does not lack the right skills to deal with her parents, either, because no matter what she does, they still make her feel badly. She handles them just fine, but so what? She knows they’re not happy with her and this hurts.
Carol is married. Her husband thinks she’s sexy. Her children think of her as “mom.” To them, she’s “strict,” “nice,” “loving.” So, does she have problems relating, or not?
I, personally, don’t think she has any problem relating, but since her parents find fault with her—and of course, it hurts—that’s her problem. She can’t (and shouldn’t try) to turn off the pain because you don’t want to make someone become calloused. On the other hand, there’s no point in continuing to be a pain sponge. What should she do?
Here are some options:
- Say, “Funny how no one else sees me in the bad light you do.” And then let it go.
- If that doesn’t work, say, “Well, it could be me or it could be you.” Now, BTW, I’m an advocate of being respectful to parents no matter how they mismanage words. That doesn’t mean you stay around to get drilled but I think you do have to try to get somewhere. So just be careful how you put it.
- Say, “C’mon, see if you can say something complimentary.”
- Say, “What is the real reason you need to find fault with me? What’s behind it?”
- Say, “I’m requesting that going forward, you only say complimentary things. I do appreciate that as my parents you want the best for me and you believe that you are ‘helping’ me. But you’re not. It only hurts. Since I’ve tried to get you to realize this before and it didn’t work, I’m asking you not to criticize me anymore. Okay?”
What have you tried that actually worked?