How do you view experiences in your life? Are they just things that happen to you?
Or do you use it to shape your values? I.e. as some source of awareness and growth?
We all have our own values, beliefs and attitudes which we have developed throughout the course of our lives. Primarily, our environment (e.g. family, friends, community, school, religion etc) and the experiences we have all contribute to our sense of who we are.
So is it really true that we are defined by our experiences? Have you really taken a moment to think about that question?
The attitude we develop over time is not only a reflection of our past exposure and experiences but it is an indication of how we will proceed with our life in the future. In that respect, our past does have an influence on our future. The way we understand ourselves and the resilience we develop comes from the struggles and challenges that we have endured. Life is an ever changing or developing story. Our environment and experiences may change which may inevitably change our values if we allow it to. The values we identify with at one point in our lives may be different at another point. This in itself gives us some richness in our lives without limiting us to one way of being. Thus, do not deprive yourself of a good future because of not so pleasant formative years. In fact let these experiences and exposure shape you.
For most of my childhood experiences with my mom, I can recall her struggles financially and not having access to basic needs including electricity and running water. My situation changed at some point when I went to live with my dad’s mom who was from a well-to-do household (educated, financial security etc.), although I never felt like I belonged.
As a grown woman, I can recall having a chat with my psychologist and always referred to myself as “that poor girl” though I have not experienced poverty for more than 15 years.
He on the other hand saw me differently and posed the question as to why I always referred to myself as “the poor girl”. The truth is living in poverty and living in a household where I always felt like that poor girl was a defining moment in my life which became part of my identity. Although some may not consciously identify poverty as an identity many of us who experienced it have a shared identity of not having enough, being judged by society and being marginalized. Unfortunately it is difficult to break free from this stereotype that has been created by society and think of ourselves that way even if we are passed it. Although I no longer live in poverty, the way I connect to others is a real and acknowledged part of my existence. That perhaps explains my empathy and enthusiasm towards poverty alleviation projects which I have been involved in.
So back to the question … and the answer is two fold:
- I think the words “defines” and “shapes” are interchangeable in that context.
- Who you are is not only defined by your experiences but also by the environment which you were exposed to.