A good friend (perhaps sensing my creative drought propelled by my latest attempt at caffeine withdrawal) sent me the following quote by text, challenging me to write about it:
“Never allow someone else to define you based on how they perceive you”.
I don’t know where the quote is from, who wrote it or who the intended audience was but it truly got me thinking. We’ve surely all experienced being squashed into the character mould that other people have built to confine us. Instead of seeing you as the multidimensional human being that you are, you can be viewed as the clumsy one, the pretty one, the shy one, the creative one, the sensible one. You surely get the idea. Whatever action you take that fits your allocated role, happily affirms the person’s view. Yet if you perform out of your character’s remit, the event is at best ignored, at worst it is suggested that you were temporarily ‘just not yourself’. A frustrating position.
Perhaps parents and siblings are the most guilty of creating and maintaining our defined categories. Within the family you may be assigned differing talents, character traits, weaknesses. You are not able to encroach on someone else’s territory. Surely there can’t be two of you that are intelligent? Not two of you who are athletic? And if there is, then the competition begins!
It is quite scary (and sad) that the judgements people make when they first meet you can also last an eternity. A colleague at work has recently assigned me the disorganised role. Quite a surprise as I actually pride myself on my secretive organisational skill. I am a covert anal retentive. Everything has its household place, I have to-do lists galore, robust systems for completing each domestic task regularly and effectively. OK, I slightly exaggerate but that’s how this unfair categorisation gets me. It makes me rebel. It makes me want to prove the opposite point. It isn’t enough that I truly know that this person has assigned the role because of their own silliness, insecurity and inefficiency. Instead I get angry. I feel cheated. I feel restricted. I feel bound by their stupidity. But most of all I feel scared. What if they’re right? What if someone has exposed the ugly truth? My God, they’ve finally found me out.
The most infuriating box I have been hemmed into is the nice box. It sends me into spirals of rebellious fury! I imagine I am Marvel’s most plausible yet surprisingly uncreated superhero character – the Incredible Hulkess. Yet because I am in my nice box I can’t even unleash the green, gamma-radiated, mad-woman from within. All I want to do is scream in the person’s face; saliva dripping from my incisors; my dry, rancid breath permeating the pores of their skin; blood vessels bursting in the whites of my eyes. Instead, assigned the nice role, I smile, I please, I compliment. The thought of not performing correctly terrifies me. Consequently, I am confined in this cage of expectation. I blame the other person for throwing this role upon me. Yet ultimately I understand that the real anger is with myself for living up to this ridiculous standard.
A very special woman with whom I had a short-lived but intense friendship once stood close and teased me, watching as the fury rose from the pit of my stomach to the surface. I started to verbally retaliate until I quickly noticed the Mona Lisa, side-smile appear on her beautiful face. We both laughed realising that we had been on the precipice of a monumental event in our friendship. She had seen the fury of this Redhead and had survived. Quickly I apologised feeling sheepish and ashamed. But simply she stood tall, strong, yet with a warmness I could never emulate, replied with a smile “Baby, I don’t care. I want to see you in every way, in every situation, in every mood. I want to know you“. You may translate this story with caution. You may feel I had been manipulated or tested. But let me promise you, no relationship game had been played. Instead the overall feeling was one of complete acceptance. This confident young woman was not scared of me stepping out of my usual role. In fact she relished seeing the side of me that others may not be privy to. She allowed me to be free. I will never forget that moment. So much freedom and absolutely no fear.
Perhaps those people who assign us our roles would also wish to see our true personas? Perhaps we have assigned them the judging role unfairly when they, given the opportunity, might be grateful to see us laid out bare. They may actually be strong enough to cope with our anger. They may be understanding enough to respond to our insecurity. They could be encouraging enough to celebrate in our talents. Maybe they just need to be given the opportunity to step out of the roles that we have assigned to them?
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