Do you ever wonder why we are the way we are? Why does one person respond to life one way, while another person reacts to the exact same circumstances in a completely different manner?
This is something I think about A LOT. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a deep thinker and truth seeker, someone who wants to get to the bottom of what makes us tick as human beings.
Part of my motivation is purely philosophical. I find it fun and fascinating to peel back the layers of the human psyche. Another part is selfish, because the better I understand why I am the way I am, the more power I have to consciously address challenges in my life and cultivate ways of being and doing that make me feel my best.
Recently, I heard Feminist Marketing Consultant Kelly Diels summarize what makes us who we are in a way that registered internally as an immediate “Yes, that’s it!” The concepts themselves weren’t new, but the way she presented them was so simple and understandable that it made me wonder why I’d never thought to frame it this way before.
Each of us is who we are today because of three things (my twist on what Kelly presented):
1. Cultural conditioning. The norms of the culture we live in are so entrenched that we tend to absorb them without even realizing it. A few examples: the beliefs that thin bodies are better than fat bodies, that living a fancy lifestyle is preferable to living simply, or that social inequities are “just the way it is.”
2. Life experience. How our parents raised us, trauma we may have experienced, and the unique twists and turns of how our individual path has unfolded all work together to create a lens through which we see the world. For example: we may have become a dieter because we watched our mom diet throughout the years, we may believe that we’ll always struggle to find love because our first few experiences weren’t so great, or we may not truly trust anyone because our best friend back-stabbed us in the 7th grade and we’ve never gotten over it.
3. Our unique DNA. We were each born with inherent gifts and personality traits, as well as natural tendencies towards certain kinds of both life-affirming and self-sabotaging behaviors. For example: I’ve always been a sensitive soul and spiritual seeker even though neither of my parents are. These weren’t learned traits; they were baked into my essential blueprint from the start. Also: before I had developed the capacity to feel tough feelings and the self-awareness to understand the unmet needs that were driving my behavior, I turned towards food as a way to numb and soothe (instead of alcohol, shopping, being a workaholic, etc. – all of which could have easily taken food’s place if I were wired differently).
Of course, it’s impossible to drill down into any one of these three things in a vacuum. They all weave through each other, each component playing a larger or smaller role on different days and in different areas of our lives.
So: now that we have a framework to understand why we are the way we are, how can we use this information as we seek to heal and evolve?
Again, I think the answer comes in three parts. In whatever area we’re currently focused on healing, we:
1. Educate ourselves on our cultural conditioning. We become like a fish who has just realized that he has spent his whole life in water and didn’t even know it – and is now curious to know what water actually is and how it has affected him.
2. Get reflective about our life experiences. We ask ourselves questions like, “What messages did my family of origin give me around this when I was growing up?” or “What experiences have I had in this area, and what did I internalize from them?”
3. Work to accept and embrace our unique DNA. There are some things about us that will never change. When we accept and truly own the inner blueprints that we were born with, we free ourselves to: a) work with our shadow side (instead of pretend like it doesn’t exist, which gives it more power), and b) truly SHINE in our greatest strengths.
How does this land for you? If it sparked any ahas or questions, I’d love to hear about it (just shoot me an email at [email protected])!