How to Define the Self
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.— Bruce Lee
While walking through the park yesterday a woman came up and asked me, "Are you from the North Pole or something? You must be, out here in shorts with no shirt on!" and that made me chuckle because I let her know that I grew up on the beach and if the sun was out then that meant it was warm enough to be half-naked. Having brought up growing up on the beach I began to think, "How long has it been since I've been to the beach? Am I even what one would call a beach bum anymore?" and I came to the conclusion it had been so long since I had actually been to the beach that this statement made no sense anymore. This woman's question had me thinking about who I am and what defines me now.
Defining yourself is a very important part of psychology as it concerns self-acceptance, but deciding what it is that defines you and how it shall define you can be a difficult situation to step in to consciously due to past traumas. Some would opt for unconscious definitions, floating through life as if it were one big river sweeping them away. Others go out of their way to fight the current, and make sure that others see them doing so. Even more spend so much time defining themselves that they lose sight of their own definition in translation. Let's explore the many things that could be used to define you, and the importance of self-acceptance.
Is It Your Actions?
Surely the actions that one takes would be a great way to define the self, yes? If you are the type to make bold statements about how you live up to this image of grandeur, but you fail to live up to those statements then you wouldn't continue to define yourself by them. You'd soon come to realize, if you are of sound mind, that the image you wish to portray by blowing hot air is not something up to your actual capabilities. Instead you would begin to define yourself by your actions.
If I were to be defined by my actions then I would happily be taking upon the defining title of stay-at-home father, or if I was feeling humorous then "housewife" would also be fitting for my actions. I spend most of my time raising my son, going on walks with him, changing diapers, and doing all the things you'd expect of the stereotypical stay-at-home parent. I'm not afforded much of a chance, these days, to take any actions outside of parenting, but of course there are other things that I do when time affords me such opportunities.
When not being defined by my actions as the "housewife" I am indulging myself with hobbies.
Is It Your Hobbies?
If not your actions, then certainly your choice in hobbies could define you quite well, right? With so many different activities in the world to choose from and only being able to take part in a finite amount, it stands to reason that you could use someone's specific choices in hobbies or pastimes to define them. Whether it be painting, skateboarding, writing, snowboarding, basketball... this could all be plugged into the "definition of you."
When I am not slaving away at home for my son, on the very rare occasion I get more than an hour to myself for whatever it is I see fit to do with that time, I'm delving into fantasy worlds of my own making and those of others. It is invigorating to turn on a good video game and drift into the mind and body of a virtual individual living a story more exciting than my own. Even more fantastic is being able to create one of those stories for myself and develop a new life, personalities, environments, laws of physics, and all that goes along with writing stories. So much more rare than enough time to really immerse in fantasy and the development of it, is hitting the beach to get a tan, surf, and go long-distance swimming. Yet all this can't really define me, can it?
I don't think so, but maybe my beliefs can.
Is It Your Beliefs?
With all the different beliefs out there, the never-ending list of different perspectives all having their own ignorance, boons, and banes, surely your choice which to follow and believe in could be more than used to define you. People often turn a belief system from simple principles to keep in mind, into entire lifestyles that seem to attract others lost in trying to define themselves through belief. When you take on a belief system it often alters your personality, lifestyle, and even those you choose to surround yourself with. I know that the way I choose to present what others would define as my beliefs has led them to try and define me.
Take for example my lack of belief in any sort of God, and instead choosing to live a life mired with questions and analyzing all the different perspectives available to me. To some who choose to have opinions from the outside looking in, which I welcome with encouragement, I am like a wandering sheep who has lost their herd and they need to shepherd me back lest I get eaten by the wolves of temptation. Then to others I may seem absolutely bitter, resenting God to the point I literally want to eliminate him, and that is such an essence I have chosen to put off more than once when it tickles my fancy. There are infinite amounts of interpretations that could be made when analyzing what it is I believe, and that is how I like it. If my beliefs were to define me then the best way to describe it would be absolute madness and chaos, but they do not define me.
Perhaps what defines us is best left to defining our personality.
Is It Your Personality?
Is there a better way to define the self than looking at what it is lying inside of our operating system, the personality? Your personality essentially defines everything that I've listed up to this point and brings you to pursue them in the first place, so surely personality must be the defining trait of you. Personality is like all the little pieces of the puzzle jammed into one little category so that others may get a sense for what defines you quickly and concisely.
When someone approaches me on the street, for the very first time in their life, of course a few care what I look like but the majority of people place the most importance on my personality. Personality is subjective, so we will leave it to the self to define personality. My personality is that of skeptical inquisition with overtones of pessimism and cynicism if I do not feel like putting any effort into what image I am putting off. Everything seems to affect me deeply, thus it could be considered accurate to call me insecure or otherwise sensitive. Escaping such restrictive definitions is easy, and once someone really gets to know who I am they find out that my personality is even simpler than how I just described it. My personality is, simply put, curiously skeptical. At the end of the day does it really matter how I would define myself, though?
It often seems like others are the real catalyst in deciding what it is that defines you.
Is It Everyone Else?
We've exhausted most of the options we could choose from in order to figure out what it is that defines us, and at the end of the day we can boil it all down to us taking actions that, more often than not, are meant to sway at least one other person's opinion of us if not more. Certainly, without question, other people and the way they view and treat us is what defines us, yes? Everything you do, say, think, feel, emulate, all of it is being scrutinized both consciously and unconsciously by those around you. If you take a negative action, it most often has negative consequences; whereas, dropping cynicism and pessimism, a positive action will most often net you positive outcomes. Consequences and favorable outcomes are most often defined by the way others receive the input you provide, and thus you have now become defined by those other people.
Once again taking a look at my own life we see that I am a stay-at-home father, who in his free time takes part in sports, writing, and questioning everything around him. If I were to let others define me then I would be the insecure-egotist father who likes to play sports and is the greatest-worst writer of all time, I am the coolest and biggest loser you will ever meet, and I am a worthless piece of garbage who is worth traveling to the ends of the world for. You'll see me out and about and you'll define me as whatever else you choose to, and anything you choose will contradict someone else's definition of me without exception. So I guess at the end of the day everyone else is not a good source for defining the self.
So what the heck is the gosh darn source for what it is that defines you?
Being Like Water
To be like water is what I would say defines everyone, without question. It is every fleeting thought, emotion, belief, claim, hurt, joy... it is going from moment to moment being shaped and reshaped like water being poured into a vase or cup. Each and every one of us is defined by the container in which we choose to pour our watery selves, and when we change to the next so shall it define us by that next shape. You would not equate the tea kettle to a double boiler, nor should you define yourself by a shape you have not chosen to pour your fluid into and utilize yourself.
It is all too common that others see what they perceive to be your defining qualities, and having chosen their own they are ready and willing to hop in and judge you for the way you have chosen to define the self, offering self-righteous advice that they couldn't, and often can't live up to themselves. A worrying commonality as well would be the pot comparing itself to the kettle, when really the pot sees its own reflection within the kettle, and both could just accept that they are different and are performing different functions of equal value. No one else can truly define you, and your definition is always changing.
I live my life, consciously, trying to be like water so that I may experience the full spectrum of shapes available within the world. From day to day, and often second to second, I choose to change shapes at will and what I once held dearly is now but a figment of another shape's imagination. Refusing to let anything define me for longer than the present, I've chosen to live a life of fluidity and accept all the sorrow and joys that it brings. As life chooses to shape me, so do I choose to shape life, and onward goes the cycle of being like water.
Always remember that there are no right or wrong ways to approach defining the self, nor how you approach the problems in your life such as self-acceptance. The only thing that can define you is that shape you choose to take, and whether or not that shape suits your desires best.
So, what shape defines you today?