Each of us has seven selves: self-preservation, self-gratification, self-definition, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-reflection, and self-knowledge.
Self-definition is responsible for personal power and social wellness; its purpose is to cultivate our inner landscape. When healthy, this self functions from a place of humble dignity.
One of my clients, Heloise, shared, “In high school, I wasn’t smart enough to fit in with the nerds. Not pretty, outgoing, cruel, vapid—you name it—enough to fit in with the cool kids. Not brave enough to fit in with the rebels, though that’s where my heart was.
“I was the new girl in a small school where most of the kids had known each other since kindergarten. The new-new girl, who showed up a year after I did—stunningly gorgeous, exotic, sweet, and damaged—became my best friend and still is thirty-five years later. It was daunting to penetrate the formed cliques, so I didn’t even attempt it.
“In college, I went to a small, religious school where many of the students already knew each other. I was an outsider. Again. I wasn’t like them. Not as devout or catty or rich or breezily flirty with boys. I didn’t have the clothes that were considered ‘in style’ in that circle.
“If you’d asked me then, ‘Do you like being an outsider?’ I’d have said no. “But if you’d asked me, ‘Do you want to be an insider?’ I’d have said no way.
“Today, at fifty, I still don’t feel like I’m a part of anything. Maybe it’s because of the school situations; maybe it’s just me. But it feels like I don’t belong—like I live on the fringe.”
- Do you struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness?
- Is your life based on what you want or on the desires and opinions of others?
- Are you easily persuaded to do things that you don’t want to do?
- Do you attract compatible people who nurture you, fill you with joy, and bring out your best?
Self-definition is responsible for nurturing our sense of belonging and enables us to maintain and effectively use our personal power. Its clarion call is carpe diem—seize the day! The developmental stage begins somewhere between eighteen months and four years of age.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” —ALICE WALKER, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and poet
Self-definition signals us when to do—or refrain from doing—something. It’s concerned with power, control, and freedom. As we continue to grow, this often translates to living authentically and to a sense of belonging.
When our senses of personal power and self-definition are in balance, we understand that the respect of human dignity begins with the celebration of personal dignity. We feel good-humored, hopeful, and spontaneous.
THE SHADOW SIDE: SELF-IMPORTANCE
When our senses of personal power and self-definition are out of balance, we can experience negative feelings such as powerlessness, fear, negativity, helplessness, inertia, and self-importance.
Vastly different than self-esteem (acknowledging and respecting one’s personal value), self-importance can include being condescending to others because of a feeling of superiority or making others appear wrong so you look right. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it can disguise itself as altruism, compassion, or kindness. Self-importance includes narcissism—vanity, indifference to others, and extreme concern about me, myself, and I.
Self-importance can manifest itself in several harmful ways that become items we tuck into our life’s baggage. Some of them can include:
Physical: anorexia/bulimia, adrenal imbalances, pancreatitis, indigestion, intestinal tumors, stomach ulcers, cirrhosis, hepatitis, colon diseases, diabetes, and arthritis.
Mental: over-concern with body image, susceptibility to intimidation, trust issues, indecision, skepticism, pessimism, and slyness.
Emotional: fear of rejection, low self-esteem, oversensitivity to criticism, cowardliness, a tendency to be high-strung, and fear of one’s “secrets” being found out.
Spiritual: lack of authenticity, lack of acceptance of one’s purpose and place in the lifestream.
Self-definition—the way we define ourselves—is determined in great part by how we view ourselves.
THE PANTYHOSE INCIDENT
For me to wear pantyhose, someone has to get married or die, or I have to be giving a public presentation. No exceptions.
“Women want men, careers, money, children, friends, luxury, comfort, independence, freedom, respect, love, and a three-dollar pantyhose that won’t run.” —PHYLLIS DILLER, American actress and comedienne
Just before I was due to present at a women’s conference, I used the restroom. While washing my hands, I glanced in the mirror to make sure my hair wasn’t sticking out, and I didn’t have anything stuck in my teeth. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself!
Adrenaline pumping, I made my way behind the curtain to where I would go out on stage to give my presentation. I passed several people with clipboards, ear microphones; they were red-faced and had great big, toothy smiles. I thought, “This is going to be fun!”
Through the curtain, I heard my name and a portion of my bio being delivered to the audience. I also heard people whispering frantically behind me. I stood a bit taller in my shoes as I listened to my own credentials—“Without further ado, ladies, please help me give a warm welcome to Dr. Buchanan”—followed by confidence-building applause.
I slipped between the curtains and into the spotlight. Stepping up to the lectern, I’d just started thanking the audience for inviting me as their guest speaker, when I felt a tug at the back of my waist, followed by the unmistakable sensation of my hemline hitting the backs of my knees. I knew immediately that some kind soul had slipped an arm through the curtain and pulled my dress out of the back of my pantyhose. I was completely unaware that it had gotten caught when I visited the restroom.
Ego firmly back in its place, I continued on.