Pandora's Box

"Consider your origin; you were not
born to live like brutes, but to follow
 virtue and knowledge."
- Dante
                "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Dr Suess

"Become what you are."
- Nietzsche

I am
 the 'two me's'

"There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest." 
- Anais Nin

Lately I have been thinking a lot about identity. How one develops a personal sense of it and how that manifests. How that motivates us to push through life and how it affects our decision making.
Some theorists say the first step towards a development of self arises at a young age, from an infant’s understanding that he or she simply exists.  The second step is in the understanding of what that ‘self’ actually means. The development of these categories, the existential (‘I’ self as subject) and the categorical (‘me’ self as object) have been studied extensively in order to achieve a better understanding of when in development these views are established.
Rosenberg for example followed up on a Bannister and Agnew study in order to explore children’s self descriptions by interviewing a sample of 8 – 18 year olds about various aspects of their sense of self. Through the subsequent analyses of self descriptors Rosenberg found that descriptors used by younger children were primarily about physical activities and characteristics, such as ‘I am 6 years old.’ or ‘I am British.’ He found that older children relied more on descriptors that illustrated their inner qualities, such as their emotions and opinions, such as ‘I don’t like to show my feelings.’ Rosenberg further explored an aspect of self development he called the ‘locus of self knowledge’, which focuses on how children develop and independent sense of self, discrete from others. He found that this locus of knowledge shifted with age, in sync with the finding that descriptors alter with age from physical to psychological.
The idea that much of our identity is based on national identity (where we come from, what national symbols and archetypical rituals we were born with and grew up with) has also been extensively studied, however mostly within Western culture and it is my feeling that perhaps national identity is more relevant in more niche communities. But that is just me. I am quite happy for example to broaden my identity and call myself ‘British’ as opposed to ‘Scottish’. It does not however make me feel an alien in other parts of Europe as there are widespread similarities in culture and ritual.
However, probably the very first piece of information we receive, almost the building block that kick starts the development of our identity is our gender. The idea of what a ‘female’ or a ‘male’ is, is embossed on us early by our attachment relationships to our caregivers, how they dress us, name us, and what toys we are given to play with most of which will be ‘gender appropriate’ and how we are taught to behave ‘gender appropriately’.

This concept of gender brings me in a full circle back to an earlier blog, however this is not the only descriptor that identifies me. For example it is my birthday tomorrow, and in such I have been thinking a little over the past year, and how everything I think and feel is indeed linked to what I often paradoxically, have become to believe is my identity and who I should be at this age.
There are certain physical self descriptors I can say for certain; I am female. My name is Gillian. I live in Paris. My nationality is Scottish. I am an only child.
There are some descriptors that describe my character; I make friends easily. I am emotional. I often feel anxiety. I am very organized. I am able to be strong for others in difficult situations. I am fiercely independent.
There are descriptors related to my relationships; I am single.  I am very close to my Mother but not to my Father. Fiona is my oldest friend.
And there are those saved for my inner world; I am afraid that my fears will hold me back in life. I want to be more creative. I want to travel the world. I talk to Angels. I want to feel more in control of my emotions. 
But, which of these categories truly illustrate our sense of who we are? Which category grounds us in this sense?

In agreement with most theorists I would say it is a sliding scale. The importance of these categories shifts with maturity and with that maturity sometimes there are aspects of that identity we begin to fight against. The old ‘should’ and ‘could’ be inner turmoil.
Humanity has been limited to a distorted view of itself. As much as it might give us a sense of security, locking ourselves into one ‘identity’ (and this is where I see these studies as limited and flawed) closes humankind off to endless possibilities.
Once upon a time women were a subordinate gender. But there were women who fought against that to allow Western women today to feel proud to be female, instead of silenced. Soon in every magazine there will be pictures of women in bikinis. Without Annette Kellerman, this would not be today’s truth.
How many of us were brought up believing that children should be ‘seen and not heard’? Now there are organizations solely dedicated to ensuring that children in this world have a voice, that they are protected and given the same basic human rights as any of us, in countries and cultures all over the world.
How many of us believe that to call yourself ‘successful’ you have to be wealthy, have status and power? How many of us know better?
What truly characterizes a weakness, or a strength?
My friend was offering me advice the other day mid one of my emotional anxiety attacks worrying about how I feel like I am still flailing and failing in life, and she reminded me that ‘strength’ and ‘weakness’ isn’t so black and white. That yes I am incredibly emotional and a little ‘kooky crazy’ (I quote verbatim) but in the end is that really such a bad thing? I ponder.

My emotionality has landed me in some very dark, difficult, and soul destroying situations, but it has also for example provided me with the ability and strength to help others in need, when no-one else was there for them.
I remembered then that in fact appearing tough and ‘cold’ (which I can often do when my defenses fly up) is a much less experiential way to live your life. Being too emotional might get me what feels like constantly walked over... but also it has allowed people and experiences in, I realize I wouldn’t give up for anything. In saying that, thankfully I have spiritually grown enough to exercise caution from time to time, knowing now that the ability to call on a catalogue of defences is also necessary in life. 
I have always allowed my emotions to lead me. And probably always will. Perhaps because I am a female? First and foremost I would still now actually identify myself as ‘woman’. I am firstly a female before I am anything else. I identify strongly with my gender and am proud to be female. Which has it's issues...
It is the definitive feminine evil; a constant sense of failure.
Giving and giving and never receiving back so blaming ourselves for not giving enough. Causing discomfort or pain in lieu of righting a bad situation. Doing good but feeling bad for it. Attempting total independence and being judged for it.
The feminine evil, you see!
I am sure there is a masculine evil too... but much of culture has been built around the mythology of feminine evil... Eve, Pandora’s box... all linked to men’s unsolved problems, things that they fear or desire, while women stand up and accept the evil that rains upon them.
Women are taught subconsciously from a young age, from stories and myths, they have no real power, militating towards failure.
This is a central problem in sexual relationships and one I have seen only too much of this past year within my circle of loved ones. The depths of humiliation a woman can succumb to for a man, feeling betrayed, controlled and used, all because we think it is what we ‘should’ do.
As a result so many women are left feeling and looking pathetic. Pathetic? Really?! We just cannot seem to get away with what the other sex can.
So many of us have simply been conditioned to believe that what might actually be our strengths are our weaknesses.
I ponder that perhaps the ability to give yourself over to someone else, to accept their failures in part as your own, their weaknesses as yours, to give yourself that emotionally to someone, is not such a dreadful thing. The trick I believe is, to find someone who can do the same for you.

Being emotional and being a woman, are two characteristics that are not mutually exclusive, but for those of us for whom the two do come hand in hand I say... ‘amazing!’ If you can honestly identify yourself as these two things and accept them as a part of what makes up you, then bravo! It is not necessary to keep oneself locked away in a box.
As a (Western) society  we tend to objectify people. Treat them as things we can pin down with pen and paper and a list. This is carried into our relationships and to treat each other as objects that can fail a ‘list’ is to threaten each other with psychic annihilation.
Therefore deciding who you are for yourself, and most importantly accepting who you are is a lifelong challenge. In no society does a person emerge fully grown. And along with knowledge and strength comes new found vulnerability. But you must decide who you are for you, not in accordance to the perspectives of others despite how useful an outside perspective can be at times. It is not always. Take perspective, but take it in the abstract to understand more fully yourselves and your world.
We are a product of the our physical existence, our character, our relationships and inner worlds but what that amounts to is something almost indescribable. Instead I believe it is a feeling. A knowledge that even if we can’t explain it, or prove it, even if we are not faithful to it all the time, we know who we are. And that means something. That matters.
What makes us truly ourselves is how we open up to the possibility of dealing with these new situations, new feelings, new relationships and new adventures.
The very essence of all life is growth and change.
But who we are deep down essentially stays the same. We should meditate on that, remember that. Love ourselves for it and be open to love from others. Allow those who cannot accept the love we give departure. Treat each other with understanding, and most importantly reciprocal kindness.
We are all in the boat together after all.
I realize I do not need to know exactly who I am on paper to know what I want out of this life. To know - despite how my emotions may fool or otherwise perfectly guide me in their totally separate system from rational thought that not one none of us could be without - that who I am is not so bad. And that wherever I go, and whatever I do next, I will be taking me with me.


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