Choosing who to be

In my late teens, I set about deliberately constructing a set of values to live by, and some aspirations about the sort of person I wanted to be. My twenties brought me a lot of challenges. I was living with someone who went to some effort to make me feel awful, useless and miserable. The things I had tried to do were weaponised against me. He’d tell me, for example, that I looked down on everyone else and this was evidenced by my holding myself to higher standards than other people. How do you go about trying to be the best person you can be in face of someone who treats that like arrogance and superiority?

When I first started talking to Tom online, he offered me a reflection of myself that was wildly different from the feedback I was otherwise living with. I felt like a shabby, unacceptable sort of entity. At the same time I desperately wanted not to let him down. I wanted to be the person he thought I was. I think that did a lot to hold me together and to give me motives for doing my best.

I’ve thought for a long time that your most authentic self is the person you aspire to be, and work to become. That’s not easy to do when there’s someone in the mix who sees you as your worst possible self, attributes terrible motives to your every action and reduces any good you try and do to ’virtue signalling’. Based on what I see online, there are some people who cannot imagine any other person having genuinely good or kind motives. When you start from that belief, anything another person does that seems nice must in truth be really nasty, manipulative, part of some plot or scheme that is even worse than the honest misanthropy they themselves are in to.

There are qualities I try to develop in myself. I want to understand people, because for me that’s the best basis I have for compassion. I want to be kind, without that enabling other people to be unkind. I try to be patient, but I do struggle with that. I try to notice how my own assumptions colour my interpretations of events. I don ‘t really mind whether anyone else notices me doing these things – I’m not in it for the applause, it’s simply about how I want to be in the world and what I want informing my choices and actions. I don’t always get this stuff right, but I’m also trying to learn how to be kinder to myself when I mess up.

There are questions I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. Could I have been kinder? Could I have been more forgiving, or more generous? I know I’ve been dealing with things where my failure to understand the other person’s perspective really hasn’t been helping, but I don’t have a lot of information to go on. How much slack should I cut myself for the way panic can influence my responses? Am I allowing the other person in this situation the same kind of understanding if this is because they are panicking? Do I have unreasonable double standards?

What I’ve learned is this: I have no hope of being perfect for anyone all the time. What I can choose to be is as fair and as careful as I’m capable of. I can choose to try. I can act on my best understanding of what kind and reasonable look like in a given situation. I am allowed to protect myself if I’m overwhelmed or not able to cope. I need to be ok with being fallible, because I’m human and I make mistakes. I need to be ok with not always being good enough by other people’s standards, especially when what’s wanted of me hasn’t been made clear. How I’m doing in terms of being who I want to be is not something other people can measure for me, and I should not allow anyone to tell me whether I am good enough in that regard.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “Choosing who to be

  • Christopher Blackwell

    “Wisdom is what is left after you have done all the dumb stuff.”Just a personal reminder. One it assume that you survive doing the dumb, stuff. Second it make take doing a lot of dumb stuff to get to being wise.

    Remember it appears that we learn far more from our mistakes, don’t ask me why. Trying to avoid doing dumb stuff usually means that we learn very little because we are afraid to make the necessary mistakes that each of us learn from.

    I still make mistakes, but I recover faster as I have learned to laugh at myself. After all I am always still becoming. Perfection is neither possible, nor required. Perfection scares most people, so maintain some obvious faults. [Grin]

  • Laura Morrigan

    This is incredibly relatable! How to remain kind while not letting others be cruel is a big one!

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