Of all that is important which professional counselors/psychotherapists offer to their clients/patients, none is more important than re-framing.
Across my nearly seven decades of living, I have decided that the most important question for any of us is, “Who or what defines us? Who or what tells us who we are?”
For some, it is primarily material; for others, moral and spiritual–or perhaps merely rational or principled. Indeed, if the former suggests our circumstances, however conditional, the latter would claim what is more unconditional. For example, if being defined by one’s material circumstances might range from income to health to status, even acceptance by whom or whatever, an orthodox Christian would likely term the unconditional, the moral and spiritual, as the grace of God; while a secular humanist might prefer what is merely rational or principled.
So much research has been done on this subject–at least from the perspective of emotional well-being–such that the responses of typical male and female stereotypes, for instance, can even be found in popular publications like Parade magazine or the Reader’s Digest. Men say they want to “be respected”; whereas women want to “feel loved” (as ambiguous as such conditions can be). For men, nonetheless, things like work, career, achievement tend to be prominently self-defining; whereas for women, it is more often relationships, especially involving family and home life. Having done a fair amount of consulting, teaching and training in workplaces over the years, I’ve interviewed many women in such settings–often highly successful women career-wise–but to a person, most have claimed the latter to be, for them, of even greater value and importance than the former.
I’ve been listening closely and long enough to people telling their stories to have noticed that while most folk prefer to be defined by their successes, for some it seems to be their failures, losses and disappointments.
Some years ago, as a gift for serving on an advisory committee to Roper Hospital’s chaplaincy program, the chaplain gave me a book, the title of which, You Are Not Your Illness, was revealing–certainly concerning circumstances that can be so negatively defining.
It would seem that most, if not all religions promote–if in often different ways–a more unconditional understanding of what is meant to be defining in yours or mine or anyone’s life. Since, of course, if our circumstances reveal anything, it is surely their transitory, conditional nature. For is anything material permanent, however important it may seem, or even be? Or as someone asked regarding a rich man who died, “How much did he leave?” The answer being: all of it.
A few years ago, a friend from my childhood recommended I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love (with Julia Roberts playing the author in the movie version). She thought I would appreciate its spiritual observations and even cited certain passages in the book for me to consider. And while I don’t recall being particular impressed or moved by such insights, it was rather another portion that piqued my interest.
[Unfortunately, I didn't mark the passage, such that I can't now, some years later, seem to find it. Even though, in my typical obsessive manner, I've spent way too much time looking for it. So I'm not quoting, but merely paraphrasing what I think I read in Eat. Pray, Love. I don't think I'm making this up. Unless, unfortunately, my incipient senility is emerging.]
A local food editor recently published an article about visiting her sister in Cleveland. Her various interests on the trip included, of course, exploring the Ohio city’s cuisine. The article contained several pictures, one of which was a homemade sign in the window of a butcher shop. It said: “Attention–our wieners were not involved in any Congressional scandal!”