I just finished reading a section of Compassion (Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison) in which the authors offered an interesting reflection on self-image. They believe that competition forms the basis of our self-image and motivation in our current society. Ask school officials, coaches, bosses, or media reporters what defines a person and they will likely say that “you are the difference you make.” We define ourselves by our differences, our distinctions…those things that others recognize and honor or reject and dislike; those things that make us different and distinct from others. Our self-image, in other words, is shaped by how we compare to others. Unfortunately, this also creates distance between people and competition among friends and family for recognition.
The authors go on to offer an alternative basis for self-image: compassion. When compassion forms our self-image, our identity becomes based on what we receive from others rather than how we compare to others. I like that idea. I think our identity is based on what we receive from others, especially what we receive from family. Consider what we receive from family and how it impacts our identity. On the one hand,
If we receive anger, we become angry and defensive.
If we receive ridicule, we become sarcastic and rude.
If we receive conditional acceptance, we become competitive and insecure.
If we receive constant comparisons, we become competitive and jealous.
If we receive harsh treatment, we become harsh.
If we receive inconsistent attention, we become attention seeking.
If we receive disrespect, we become disrespectful.
If we receive everything we want, we become entitled.
On the other hand,
If we receive love, we become lovable.
If we receive grace, we become gracious.
If we receive encouragement, we become encouragers.
If we receive unconditional acceptance, we become accepting and secure.
If we receive loving praise, we become persistent.
If we receive support, we become supportive.
If we receive empathy, we become empathetic.
If we receive respect, we become respectful.
If we receive loving discipline, we become self-disciplined.
That leads to a very important question: what does your family receive from you? After all, what they receive, they become.