Six years ago, my individual identity was loosely defined as “book worm” or “emotionally troubled” and was largely enveloped by my family identity.
Growing up in a tightly-knit, large extended family has it perks until it comes to defining who you are as a child. My grandmother would typically introduce me to others as “the daughter of the fourth son”, often leaving out even my father’s name. I would internally cringe when someone mistook me to be one of my cousins. Perhaps, this was the first sign of a deeply-rooted need to be acknowledged as a unique individual, a single center of consciousness.
In high school, I channeled my anger and anxiety towards one goal: going away for college. I wanted to escape to a place where no one knew me and had never heard of my family. I wanted to be lost, disconnected from my family’s identity, and invisible to the outer world.
Retrospectively, I just needed freedom and a nurturing ground to find myself. I started to peel away the layers of my identity by questioning everything. I wanted to know why I could never be my grandmother’s favorite granddaughter. I wanted to know why love wasn’t enough to win someone over. I wanted to know how my past experiences had led up to my present reality.
I learned to dissect and make sense of every detail of my reemerging childhood memories. I was able to release the associated pain only after I fully acknowledged it. Through this, I freed myself from who everyone else thought I was and expected me to be. Gradually, I realized I am not my memories.
I’m also not what everyone else tells me I am. I am not shy. I am not simple. I am not quiet or reserved. I am not troubled. I do not think too much. I am not overly sensitive. I am not directionless. I am a bookworm though…but I’m much more than that.
I am complex. I am multidimensional. I am creative and strategic. I am a dichotomy. I am a paradox. I am the inner and the outer. I am inclusive and expansive.
Until very recently, my parents still knew me as the identity I had outgrown years ago. My transformation from childhood to adulthood appeared to be seamless and complete. They had no reason to believe otherwise; at home, I became the child that never left. I was still soft-spoken, submissive, and sensitive.
On so many occasions I tried to verbalize who I have become, given who I thought I was, and how it connects to who I want to be. Each time I tried, I was unable to generate sufficient interest on their end. The conversation would often be taken lightly, postponed, and almost always forgotten. Not surprisingly, I felt like a nobody again.
Why weren’t my parents interested in the work I did in Central Asia or East Africa? Why didn’t they want to know how my experiences have changed me? Why couldn’t they see that I wanted them to know the real me and not just my list of achievements? Why couldn’t they see that even as an adult, I will always be their child? Why couldn’t they hear me crying for their acknowledgement?
As a child, I struggled to speak up about the emotional pain I felt. When I spoke calmly, my pain was dismissed as a creation of my imagination. When I spoke loudly, I ran the risk of being misunderstood and losing everything.
Bottling this up for years, I finally let the anger and anxiety out and demanded their attention. I questioned the depth of their commitment as parents, as neither of them knew exactly what I did in Kenya for eight months last year. I strongly verbalized my need for their attention and interest, for their desire to know who I am. I expressed my disappointments from the past and my hopes for the future. I pushed them to search for new ways to show their love.
In response, my parents explained that when they visited Nairobi and heard only good things about my work and character, it was much like the parent-teacher conferences they attended decades ago. It maintained the status quo: Sabrina was doing well in class (or life), and was pleasant to be around. And they expected nothing different, because as far as they knew, nothing had changed. Hence, there was no call to action and no reason to be concerned.
I explained that I knew they were proud of the idea of who I am, but I wanted them to be proud of who I really am. And that requires a concentrated effort of time and attention, and a real, on-going desire to know. You cannot truly offer acknowledgement to a child whom you haven’t taken the time to know.
Agreeing with my logic, my parents asked that I routinely schedule family meetings to educate them about my work and related learnings. Who knew that expressing my anger and anxiety would result in an authentic relationship between my parents and myself?
About 6 weeks before this conversation, I had programmed my Conscious Communication Values Map (see below), and associated the value “authenticity” with “family”. Of course, I had to immediately get a hold of Elijah and tell him how the Universe was working its magic…
It is possible that when my parents made efforts to know me in the past, I was not ready to reveal myself. I was fearful of others trying to categorize, contain, or fully decipher me, because I felt that it limited my freedom to become who I am meant to be in the future.
Now that I know this is not the case, I can be more open about my authentic self in the present moment. The future possibilities are endless. And the experience of life seldom allows one to remain static for long. Therefore, continually redefining oneself is not a contradiction, but rather an affirmation, of our inherent capabilities as human beings.