Every person has an image of himself or herself that has been forged by experience and how they see themselves in the eyes of others. Over years, we add layer upon layer of words we use to describe ourselves and grow comfortable with our place in the scheme of things.
This persona is vitally important and the depth of that self-concept affects how we handle change. There are normal passages that are expected as we progress through life – adolescence, graduating from college, family and career, empty nest, retirement. Then there are unexpected jolts – injury, sudden illness, or job loss.
If our definition is too shallow, we will find ourselves reeling when that designation no longer applies. Students in activities that require huge time commitments (thus limited involvement in other things) are particularly susceptible. Adults who focus on a single dimension of life are also vulnerable. A common example is the high school athlete who suffers an ACL tear. When a high school career is cut short and dreams of collegiate stardom come to a screeching halt, the bewildered teen no longer knows himself or herself or where they fit in the world. Too often they enter depression or escape to drugs and alcohol.
Adults at the cusp of change can get just as sideways – the homeschool mother whose entire focus has been the welfare and education of her children, the employee who sees themselves only in relation to their job, the healthy person who doesn’t know how to cope with a body that no longer cooperates.
My own life took a radical turn at the tender age of seventeen. I had just reached the pinnacle of my dreams as an athlete: a new state record in hurdles, a first place finish at the State Meet of Champions, All-State designation with the coveted orange letter jacket. I felt invincible. A few months later, a debilitating virus took me off the field and I never recovered the muscle strength or energy to compete again.
I later learned the doctor insisted on close parental supervision as she worried about the possibility of suicidal tendencies developing. Fortunately, that never happened because I was able to sidestep into other activities that were also meaningful to me – the student body presidency; leadership in my local, county, and state 4-H organization; and creative writing, to name a few.
Looking back I am grateful for wise parents who insisted early that I explore many facets of myself, each requiring very different skill sets. My self-concept was built of more than state championships. When devastation hit, I was able to turn my energies productively into new areas and not sink under the waves of loss.
Food for Thought:
- How deep does your child’s self-concept run? Although it is a clichéd term, are all their eggs in one basket?
- Mom, the same question goes for you. Who are you outside your children? To be honest, I struggled with this one and the empty nest hit hard.
- Dad, are you more than your work?
- How can you, as a family, take steps to build a solid bedrock of self-concept?
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