Labels, Self and Boundaries

Thursday 11th January, 2024

If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker Rebbe

This is one of my favourite quotes, though I must admit that’s partly because I like to see the look of confusion on people’s faces when I read it out! Think about it for a minute: what do you think it means?
It means that if we base our identities in other people, then we aren’t really ourselves. Sometimes, especially if we don’t feel confident in our identity, it’s easy to base our sense of self on our relationships with others. For example, we may identify as “wife”, “girlfriend”, “mother” or “daughter”.
The problem with basing our identity on our relationships with others is that it’s not only bad for our self-esteem, but it means we run the risk of becoming dependent on those relationships. For example, if I identify as “his girlfriend” and the relationship ends, I’m left feeling like I am nobody; I don’t know who I am anymore. The fear of this may mean I allow him to cross my boundaries and behave in ways that may be unacceptable, because I’m scared that if I challenge him, he will leave.
It’s sensible, then, to make sure we’re confident and secure in who we are, before forming new intimate relationships, and it’s smart to make sure we don’t base our identities in those relationships.

Bake a cake!
If you can, bake (or buy) yourself a yummy cake (if you can’t do this, then perhaps imagine a cake). I’d always recommend chocolate, but whatever you choose, make sure it’s your favourite. Now, if you can, add some sprinkles to the top of your cake (or imagine them).
What do the sprinkles add to the cake? They’re colourful, they look nice and they may be sweet and sugary, and most of us would agree that the sprinkles enhance the cake. But take them away and what’s left? A delicious, tasty cake. (You can tuck in now!)
Like sprinkles, a healthy romantic relationship should enhance your life. But if you don’t have one, that’s fine – sprinkles aren’t essential. The cake is still great without decorations, but without a cake, the sprinkles are pretty rubbish. It’s important that we concentrate primarily on our cake: ourselves.
Humans are social animals and relationships are important, but no one relationship should completely define who we are.

This is an excerpt from my book 30 Steps to Finding Yourself: An interactive journey to self discorvery which is available to buy now.