Or what if we ask – how are you?
The quick answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ is that you’re so many things. Depending on the moment and the context. We are husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings, workers, cleaners, entrepreneurs, artists, good people, bad people. We’re quiet, loud, scared, brave, shy, sociable, tired, excited…
But these are roles, or traits, or moods. Perhaps a more pertinent question is “How are you?” One of the most (if not the most) important questions we can ask ourselves is fundamentally, at our deepest level, “Am I ok?”. For we are human: we change all the time and we are all different. So how we are, most of the time, is really the key question.
This is surprisingly difficult to answer. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That mutability is simply unavoidable — it’s the experience of being human. And would we, really, be able to live if it were any other way?
Being “ok” as a person, in a fundamental way, means believing that I have value. If I am ok it means simply that I have value as part of the world. And all humans have value, right? (It’s the law so it must be true…).
Being “ok” is actually a fundamental approach to life that we decide upon when we are very young, between 0 and 7 years old in fact. As babies we are utterly dependent on our parents for survival. It’s a precarious position to be in — and because of that vulnerability it’s easy to not feel ok. The messages our carers conveyed to us as babies — whether they looked us in the eye, mirrored (and so understood) our emotions, held us close, fed us as soon as we were hungry — influenced the level to which our emotional brain concluded that we are ok.
As children these messages continued — whether our parents listened to us, acknowledged our feelings, allowed us to form our own opinions, encouraged us to explore — it all told us whether or not we were valued. As adults, we then perpetuate these messages , interpreting happenings in life in a way that fits with our underlying assumption about ourselves and others.
We also decided when we were children whether or not other people are fundamentally OK. We decided this based on their behaviour and our experience of them, in relation to what we needed and whether our needs were fulfilled. Because that’s all we cared about back then. This formed our position in life.
The ideal (and let me stress, ideal…) is that most of the time we believe we are ok and others are ok.
But very often, many times a day and particularly when we’re stressed in some way, we fall back to our favourite not-ok position:
To counteract and cope with not-ok-ness we layer more childhood decisions on top of this base-layer. Such as “I’ll be ok just as long as I … “ [insert all sorts of decisions and coping strategies that make us feel safe]: am perfect, don’t get close, keep trying, keep quiet… etc etc.
It gets complicated. The things we do to stay ok don’t always help us as we mature. But once we start to become more aware of when we are feeling genuinely OK, and learn the things that threaten that feeling, we start to observe our reactions and behaviours and can start to choose new ones. Once that happens it helps us see ourselves and others as basically, fundamentally, OK. We accept ourselves and others as we find them.
Then everyone starts to be OK. And how great is that.
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