Don’t let others define you.
This is a concept likely all of us have heard from birth. Don’t let someone tell you who you are; you have to discover it yourself. Don’t base your wants and desires on what other people tell you that you should want.
But… what if this notion was inaccurate?
Some social psychologists believe that who we are as individuals is defined by those around us. In other words, each person in our social group is a mirror, and what we see reflected there determines what we think of, collectively, as our “self.” Good or bad, what others think of us defines who we are as individuals, whether we are seeking to embody the person’s ideal or actively resist what we consider their low opinion. Either way, another person is responsible for providing the basic building blocks that determines the core of who we are.
And this begins at birth — right along the same time your parents were telling you to grow up and be your own individual, they were also shaping who you would become. Sounds a little hypocritical, right? This theory makes hypocrites of all of us. As a baby, though, someone had to make decisions for you — what you would wear home from the hospital, which carrier would be best to cradle your tiny and terrifyingly fragile body, which booties (which would end up in a scrapbook later) to stick on your itty bitty feet for the first time, and most importantly, your name. Yes, one of the things that makes you uniquely you is decided upon by other people who hopefully have your best interests in mind and not a desire for some trendy new hashtag name.
But these decisions — even the smallest, seemingly most inconsequential ones — can have a lasting impact. Telling your little girl that she’s pretty more often than you tell her she’s smart could result in having a daughter who is into fashion and makeup instead of, say, rocket science…. which, could actually account for the gender disparity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.
But what if all these little things that someone else decides for us at a young age ultimately impacts who we turn out to be? Parents are brave, brave souls for taking on this sort of responsibility. As if having kids wasn’t terrifying enough already.
Personally, I don’t believe there is a “versus” in the nature/nurture debate. Both work together — genetics and biology combine with social influences to shape a person’s psyche and self. That being said, some people become ax murderers and some become forensic profilers, focused on tracking down their evil counterparts (it’s possible I have seen too many episodes of Criminal Minds). Perhaps the genetic predisposition was already in their DNA and societal influences nudged the person one way or another. Whatever the specific relationship between nature and nurture (i.e., whichever one carries more weight for each individual), we are still dependent on our social groups in order to figure out our self-identity; we have to have some point of reference. Whether you want to prove someone wrong about you, prove them right, or you simply don’t want to end up like >>insert name of psychotic relative/friend here<<, then you are still looking to others to define you. However, perhaps that is where the self really lies. We pick and choose which input we value from which source — what to believe is a true reflection and what to believe is a trick of the light, and how these pieces fit together. Therefore, our “self” is in how we combine the mirror fragments.