Monday, July 23, 2012

Identity #4-Forming the Image

I asked my friend, Dr. James Wilder to talk to me about how identity was formed and he put it this way: "First, for an infant and child the development is focused on an individual identity and from adult on it is focused on group identity. All aspects of identity only become developed and solid when you see them reflected in the "face" of another. It only really becomes "me" when it is the way that you see me."

"The common way to establish identity is by the cumulative history of what I have done. That makes me the sum of what has gone before. Since most of that is malfunction and sin, my identity becomes the sum total of my errors to date--as they are seen by others and reflected to me.

When I am seen through the eyes of heaven as who I was meant to be and not what I have done, then my potential defines my identity!

The second point would be that "belonging" is more a characteristic of identity than a requirement for identity.

Individual Identity -- What you see reflected in the faces of the people you relate to during the formation of your "individual identity" creates a picture of yourself. That picture is confirmed when you see it reflected in the faces of the people in your "group"--it solidifies; it becomes real. "You" are what you see in those faces. You are what others say you are!

Your emotional response to the picture others create for you is where the sense of "belonging" and the sense of "worth" come from. It is a sense of a feeling of worth and belonging. God designed the family to show you the truth about yourself and the truth about God. If what you see in the faces around you is in reality, other people's brokenness and sin, you may not learn the truth about yourself. You may feel that you are broken; you are the sin that you see in the face(s)--awful, disgusting, and worthless. You feel you are what others tell you with their faces, words, and body language. One friend put it this way: "When people treat you like a couch, you begin to feel like a couch. They talk about you, over you, ignore you, abuse you, shove you around, use you, throw you away when they are finished with you, but they never talk to you. You feel like a piece of furniture."

Here is another example of a person emotionally responding to the picture others present. For several years when this man was a child, his two brothers, two and four years older respectively, called him "Stupid." "Get out of the way, Stupid. Let me do that." He finally concluded he was indeed stupid and proceeded to do poorly in school, act out, and otherwise cause trouble for himself and others. However, he also received other messages, messages of worth and belonging from other family members. These same two brothers would also quickly come to his defense when defense was needed. Consequently, he had an unstable, fluctuating picture of himself. When he finished his tour of duty in the army, he registered for college, took a couple courses and received "A's." That was all he needed. He proved to himself and anyone who cared to ask that he was not stupid!

Feeling Different -- Because of your sensitivity, you may feel so different from other family members that you wonder if you were adopted. Another fellow I know would listen to stories his siblings told and wonder what family raised them--certainly not the one in which he grew up! The family reminisced of wonderful adventures, fun, and laughter, whereas the family my friend was familiar with was much darker. Actually, both pictures of the family were true! The siblings did have wonderful adventures; there was much fun and laughter. There was also much pain in some members. My friend was more sensitive than others; therefore, he felt the unexpressed pain. It colored all his family experiences a much darker tone. Being aware of the unexpressed pain, he did not perceive the fun or experience the laughter and adventure.

You also may have felt the unexpressed and unresolved trouble of family members and it colored your experience of life. Your sensitivity may have made your experience of life in the family much darker and more somber. You may feel you do not belong to this family; you are that different from the others.

Your perception that you are different may not be wrong, but your conclusion may be! You may have a very accurate perception of the darker reality within your family. If they are not as sensitive as you, they may not have felt their own troubles as acutely as you. You may be quite accurate when you perceive dark and somber emotions of disgust, contempt, and rejection. That may be exactly what a family member was feeling! However, if you assume that every feeling you have originates from your own being or that you caused them to have disgust, contempt, or rejection toward you, you can arrive at a false conslusion about others, God and yourself. You may conclude that you are "wrong," that there is something about you that is flawed or undesireable. You withdraw to the fringes of the family and wonder if you really belong here. You question your worth.

What you have perceived is not the ultimate reality that God created you to live in, nor is it God's reality. God's reality is the one He designed you for, and the one in which you want to live. God chooses to look at the potential He designed into you rather than the sum total of all you "malfunctions and sins," as Dr. Wilder said! Perhaps that is why He is so patient! He knows what He built into you and that you are capable of doing and being what He has call you to do and be. He knows you can be the person He designed you to be. God looks at an accurate picture of you. You may be looking at a distorted or false picture of yourself.

The next post will be about our "group" identity. My suggestion is to ask the Lord to see what He sees when He looks at you. And, how does your potential--which God sees--differ from the image you have of yourself. And then we will look at things we can do to correct the self-image that we have received.

These posts on identity are taken from the book Highly Sensitive, published by Destiny Image. It can be purchased from my website,, Barnes & Noble or Destiny Image.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Identity #3-Competency

Competency is where your natural talents come into play.  Talent is something you are born with and is only dependent upon your "group" in that they can encourage or discourage, help or hinder you. You develop competency when you are pushed to take appropriate risks; that is how you develop the skills necessary to do the task well. Every person needs to feel good about herself; everyone needs to feel he has worth and belonging. Having both, it is possible to not rate very high on the competency scale. You can be a klutz and still have a solid sense of self-esteem. However, if a person is weak on belonging and lacks a sense of worth, competency becomes very important. You can use competency to compensate for the shortfall in worth or belonging. Your competency ccan be a source of nurture to your soul when the need to belong is not being met.

What a person is good at does not seem to matter--just that they are good at something! I felt I was not ready for our daughters becoming teenagers, but they did not consult me! I remembered that I had heard someone advise to make sure your teenager is good at something. It does not matter what. Just put your thumb in his back and make sure he is good at something. That would get him through his teen years intact! I quickly forgot who saidit, but the advice stayed with me. If a child has a knack with computer, help him be the best tech yet. If it is spelling, music, sports, academis, whatever, help your child be able to say, "I'm the best tennis player, diver, runner, stand-up comic, etc. in school!" The one who does well is valued and included--she belongs!

Many people short on belonging and worth use their competency to buy belonging and worth. The teen short on worth and belonging, but competent in football will give his heart and soul to the game. He will play in pain or when he is unwell. The pain or illness pales in contrast to the pain of feeling worthless and not belonging. The adulation from fellow students, the camaraderie of the team, the "atta boys" from the coach--these things far outweigh any pain or illness he may have. He wears his letter jacket to broadcast his belonging and worth to the team.

You see the same pattern in the corporate world. A worker happily takes an added workload or volunteers to head up committees. He drives himself. The job becomes all consuming--worth and belonging are that important. He takes classes to be a more valuable asset to the company. He may display qualifications, accolades and certificates in prominent places in the office. It is another way of saying, "See me," "Appreciate me." It is proof to him, and to the world, of worth. Sadly, some sacrifice relationships at home in pursuit of the "atta boy" they never heard as a child. When you depend upon competency to earn love and a sense of belonging and worth, you open the door that leads to burnout, disappointment, betrayal, and failure. Feelings of worth and belonging that come from meeting expectations, performing brilliantly, or reading people correctly are fragile at best.

I will never forget the day I asked my father what he thought I should do for a career. He looked me right in the eye and said, "Kiddo, I think you can do whatever you set your mind to do." Talk about an "atta boy!" We would love to hear what your experience was? Who "saw you" and said something? Who reflected back to you an accurate picture of yourself that made a difference for you?

Blessings, Carol

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Identity #2

There are four aspects to identity that are important to note. The first three are the sense of belonging, the sense of worth and competency. Competency is used to compensate for a shortfall in either belonging or worth. The sense of belonging and the sense of worth flow from or are the result of a picture you have of yourself. Belonging and worth are a result of how this picture causes you to feel about yourself. However, the way in which this picture is acquired is critical, so I call the way the picture is acquired the fourth aspect.

Sense of Worth

The sense or feeling of worth comes from inclusion. A lack of worth comes from exclusion. The following questions will help you discern possible areas for repair. When you were a child,
  • Did you have a part in decision making?
  • Did you have choices?
  • Could you choose the clothing you wore, the friends you played with?
  • Could you choose what you wanted for your birthday dinner? 
  • Did you choose the paint for your room?
  • Did you choose your education, or were you told what to do and who you would be?
  • Did someone tell you that you would be an engineer, a doctor, a pilot, a teacher, or that you would never amount to anything?
  • Did people talk to you, over you, or about you as if you were a piece of furniture?
  • Were you included in conversations, plans, outings, adventures, and fun?
  • Were your opinions, needs, and desires ignored?
  • Perhaps no one bothered to ask. Did anyone of significance applaud your accomplishments and attend your events?

Sense of Belonging

Messages of belonging come from having your needs met and the spirit in which those needs are met. They do not need to be met with an abundance of things, simply with consistency and love. You can have abundance, but if you are treated as an object rather than a cherished child, your sense of belonging will need repair. Mechanical meeting of needs without loving touch and concern or with inconsistent love and concern builds a very shaky sense of belonging. Sometimes you belong, and sometimes you don’t. Your heart wonders, which one is this? You become very adept at reading people and sensing their emotional state moment by moment because your safety and security depend upon an accurate assessment. If your belonging is in question or if the criteria for belonging continually shifts, the likelihood that you will need to compensate for a lack of belonging is much greater.

Meeting your needs with consistency and love communicates that you are valued, that you are cherished and that you are of great worth. This is the truth about you. The heart craves to be loved and cherished. What a dilemma when the people who should love do not or cannot!

If you have identified a gaping hole in your sense of worth or belonging and don't want to wait for suggestions for repair to appear in this blog, run on down to your local bookstore and order Highly Sensitive. "The Issue of Identity" is chapter 9. It is published by Destiny Image. ISBN: 13: 978-0-7684-3260-2. You can also get it through It is such comfort to know that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Matthew 28:20b "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age". 

If some point struck a chord in you and you feel okay with sharing, I would love to know.

Blessings, Carol

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chameleon Syndrome?

Identity can be a slippery thing for all of us, but it is especially difficult for highly sensitive people (hsp's). Hsp's (highly sensitive people) have an innate "chameleon" reflex, subconsciously morphing into whoever or whatever the strongest personality needs or environment calls for. The result is a fluctuating, unstable picture of who we are!

I am thinking, if we can become aware of the phenomena we will learn to sense when we begin to drift with it. Perhaps, the sooner we spot ourselves drifting the quicker we can come back to our personal emotional base line.

To give you an idea of what I mean. My husband and I were invited to come to Canada on loan from Elijah House Ministires, USA to help train some Canadian counselors. The currency exchange was keeping some folks from receiving the help they needed. I determined that I was not going to pick up a Canadian accent since we would only be there a couple years. I worked hard to not say "eh?" But after being there only two months it slipped out effortlessly and appropriately. I finally gave up. It took too much energy to monitor every word. The Canadian "eh?" is with me still. This was not imitation or mimicking. I sort of absorb the sound and now years later thinking about friends there will bring out the accent effortlessly.

Another example is our youngest daughter, a burden bearer through and through. I always knew who she had been playing with by her behavior when she came home. For about a half hour she "was" her friend. She used her expressions, inflections and vocabulary--even the acting out behavior was the same. One particular friend had a rather "sailor-esq" vocabulary and was emotionally and verbally abusive toward her mother. We would quickly have a little sit down talk.

  • Were you playing with ***?
  • Yes.
  • Were she and her mommy having an argument?
  • Uh, huh.
  • Well, Sweetie, you and I aren't angry with each other are we?
  • No.
  • Well, then you don't need to act toward me like your friend does toward her mommy. In this house, we don't say mean things to each other. We don't use those kinds of words. They just are not appropriate. I know *** says those things, but our family doesn't. How about we pray for her and her mommy and ask Jesus to help their home become more peaceful and happy.
Within a half hour of prayer she had returned to her sunny self and left the "Salty Sally" persona behind! She had found her way back to her joy base. By herself she could not sort out the difference between her own emotions and those of her friend, but with help she could shortly return to her emotional default, her own emotional baseline that was true of her. Without such help it took much longer for her to return to her self. Without help at all a person can become lost to self and have no sense of who they are.

Like a house, our identity needs a "true" foundation. A house that is a few degrees off plumb at the foundation will be several degrees off at the roofline. The walls of our house will not be straight up and down--the house will lean. They will not be as sturdy or dependable in a storm as straight walls are.  Our self-image can also become skewed when we are given a picture of ourselves which is not true; which prevents us from living life with joy and confidence. Life can batter and then we crumble because we are not as "study" as we might otherwise be.

In the next few blogs I want to share some of how our identity is formed with an eye to identifying what is either missing or in need of repair. Share with us, if you will, ways you see yourself morphing into either people or your environment.

Blessings, Carol

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reader Feedback

Just as I am struggling to come up with a balance in the midst of this major paradigm shift that the Lord has initiated and am tempted to hang up the writing career, I receive feedback from a reader of my books on burden bearing/high sensitivity. This gentleman was so helped--these kinds of letters keep me encouraged to wrestle on with this calling of the Lord to write. It goes a long way to quench the desire to just give it all up and knit!

Here it is: 
The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity

I was blessed when I was asked to review this book and give a testimonial of sorts.  Its impact on me has been awesome and continues to have its impact on me.  It amazes me how Jesus asked one of His sisters to write a book many years ago.  Being obedient the book is written.   And today it has literally saved my life many years later.  This is a book that was written from the heart and not the intellect.  It expresses the heart of the one who wrote it and the One who inspired it.  The difference between a testimony and a teaching is that teaching imparts knowledge which is stored and processed in the intellect.  A testimony, on the other hand, imparts the Life of Christ.  The book “The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity” is such a book that ministers the Life of Christ and isn’t an intellectual description of real events.

In order to understand the impact that this book had on me you must have some understanding of where I was at when the Lord directed me to this book.  I am sixty years old. My entire life up to this point was nothing but suffering.  I don’t remember any good thing ever happening to me. I lost my childhood to traumatic amnesia.  I had the Job experience.  I didn’t just have a series of bad hair days.  Like Job I lost everything.  A year ago my wife died after a long illness.  My loss was the Lords gain. Having been married to her for 30 years it was quite devastating.  In the devastation, I died too.  Everything that held my life together was gone, including my religious beliefs.  It appeared to me that God had committed first degree murder.  Who did He murder? Me!  I died to self but it appeared as though God took it upon his self to deal with “me” without my consent.  I no longer had a reason to live.  After the initial shock of my wife’s death started to subside I realized that now I was free to live for God.   It is in this context that Lord directed me to this book. 

The first thing that impacted in reading this book was how graphically it described my suffering.  It also pointed to the cause.  Empathy as it relates to burden bearing.  I was responding to these feelings that weren’t my own just as if they were mine.   The Lord was in the midst of it and large pieces of the picture of my life fell into place perfectly.  I finally understood what happened and why!!  This one thing is priceless!  For the first time in my life I stopped running away from my emotions.  The books also pointed out the right way to deal with these feelings.  I have heard it a thousand time cast your burdens to Jesus.  Now I understood what that meant.   I have learned that even though the context in the book is burden bearing, I take all my feelings to the Lord now and that I’m not supposed to hold on to those feelings in the first place.

Another thing I discovered in this book was that no matter what the damage that was done, the Lord can bring healing.  It also mentioned the “enemy of my soul tried to remove anything that would indicate who I was” (paraphrase).  The first thing the Lord healed was the murder charge I laid on Him after my wife died.  I would not have accepted the evidence that the Lord provided of His innocence if it had not been for what I read in this book. No matter what the damage the Lord can bring healing.  Not only can He, He actually did bring healing!!  The devil came within a half inch of completely destroying me and the Lord brought healing.  It doesn’t get any worse than accusing the Lord of murder and meaning it with all my heart.  Needless to say after three months me and the Lord back together again and everything explained to my satisfaction. (it involved forgiveness and repentance J).
High sensitivity (empathy) can be a burdensome gift when we do not understand what we are experiencing. When 70-80% of the general population is not highly sensitive you can see why they look at us and wonder what is wrong with us and urge us to "not be that way!" And in anguish we reply, "If only we could!" Our central nervous system is a design capability; it is hard wiring; it is part of our DNA. To fight against it or deny it is to turn away from our God-given design. To "hate" how I am is to hate what God has declared to be good, what He delights in. On our own the best we can do is to build defense mechanisms, coping strategies. But that leads to "existing" rather than living life abundantly.

I don't know about you, but I want to live life abundantly and experience the full capabilities of my design. I want to live out the purpose for which He designed me. If God has built me as a Ferarri, I say let's learn how to drive this thing!

Buckle up!  Carol