by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD
I did an exercise with a depression support group a few years ago. I encouraged participants to turn to one another and take turns asking the question, “Who are you?” One of the ladies graciously agreed to demonstrate the “Who are you?” dialogue with me. Instead of having her ask me first (which I should have done, so as not to put her on the spot), I asked her first, “Who are you?” She responded immediately with a laugh and the statement, “I am fat!” She then continued a litany of other things about herself that were wrong. I don’t remember any of them because I wanted to stop and redirect her ASAP. I encouraged her to focus on more simple, factual (less negative and judgmental) self-statements.
Now, some of you may be wondering, “Well, was she fat?” She was overweight but not morbidly obese. Still, isn’t it sad that her first self-statement was “I am fat!”? What does that tell you about how she sees herself?
Is this woman alone in her automatic perceptions of herself? By no means! I frequently have automatic thoughts that are self demeaning. I’m pretty sure you have those types of automatic thoughts too. Certainly we all seem to struggle with “I’m not good enough” or “not acceptable” thoughts.
Take note right now, however, that those descriptions are simply not true! They are more likely statements of a negative self-concept or an expression of negative feelings. If I confuse “Who I am” with “How I am feeling”, then the “worlds” I create with my words will be very dramatic, unstable and probably dark. Who I am is NOT a negative perception or judgment. Who I am and who you are is amazing and well designed. We are more unique than anything else in all of God’s creation. As far as I can tell, we are the highest functioning beings on the planet…and likely in the universe!
Who am I? I am a human being. I am created by God and in God’s own image. I am also a person created to be utterly dependent on God for all things. He made me female. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, co-worker, psychologist, and musician. I love pumpkin spice lattes (with half the syrup) along with most hot drinks; critters like dogs and horses; crisp fall days; wearing blue jeans, colorful socks, comfy shoes and cozy shirts; going to hang out in a coffee shop with nearly anybody; making music; laughing at and with my husband; marveling at the growth all around me (especially with my kids) but also within me. When I turn my mind to all these things, I’m compelled to say, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and I’m much more okay with myself.
How about you? Who are you? Remember, your life is a gift to you. You are not to judge it, but to embrace it, unwrap it, and value it. Take time this day to write out who you are. Perhaps do the “Who are You?” exercise with a friend or family member. It will make your world a brighter place.
Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders.