Travelling home always makes me think about how we tend to create neat and clean descriptions for the people in our lives. The more rarely we encounter them, the more likely we are to group them with other similar people. Our brain likes categories for organizing large amounts of information because it simplifies the picture by blurring the details.
Categories are dangerous because they blur the nuance and try to make people, objects, and action binary. We discuss at length the idea that once you create positive and negative categories, it is just a small step to have morally good and bad categories, and that has serious repercussions.
When I head home, my parents tend to still see me in the category of their kid who needs help and guidance. I often fall back into patterns from long ago, where I did not have to make decisions, because they were being taken care of for me.
Very soon, Angie and the whole family will be heading to her 20th high school reunion. This will highlight how many people were put into nice categories years ago and how they have changed so much that we need to re-evaluate our thoughts towards them.
When you haven’t seen someone in a while, it can be quite jarring to see that they have broken out of the category you created for them. We resist recategorizing them, push back against the evidence, and try to keep them where they fit before. Sometimes, however, the change is just too much.
Just like the aunt that you only see every few years thinks that your kids are sprouting, while you don’t really see the major change because you are too close, you are also too close to yourself. Truly, we categorize other people, but just as easily, categorize ourselves.
If we resist changing our opinions of others when we see large changes, it will be even harder to break out of our own categories when the change is gradual. When we use the phrase “I am…” we are telling our brain a fact about our core identity that it will accept without question. We can say I am healthy, I am slow, I am happy, I am not good enough. The list goes on and on.
Once we have created our categories, we make decisions based on the identity we have carved out. This means we are much more likely to say “I can” or “I cannot” rather than “I’ll do my best and see what happens”
Ultimately, we need to recognize the limitations that we put on ourselves. We don’t need to put ourselves into a new category, we need to remove categories entirely. We need to find the healthy happy person that we want to become and start living as that person right now. We need to stop living a reactionary life and step up to run our lives!
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