Here’s an idea to play around with. The next time someone or something upsets you, ask yourself, “Does this define me or refine me?”
Why? Because your answer determines how you move through the experience and the baggage you carry afterward.
Let’s see what Webster has to say about these two words.
Define: to determine the limits or nature of; describe exactly.
Hmmm. “Determine the limits” seems pretty limiting. And “describe exactly” is a crazy-making quest. I don’t know about you but my life – and upsets – defy any exacting description. This defining business is feeling a bit tense.
Refine: to free or become free of impurities. To make or become more polished.
To “become free” and “more polished.” All right. I’m exhaling here. This feels like something I can grab hold of when grappling with an upset.
How a Defining Moment Becomes a Refining Moment. Stop. Ask the question. “Does this define me or refine me?” Make a conscious decision. Then proceed in the direction of your answer.
When my ex husband left to explore a relationship with another woman – back in the days of Bernadette’s Pages – you could say his act defined our marriage (failed), himself as a man (untrustworthy), and me as a wife (not good enough).
Failed. Untrustworthy. Not Good Enough. Now there’s a tidy package that determined “the limits or nature of” what happened between us. Had I accepted this view as my definer I would have gotten stuck, acting out patterns of betrayal, anger, resentment, bitterness, guilt, shame, remorse, confusion, mistrust, defensiveness … and I guarantee you that Bernadette would not be sharing in this blog.
But this Bernadette? She asked the question. Again and again and again. As many times as it took for her to drop the definers, pick up the refiners and proceed in the direction of her happily-ever-after.
Death-Sentence Definers. Hiding in the past, present and future are relationships and circumstances that beg to define you. If you’re having trouble getting beyond an upsetting someone or something you might be trapped in a definer zone. That’s where the person or situation defines you in a way that you are not comfortable with – many times under radar. A definer like this, with no follow-up refiner, can feel like a death sentence.
I saw Ted at Starbucks with Susan. (My ex must be right; I’m boring.)
Samantha got the promotion. (My father was right; I’ll never amount to anything.)
They didn’t call me back for that second interview. (I am too old.)
Are You Really Upset For The Reason You Think? This world offers lots of legitimate reasons for upset, though illegitimate definers are more common culprits than you think. (Maybe Ted and Susan were planning a surprise party for our voyeur – but skewed definers are a topic for another day.) Whether caused by the real world or the one in your head, it’s key to note there is a difference between the upset of pain and the upset of suffering. Suffering is a choice. A mental attitude based on fear and often supported by a definer.
It hurt when my ex left. Real bad. I was in pain. But it was my definers that made me suffer. Not his leaving. Once I got them to surface, I saw the classroom and an opportunity to cut through the crap – all the excuses that kept recycling the past into the present relationship. Surprisingly, defusing my definers opened the door to a refining process that allowed us to reconcile and make it another eighteen years. Defusing my definers also allowed me to recognize that divorce, for reasons that extended beyond our control or recovery, was ultimately in our best interest if we were to continue to grow. (Now there’s a heavy duty definer-refiner playground.)
If You Get Nothing Else From This Blog Post, Get This! A reason to pause the next time something or someone gets under your skin and ask yourself,
- Does this define me or refine me?
- Does this define me in a way that I don’t like?
- Do I have to accept this definer?
- Can I use this to refine me? (Make me a better person, artist, dog lover … free me from negative relationships, jobs, speeding tickets … Get the idea?)
Trapped in a Definer Zone? Ask. Decide. Proceed.
- Does losing this marriage/relationship define or refine you?
- Does losing this job define or refine you?
- Does your childhood define or refine you?
- Does your health condition define or refine you?
- Does an addiction define or refine you?
- Do your children define or refine you?
Here’s to replacing those definers with refiners that lead you to living your best life yet! As always, I welcome your comments. (They won’t define me but I might use them to refine me.) And, if you like this post then LIKE it and SHARE it. It won’t define you if you don’t but it might refine someone if you do. XO