July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Esther, Mordechai, Worthiness and Roles: How Do We Define Ourselves?

We live in a world where the way we identify is typically very much tied to our accomplishments and our roles. We feel defined by “what we do” and how we give back—our place within society. We experience confidence when we have “proof” of success: acing an exam, getting the promotion, being asked for a second date. Sense of self comes from feedback on how what we do fits in, as a puzzle piece, toward community or the world.

When we define ourselves based on accomplishments or roles, we move away from the idea that we have inherent worth as humans. Sure, we want to strive for growth and development; to identify goals and hopes. But when we place our confidence in accolades, acceptance, or even our role vis-a-vis others, we are setting ourselves up for feelings of rejection and doubting ourselves. If I define myself solely as a social worker, mom and wife, I am dependent on what others think of me. Even when I remind myself of my efforts and the journey rather than the destination—if you will—it is easy to get caught up in the feedback I receive and the tasks that relate to these roles, feeling down on myself when I am unable to meet expectations or when getting negative responses.

But if I move away from defining myself exclusively based on roles and accomplishments, I give room for my identity and self-esteem to be about me—Temimah—and who I am as a person, not who I am as a wife/mom/daughter/therapist/friend, etc.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with connecting to or feeling good about my roles and accomplishments. I think there is room to celebrate these parts of my identity and to reflect on my hard work. But I do know that if these roles are the sole substance in the pie-chart of what makes me me, then I tend toward all-or-nothing thought patterns—judging if I am “doing a good job” rather than exploring how I feel, how I can learn, and simply being connected to myself because I am here—a human—and not based on praise from others.

So how do we accomplish this connection to ourselves?

We need to explore what makes us who we are—our values and characteristics, rather than our accomplishments or the hats we wear. This can be uncomfortable. Trying to identify our personalities may include all-or-nothing judgments like, “I would like to think I’m creative, but no one has ever complimented my artwork.” We rely on judgments to know our place. I am asking you to notice and challenge those judgments and think instead about what feels important to you, what do you enjoy?

I was discussing this idea with my father and the integration of this theme into—surprise, surprise—the Purim Megillah. We tend to think of Mordechai and Esther based on the roles they played, the incredible leaders who courageously took risks for the sake of the Jewish people. And, when we look at the text of the Megillah, we can also see descriptors of their personalities, their qualities and the values they exhibited, giving us hints as to who they were. As a side note, these qualities and characteristics are often what can shape an individual’s role.

Mordechai is described as an “Ish Yehudi” and the word “ish” (translation: man) denotes that he was an upstanding person. In Pirkei Avot we learn that this word implies a courageous, independent individual. He was also called an “omain”—a nurturer—as he supported and cared for Esther.

Esther is described with the words “VaTisa Chesed,” she gave forth an aura of loving kindness. She was loyal and dedicated, a student of Mordechai as he visited and advised and taught her when she was in the palace. It is noted in the Gemara that the Sanhedrin were hesitant about making Purim into a holiday and Esther, with her wisdom and conviction, successfully persuaded them to do so.

These leaders, who saved our nation, can be defined not only by their actions and roles, but by their qualities and attributes.

As humans, we tend to look for reasons we are worthy, proof of “why we should feel good” rather than noting inherent worthiness by being souls brought into life. Instead of looking at accomplishments or grades or numbers on a scale, we can point to our qualities and our values, and how those attributes can help us connect to ourselves, and that can help us feel good about who we are.

We can know who we are based on roles, yes, but not rely simply on this definition.

I am Temimah Zucker, and I’m not only a wife, mom, daughter, friend, sister, writer, therapist, speaker and dog owner—I’m also quirky, fun, hardworking, passionate, ambitious, family-minded, growth-oriented and I tend to get in my own head. A lot. These qualities and so much more make me who I am, and while I may not always feel good, that is not the goal. The goal is to feel connected, to learn from experiences, to reflect and to be grounded in my life.

I hope you can reflect and make a growing list of your own. You are worthy simply by being who you are.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com 

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