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MOTM Dec 2011
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I've heard people say that their experiences define them. They are who they are because of significant life events, or something along those lines. They often feel a need to share their past or even current life experiences as a way to be known & to get to know others.

I honestly don't feel that way. I feel like the essence of who I am is independent of my life experience. Sometimes I feel so untouched by the past. I can see the connections to my present, in a sort of cause-effect way, but these things seem surface. It's like nothing I experience really changes me. Stuff happens to me, but once it's over, it loses significance to who I am.

All of the change or the growth is done via some sort of imaginary test zone in my brain where I puzzle out what is the best way, and I trust this hypothesis over any experience. In a sense, it's this hypothesizing that defines me - my theory of life & existence.

The simplest way I can think of to say this is - who I am is what I imagine & think of, not what I've experienced & done.

Anyhow, what is your relation to experience & your past, and what makes you you? Does your life experience define you, or is it something else?
 

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I think the past and experiences do somewhat have an impact on how we turn out because certain experiences can give you the opportunity to take on a new perspective. But I also agree with what you're saying. I don't think experience alone is what defines a person or creates the essence of a being. That's why I tend to pay much more attention to person's potential and who they might become rather than what experiences they might have had. A person may be struggling at a certain point of their life, but that point in their life doesn't define them. You have to see past what's in front of you and look at the core of the person and what he or she can accomplish. Some might do something great or just have really good hidden qualities. Even if a person doesn't amount to anything, just because they don't have that experience or success, they are still capable, and that itself, says a lot.
 

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The way I see it, our temperament is essentially assigned at birth. Experience are just life's way of making us discover what we were given. Climbing Mt. Everest might be a great (or rather bad) way of finding out that you have a fear of heights, but in my view, the acrophobic streak was probably there all along. Perhaps not the best example.

What I want to say is, I do think life experiences are important, because I'm quite curious about myself, see. So I value the experiences, because it's through those that I find out about what I really am.

Certain traits might have been discovered at certain pivotal moments in life, and thus some aspects of me might be strongly associated with certain events. And in that sense, the experience do define who I am. But I don't think those events actually changed anything fundamental. They just revealed what was there all along.

Perhaps more to the point, I think it's really hard to talk about who you are in abstract terms. If I'm asked who I am, I'll probably be very hard-stumped to put anything in words without resorting to describe my experiences. Still, I would use those experiences merely because they are manifestations of some fundamental personality lurking behind, not because I think they caused the personality.
 

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Interesting question.

I think I am the sum of my experiences, but not the experiences themself, but how I allowed them to shape me, the signifigance i gave them, what I learned from them, and how i have changed.

My general view on myself is I am a "living document" or "changing organism". I am fascinated by the changes I experience and how my worldview, understandings, skills, and challenges change as time goes on. With each new challenge and each new experience/situation, new vistas are opened up to me. I can't help but feel as a person, I keep getting "wider and wider"--- I am so much more of a person now than I was five years ago. To be honest, I am proud of myself.

Am I my experiences? No. A lot of my experiences have felt small and ugly. No, I am my greater understanding. I take each thing that occurs to me and how i react to it, and use it to understand myself.

So like you, who I am happens in my head, but unlike you, what happens to me externally is vital. I remember my life in "stages" where the backdrop is very important, because those were the specific testing grounds that brought up certain behaviors, patterns, issues, beliefs, connections, ties. I am over and over again taught the transience of the mind and that I will keep changing forever. I am beocming more myself all the time; but part of the joy of this is remembering what is was like to only be able to walk, and now be able to run.... the thoughts that, "Oh, I decide I can run now" are secondary to the phyiscal memory of failing to run, over and over, and falling, until I finally took those first steps and the grounds I tested those steps on, which wrere more painful and rewarding than any steps afterwards.. and after running, it became dancing, climbing, always something else, and when i run out of things will be the same time as the day i die.

My idea of myself is formed internally, but based in response to external shortcomings or successes... and since I am primarly focused on my flaws, I am rather obsessed with bettering myself via the external world. So I am always measuring for results in the external world to the die I finally become in line with the self I wish to see, I suppose, though I always need a target to move towards.

In conclusion:
My experiences and my past do not make me; they provide the provocation and the conflict without which the choices I make would be meaningless. All my meaning is depedent on my continuing self-narrative, which does include my experiences.
 

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Fundamentally, no. One of my least favorite questions is "What do you do?" ...thinking now that when I want to get to know someone it often doesn't occur to me to ask a lot of questions about, or relate to someone based on, their experiences. I imagine that gives people the impression that I'm not interested in them, and I've questioned it too, but thinking about it now, I really am. It's just not in that linear, biographical sort of way.
 

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I think we tend to define ourselves by whatever we value most. It could be independent of any experiences we have, or maybe the experience is to signify an idea or ideal we hold in high regard. I don't think that is a correct way of defining us however.

I prefer the phrase we are the sum total of our parts. Every action, thought, and event has chipped away at the clay that we're made of. Regardless of what significance we attach to an specific part, they all had a part to shape us as an individual.
 

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The way I see it, our temperament is essentially assigned at birth. Experience are just life's way of making us discover what we were given. Climbing Mt. Everest might be a great (or rather bad) way of finding out that you have a fear of heights, but in my view, the acrophobic streak was probably there all along. Perhaps not the best example.

What I want to say is, I do think life experiences are important, because I'm quite curious about myself, see. So I value the experiences, because it's through those that I find out about what I really am.

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This is beyond interesting because it is so different than how I percieve myself.

I believe (not on a conscious level, I am just now articulating this, it has always been inherent) everything has a genesis-- a fear of heights was not inborn, it came from somewhere, even if that fear came from a lack of experience or a fear of failure or what could happen, or was biologically natural.

before I have tested myself and earned some bruises, a lack of something is natural.

In order to get anything, I have to experience a lack of it, stay with it, work for it, until I gain it.

This includes everything in my life that I have "measured"- art skills, school skills, social skills, muscles, running, cooking skills, self-acceptance skills, a personal style, and understanding of other people.

So I do not believe I discover inherent traits about myself that were not apparent to me before, but I discover myself by basically working myself to bring out new facets. Basically the idea is minign potential. The only thing I can tihnk that is analogous to it is that of a runner. Before i began running, the potential to be a good runner was not there because i did not have the msulutare. Over the course of three years, I built the musculature. I created a sense of self, an identity, that was not there before. I don't just wake up one day and find out I was a runner, I had to create the runner. The only thing that was inherent was the desire to be one; to be sometihng great; and even that is a product of my desires, values, and circumstances, and over time, these will change as well.

I create who I am.
 

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MOTM Dec 2011
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Discussion Starter #9
It's not that I don't see value in experience or don't learn from it... I actually have this sense that life is passing me by, that I'm missing out on experience (something that may be typical of my type), and this makes me sad. I understand the idea that experience can be an opportunity to manifest who you are....and I agree with that.

I just don't think that who I am or how I develop is directly impacted by experience so much as my ideal of who I want to be. I think I'd still be who I am even if I had a different childhood, for example. I mean, the essence of who I am would be the same, even if some surface details were different.

Part of what reinforces this in my mind is when I have had significant life events, and once they are past, I cease to experience any significant impact from them. It's like they were dead ends, and since they have not led anywhere, I don't see them as impacting how I develop. In fact, I have the distinct feeling that had they not happened, I'd still be exactly where I am now, so that they may as well have not happened. It seems how I develop is more related to how I feel I need to be for the future, not how the past has shaped me, because the past simply fails to shape me.

This realization that my past has little bearing on who I am feels freeing to me (and it certainly explains why I don't relish repeating my experiences to people in detail as many do). I don't have to be nor want to be weighted by some static back-story. I didn't used to define myself by my experiences, but I did define myself by rather static ideas (I'm the shy, arty, bookish girl; that's who I am, even if it doesn't make me happy, because if I am not that, then...what?). This is a back-story of sorts, even if it's not one made up of specific experiences (more like feelings). Using experiences to justify this back-story to others has increasingly become so hollow to me, where I feel pretentious doing it, because I am conscious I am grasping at something concrete they can accept in order to get them to understand me.

Anyway, thanks for the responses - keep 'em coming. It's interesting to me to see how other INFPs interpret life experience, how they value it in relation to their identity, etc.
 

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@adverseaffects Interesting indeed. I guess I'm just are more deterministic in my outlook, and believe in less agency, at least in myself. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, it's on the one hand soothing do know that there's some immutable core that's going to stand firm through any storm. But on the other hand, I can see how being able to create who you are would be very powerful.

So in some ways, I admire you, and sometimes, I wish I were a bit more like you. But I don't really think I could change to be that way. (See what I did there? :tongue:)
 

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It's not that I don't see value in experience or don't learn from it... I actually have this sense that life is passing me by, that I'm missing out on experience (something that may be typical of my type), and this makes me sad. I understand the idea that experience can be an opportunity to manifest who you are....and I agree with that.

I just don't think that who I am or how I develop is directly impacted by experience so much as my ideal of who I want to be. I think I'd still be who I am even if I had a different childhood, for example. I mean, the essence of who I am would be the same, even if some surface details were different.

Part of what reinforces this in my mind is when I have had significant life events, and once they are past, I cease to experience any significant impact from them. It's like they were dead ends, and since they have not led anywhere, I don't see them as impacting how I develop. In fact, I have the distinct feeling that had they not happened, I'd still be exactly where I am now, so that they may as well have not happened. It seems how I develop is more related to how I feel I need to be for the future, not how the past has shaped me, because the past simply fails to shape me.

This realization that my past has little bearing on who I am feels freeing to me (and it certainly explains why I don't relish repeating my experiences to people in detail as many do). I don't have to be nor want to be weighted by some static back-story. I didn't used to define myself by my experiences, but I did define myself by rather static ideas (I'm the shy, arty, bookish girl; that's who I am, even if it doesn't make me happy, because if I am not that, then...what?). This is a back-story of sorts, even if it's not one made up of specific experiences (more like feelings). Using experiences to justify this back-story to others has increasingly become so hollow to me, where I feel pretentious doing it, because I am conscious I am grasping at something concrete they can accept in order to get them to understand me.

Anyway, thanks for the responses - keep 'em coming. It's interesting to me to see how other INFPs interpret life experience, how they value it in relation to their identity, etc.
Oh I see what you are saying.
I don't know if the past changes me either... and I like the idea of not attaching who you are to the past. My old signaute quote addressed that idea. "A warrior does not need personal history. One day he finds it tiresome, and drops it." The idea of using past experiences to reinforce stagnant ideas is useless to me. I get that; and I relate to the idea of who you are is being shaped not be the past, but your idea of what you need to be in the future- of honing youreslf to become a future idealized self, and gearing yourself in the present to become for the future. This is the idea, "I am always becoming more who I am."
I suppose where experiences come into play are they are my sign posts to how close i am to the ideal, and my marks along the journey- perhaps chapters in the book. the ideal is inevitable conclusion, the theme I am trying to tie together, but hell, it takes a lot to build there!!-- and also, given the malleable nature of identity, sign posts are there to tell me who I was in comparison to who I am so I know how i have adjusted and what I am shooting for.

Well, it is all very interesting. As I said, I do not tihnk the experiences are who I am, but I don't find them without meaning. Everything is just stuff, meaningless occurences that happened if taken without interpetation or cause effect, but they matter because of the signifigance i assigned to them at the time. Everything matters because it got me to where i am now.

As for the idea that if I had different occurences in my life, I would be mostly the same...
I wonder. It is possible. It is not my tendency to think this way. I don't tihnk my experiences made me, I resist such an idea, because it implies if I had bad experiences that is an excuse to be a petty or weak person and i do not agree with that, rather I got tons of learning experiences, but I tend to tihnk that experiences gave me the material to launch off a new journey of self-discoverey or gave me new challenges to shape myself on. If I had been given different circumstances I would have developed different muscles. Who I am is less the experiences themselves, but the choics i made in relation to them. So in that sense, I could as easily say that if I had made different choices or come to different conclusions given the same experiences, I would be a different person, as if I had different experiences but came to the same conclusions.

Identical twins still become different people in amny ways. Is this because of slight variations in experience, or beacuse of choices and interpetation? The two are inter-twined, I think, or at least, in my case.

Ok, third long post, I'll let it sink into my head and stop posting ;D
 

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MOTM Dec 2011
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Discussion Starter #12
This dialogue between you @adverseaffects & @Isthmus is interesting because I find myself between the two.
I do feel like there is this essence to a person (that "immutable core") that prevails, that experience is unable to alter, but I think part of this is precisely because we DO "create" who we are, so that we decide experience will NOT move us.

I understand the "experience as marker" thing, but I still see that as measuring a manifestation of the self vs measuring where the real self is at, in terms of growth. Because sometimes external circumstances can't be controlled and they don't provide us the opportunity to demonstrate ourselves. This doesn't negate who you are, as if it MUST be proven externally to be valid.
 

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To me, this basically sounds like the "nature versus nurture" debate all neatly dressed up (that is not meant to sound condescending and if I could figure out how to reword that I would, sorry). Though for me, it's never been a debate. We are the product of genetics or an essential core while also being a product of the things we have experienced.

Look at it this way. You may have been born with a shy personality or lanky limbs. Those two traits with definitely effect your war in particular no matter what happens. In this sense, you are not shaped by your experiences by rather your experiences are shaped by who you are.

However, maybe you were born in an African country. Think about that for a second since I am pretty sure that is not where you hail from. (I have no clue where you are from, but based upon what little I know of you this is my conclusion.) Now in certain African cultures, shyness is not seen as a sign of insecurity and weakness as it is in America. It is seen more as a dignified trait almost like being stoic in America, but it's not quite the same. So while you may be a shy person through and through, the opinion you may have of your shyness may be greatly different. The end result of this may be you have more confidence and comfortableness in your own skin if your were born in Africa rather than America. You may end up seeking more autonomy as a African rather a American. I think it can be agreed upon that you were be a different person due to what you have experienced.

I do agree that there is an essential core to everyone that defines them as a particular person, but that core can extend out in all different kinds of directions based upon the experiences we run into.

Now, that is basically my opinion of the lives we lead and our identities. I have another opinion on how you don't seem to place significance on past events.

When I first read your words, I was thinking, "Duh, our experiences affect us." But as your words started to roll through my brain, I realized I have felt the same way at times. There are clear, definite moments in my life when an event, etc has shaped my identity and essence, but there are many other moments when things glaze over me. For example when my grandfather died, I never really felt the weight of his death. I never knew him too well, but he was definitely a presence in my life. Of course, it might be more interesting as to my lack of grief when he died but I think that connects back to significance. I only fretted over how everyone else seemed to be sad around me. If it weren't for their frowns, I would have smiled freely. The event simply didn't affect me. When I entered into college, I didn't feel myself affected by that either. I admit to learning a lot about life sine then, but I have always shrugged college as just another plain and boring event. Though maybe, college has made me more cynical? It has affected my personality in that regard. As for something more mundane, rock concerts seem to be a mere blip in my memory. This is odd because I am rock'n'roll addict, lover, obsessor, and I attend concerts frequently. Though after all is done in said, I can barely remember the nights that are suppose to me cathartic. I am still the same person the next morning when I wake up.

There is one experience, however, that I know has greatly affected me. Maybe it simply uncovered a part of me that has always been there, but I disagree. Recently, I ran into a man that somehow managed to pose a religious question to me in a manner that came off as unique. It really wasn't a unique question, but it got me thinking about the nature of religion in way this philosophy-junkei has never thought about it before. I am not more religious, spiritual, or any or those sort of things because of the man. I am simply more tolerant. This is not to say I have never been a tolerant person, but I have grown to look distastefully upon all religion in recent years. That negative perspective is basically nulled out now. Religion is not something distasteful in my eyes, but rather it is simply another aspect of life and is acceptable as the way I choose to live my life (given of course non-malicious religion is being practiced).

EDIT: After skimming back over the previous posts, I feel like there is something here I am missing. Eh, I was suppose to go to bed two hours ago. Maybe I should do that.... Well, these are my words until the morning since I will of course visit this thread again tomorrow.
 
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I have a very odd connection to the past. First off, I spend a lot of time dwelling on it and living in it in my head. Not always in a negative way, as in "I wish I could change this and this and this and this..." (though of course sometimes there's a little of that as well), but mostly just idealising it. That leads to another type of negativity though, because I'm always wishing I could go back and stay in certain time periods forever. Obviously actually doing so is quite literally impossible, and the fact that it's impossible leads to a lot of time spent feeling very melancholy and stuck in my memories. I'm a very change-averse person.

I also have a very shaky sense of self, which has been getting increasingly worse over the years. I once described it to someone this way: Imagine I'm a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece makes up a little part of the overall picture. The older I get, rather than filling in the empty spaces and thus learning more about who I am and feeling more secure in my identity, I'm finding that it seems like those puzzle pieces are turning black, the colour and patterns on them being obscured, one by one. They're not being completely removed, I don't think... but whatever part of the overall picture that each one once made up is slowly disappearing in some way. I feel like I'm losing more and more of myself every day. Though I can see the connections still, like how I got from one stage of life to the next, I don't feel like I'm me anymore; I think the last time I felt like myself was when I was about 19. Most of my time, then, is spent missing that "old" me and dwelling upon how things used to be. As far as experiences (as your question was about whether our experiences made us who we were), I... don't really know? I'd tend to say no, in a general sort of way. I've had a number of experiences since the time I last felt like myself, but none of them really seem like me -- in fact, they're the things that I feel have caused me to move away from myself. The ones I had during that time, however, seemed very much like me. Possibly this is just my idealism, although I do know that during that time in the past, I never felt the same degree of loss coupled with having no idea who I really am.

All of this confuses me... and I don't know what part of this is just my personality and what part of it is due to the fact that I suffer from depression. I know it's not just the depression causing me to feel less like myself, though. The times I mentioned having felt most like myself (whatever the heck that really even means... it's just a sense of sorts) were between the ages of 17 and 19/20-ish and were not generally happy times; also, I've been depressed to varying degrees since I was about 11/12. At 27 now, I feel completely lost.

Wow... well this is really ramble-y and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so I'll leave it at that for now, haha.
 

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I'd say yes and no.

No one can truly separate themselves from their life experience. I don't think I need to give examples of this because I think it's pretty straightforward. However, your true self, the essence of your being (spirit, soul etc) is obviously NOT the same substance as your experience.

Tangent: I think for humans to be able to introspect and examine each one's own life is both a gift and a curse. Some days you wanna forget, but some days you want to remember.
 

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In some ways I do consider myself the sum of my experiences, but it mostly as a surface change. A change in how I perceive and interact with the world around me, but my core remains consistent. In some ways there is a tug of war within, I have a desire to change to be a better part of the world around me, but I also have a desire to remain consistent to be anchored and unmoved by the world around me so that others can clearly see who I am.

In some ways, I don't really see the change as a sum, but as a subtraction, a reduction, or a refinement. Kind of like a blank sheet of paper, a single blank sheet of paper holds all works that ever has been written, all works that are currently written, and all works the will ever be written, in all languages that have ever been or ever will be. As the writer adds strokes to the page, the writer eliminates possibilities until the final stroke is made and all other possibilities have been eliminated and the work is finished.

So when I see change what it usually means is that I see a core idea and many ways to bring this idea to reality. So I experiment, I see what rises and falls (usually with a parallel idea, so that the core idea isn't corrupted), and determine how best to apply what I've learned to bring my core idea into the world.
 
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Yes and no. My experiences have shaped my perception and ideas, which in turn have shaped who I am. But I can understand you when you say that after an event happens, it ceases to be personally impacting. No experience has permanently affected my identity in a concrete and direct way; the emotion/trauma fades, and I'm seemingly left as who I was before. That might be just because nothing particularly painful or traumatic has ever happened to me.

But I think its the same for others as well. Their experiences have shaped their perception and ideas, and in turn who they are. The communication of their pain may just be their way of searching for emotional reconciliation in the shared experiences of others, or simply their way of stating who they are via these traumatic events in their lives -- just like you said, as a way to be "known".

You must do this too, even though it seems as if you don't. How do you figure out the "best way" if not in relation to what your past experiences have shown you?
 

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You must do this too, even though it seems as if you don't. How do you figure out the "best way" if not in relation to what your past experiences have shown you?
That's just it....I don't figure it this way. I figure it by imagining something, things that have never happened. Obviously, there is the context of the physical world I am imagining things in - that in a way is based on "experience". But my past, personal experiences seem too limited to be as informative as the possibilities I imagine & explore in my imagination, but have never experienced. I mean, an experience is very specific, it has a very specific context & details, and this makes it have too many variables to be good for creating general ideals. I feel like a concept needs to be stripped of these specifics in order to highlight the fundamental idea. That's sort of why I can't be defined by it also....these experiences are too narrow to reflect me.

I even often have stronger emotional reactions to things I imagine over things I experience.... There are definitely things that have stirred me in my life, but more often I am stirred because I purposely imagine something to determine how I feel, and that way I know without actually going through it. I sort of predetermine what is likely the best way by imagining all that is bad, reacting to it, & then weeding it out.
 
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