You Are Not Defined Exclusively By Your Relationships With Other People


A few years ago, a close friend was going through a rough time.
One of those this-is-an-era-of-terrible-that-will-mark-my-life rough times.This friend is slightly outside of my age group – a homeowner, a minivan driver, mom to a very, very challenging teenager.  Said teenager was in the midst of making a huge mess of his life.  There was addiction and lying and fleeing and a heaping helping of blame.All this despite very, very good parenting.

Her son’s shenanigans had been going on for years and of course (of course!) my friend and her husband felt terrible.  I’m sure there were lots of late night conversations and a lot of “what could we have done differently?”

But when I talked to my friend about this, she told me something insanely, mind-blowing zen.

“You know, I don’t define myself exclusively through my relationships with other people. I’ve loved being a wife and a mother.  And I take those roles very seriously.  But there are other things in my life that are important to me and other things that I did before I became a wife and a mother. Someday I might be a widow and someday my parents will die.  But I’ll still be here and it’s important that I have other things in my life that I love.”

(at this point I think I probably put my hand on her arm and asked her if I could be her when I grew up and how, in the name of all that is good and holy, did she become so wise?)

And she’s right, of course.

Our friendships and families and partnerships are incredibly important.  And they should be.  But they’re not everything.  Your interests and hobbies should be part of the picture.  Your political views.  Your career.  The things that excite and inspire you.

When we put all our proverbial eggs in one basket, we’re giving an awful lot of power to that one aspect of our lives.  If I only define myself by my career, what happens when I get laid off?  If’ I describe myself as a ‘mom’ first and foremost, what will I say when my kids are 25 and living in other cities?

We’re all clever, interesting, complex humans.  Let’s define ourselves as such.

image via ARROW

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  1. Sky

    This is very, very true. I am more than somebody's daughter and granddaughter. I am a sum of all the things that I love, my career, my hobbies, and everything in between.

  2. Jessica @

    I've struggled with how to go about defining myself as a person in my adult life. I often fall back on career. Or really, how others see me and the labels they put on me. Just how does one come up with a definition of what is at their very core? And how do you remember it on a daily basis, what affirmations does one use?

  3. Kulwant

    Yaa you are absolutely true , and i think every relationship has some significance in our lives , else it is very boring

  4. Helen

    I love this! There are so many different factors that make us who we are, relationships are important but they're not the defining thing

  5. Gigi

    I love this. I've actually been thinking along similar lines lately, defining myself first and foremost as me: an adventurer, someone who loves laughter, sexy, fun, and creative.

  6. Creole Wisdom

    Brilliant. I get tired and frustrated with the sentiment of "I am a mother I'm nothing without my kids." Really? Do you think that's healthy? We have to be us.

  7. Manda

    210% true and something I have been needing reminding of lately.

    It's far too easy to let yourself be defined by others.


    This is awesome. It's a struggle to remember that being a mother, a wife or a good friend is not actually who you are, it's something that you do that simply contributes to the person that you are!

  9. Angela

    I have to think about this some more and change some things in my life. Often I define myself as 'his girlfriend', which I am. But it's not WHO I am.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! And it's totally okay (and important! and nice!) to take our relationships seriously – but they shouldn't be our be all/end all.

  10. Amanda Louise

    This is so wise and true!

  11. Tara

    One of my biggest issues in life is "oh my god, my parents are going to die one day". I think a lot about my role as a big sister and as a wife. This post is perfect for me. I'm more than a daughter, sister, and wife. I'm someone.

    The thing missing from this post is how do we go about defining ourselves then? Is it by our hobbies? I play the piano; what if I lose a finger one day? Everything is at risk of getting lost. Hm. Now I'm just rambling. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      That's a good question, Tara! Really, I think it's important to define ourselves through a variety of things. I think it's okay for our relationships and jobs and hobbies to be PART of the picture – but none of them should be the whole thing. 🙂

  12. Rachel

    This is so great – thank you! It was very timely for me as I've been thinking about this a lot lately. It is fun to focus on yourself and figure out the things that define who you are aside from your relationships! 🙂 Thanks again!

  13. Lynsey

    I love this! I completely agree. We are so much more than just the roles that we play in our daily lives (wife, mother, daughter, executive, office worker, etc). It's very important for us not to lose sight of our own interests and loves. It's what makes us interesting and unique people. 😀

    Lynsey @ Eternally Wanderlyn |

  14. Vanessa

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. I was dumped by my boyfriend of nine years a few months ago, and I've been going through kind of an identity crisis. I've been his girlfriend for a third of my life, and I don't really know who I am without him. It's time I started filling my world with other things and people who make me smile, and stop trying to define myself by my relationships.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I'm so, so sorry to hear that, Vanessa. Sending you good vibes! <3

  15. cantaloupe


    For the longest time, that was my issue with ever accepting that anyone would be my boyfriend. Because I knew that then I would be "so and so's girlfriend." And I had seen the way that it totally transformed people and became their defining feature. Subconsciously, what I really feared was that I would be "that girl." And in truth, sometimes I am, now that I've been dating someone for so long… So I appreciate this as a reminder that I am not just his girlfriend. And I never will be, truly. And that's fantastic.

  16. Kerry Cogan

    This is so true. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Human beings are the most complex species on the planet, and we shouldn't be restricted by labeling ourselves as just one thing.

  17. Anonymous

    amen to jesus. I have been saying this my whole life. Thanks for the reminder!

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