How Do I Change Who I Am for Myself?

When your life is tightly entwined with the lives of others, you adjust who you are to meet their needs and expectations.  For example, spouses make small, daily adjustments so that they don’t push their partners’ buttons.  Parents postpone their desires in order to tend to those of their children.  When not taken to an extreme, this is a good thing.

The past couple years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about to what extent we should bend who we are to make our relationships with others work.  While I still have a lot of unanswered questions about the outer limits of sacrifice, I’ve learned to embrace the ways that relationships can refine us and transform us into better versions of ourselves.  But now my life circumstances have changed, and because I want to continue a process of transformation, now I’m wondering: how do I change who I am for myself?

I don’t think that single people are necessarily prone to stagnation.  If we continue to seek out new experiences, new goals, new paths of knowledge, we will grow and progress.  But I do think one hazard of singleness is that it can become quite easy to shield ourselves from the direct daily service to others that naturally takes place when we are in a committed partnership, living with a family, etc. (at least, I know this is true for me).

Right now, although I’m finding that I need a lot of alone time for reflection, I’m realizing that I don’t want to lose the perfecting grace of intimacy.  But I must be honest: I have lost that for the time being.  In the meantime, the best temporary solution I’ve come up with is to try and turn myself over to God, serve where I can, and spend some time thinking about “who do I want to be?” and figuring out ways to be that kind of person for myself and for the people who are in my life.  Any other ideas?


  1. Interesting thoughts, Seraphine. I suppose a commitment to some form of service to others would be one way to continue to wear down the edges a bit (a la a “rough stone rolling” down the mountain), even if that might be a different experience than what happens in a committed, live-in relationship with family members..

  2. Great post!
    I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we love the people for whom we sacrifice the most.
    In marriages, in life, when we sacrifice for people around us, we love them more.
    I’m not sure that this kind of increased love b/c of sacrifice is conditional on a permanent relationship, but it seem like it would be more satisfying, potentially.
    But, your question is about being changed, and I think that love changes you, and I like your idea about serving God.
    I wish you luck in your journey.

  3. I went to see a therapist (a one time visit) and he wanted to know my family history, etc. So it came out that I was a “perfect” child. I explained, however, that seeming to be perfect wasn’t important. What drives me is trying to do the right thing.
    Ah, he said, you want to do the right thing by your daughter, or husband, or the right thing by people.
    It was like he was speaking a foreign language.
    What drives me is doing the right thing by God.
    Does God want be to be a good mother? Yes, so I try. Does he want me to be a good wife? Yes, so I try to love my husband as God love him. Does God want me to take care of myself? Yes, so I try to take care of myself. Does he want me to go to church? Serve? Use my talents? Improve myself? Help others? Be kind? Set goals?
    I am not perfect. But I don’t know how else to live but to get up every morning and do my best to live my life the way I think my Heavenly Father wants me to.

  4. Great questions, Seraphine. I especially like your phrase “the perfecting grace of intimacy.” That’s a beautiful way to put it.

    I know that the times in my life I’ve been forced to accommodate the needs of others–on my mission and in my marriage, for example–have often been the times of greatest personal and spiritual growth. But for me that kind of sacrifice is painful enough that it’s very difficult to seek out and implement on my own initiative; I have to place myself in situations in which I’ll be forced to make such sacrifices, if that makes sense. (And of course, as you mention, such sacrifices also have to have limits.)

    Several years ago, I read an article by Ardeth Kapp about childlessness, in which she said that she had to consciously go out of her way to involve herself in children’s and other people’s lives, in order to make sure she was cultivating the kinds of relationships and growth that come much more automatically to people who have children of their own. It definitely made me think.

    Sorry I don’t have any really practical answers to your excellent questions!

  5. There are some really insightful comments in this post. I also like the line “the perfecting grace of intimacy.” Thinking about this line:

    When not taken to an extreme, this is a good thing.

    I think that sometimes it is hard to find the boundaries. When is someone asking too much? How do we know that the changes we are making in ourselves are good ones? When do we change to accommodate others while still holding on to who we are? I think I have experienced both ends of the spectrum. I have had very positive relationships in which serving and allowing others to serve me has changed me profoundly for the better. I have also had very negative experiences. My mission trainer was very manipulative and emotionally abusive. I kept changing myself more and more. I would think to myself, “If I just tried a little bit harder, or worked a little bit more than she will be nicer to me.” The thing that I resent about this situation is that I did way more for her than I had ever done for anyone else. I think I was hurt so badly because I sincerely thought that you could make any relationship better by just trying harder. Sometimes you just have to get out of the situation. Somehow we have to learn where this boundaries are and unfortunately experience is the only thing that teaches us that.

  6. Kevin, I think service is definitely one possible avenue, and while different, can have similar kinds of effects. This is something I’m currently thinking about how to implement because I’ve not really been good at consistent service–I tend to be more of a see-a-one-time-need-and-try-to-fill-it kind of person.

  7. jessawhy, I definitely think love and sacrifice are linked (it’s easier to sacrifice for those you love, and sacrifice can really help love to develop). Although I think this formula can only reach a certain level in a permanent, committed relationship, I think it’s definitely something for me to consider (i.e. what avenues do I have for sacrifice in my life?). Thanks!

    Beatrice, I totally agree that boundaries can be really tough to figure out. I agree that this kind of thing can go both ways–changing so that relationships become better vs. changing but never actually reaching an unattainable ideal set by someone else. I do think there are people who can use this kind of situation to manipulate and control others (i.e. like your companion), and who don’t actually care about whether or not the relationship is better. In those situations you are right–you need to get out as soon as possible.

  8. JKS, that seems like a good perspective to take on things. I generally think that I try to do the “right” thing, but I think we can also benefit from recognizing our weaknesses and spending some time figuring out how to “perfect” ourselves (while recognizing that it will take some time to be perfect). Still, I like your focus on your relationship with God–I’ve already decided I need to spend some time working on that particular relationship. 🙂

  9. Eve, that’s definitely my struggle too. I’m not really the kind of person to put myself out there (in a “here I am, and I’m ready to sacrifice” kind of way). Which is why I’m trying to think directly about this issue–if I don’t do things deliberately, it’s not going to happen 🙂

    Ray, thanks so much for that link. It gave me some great stuff to think about!

    And thanks, everyone, for your helpful comments.

  10. Seraphine, I too have asked myself questions like yours, especially this past year as I have been trying to adjust to living alone. I miss the multitude of opportunities to serve and be kind which I had when I had roommates. While I have tried to magnify my callings, to attend the temple regularly, and to teach my students with dedication, I still feel like I am stuck in an emotional tautology. Some days I can imagine something virtuous, even heroic, in the disciplined patience of suspeding dreams of being involved in emotionally intimate relationships that demand sacrifice and result in growth; yet most days still feel empty. In my experience, such relationships cannot be forced and most people prefer to maintain boundaries.

    Thank you for your post and others who commented.

  11. Some days I can imagine something virtuous, even heroic, in the disciplined patience of suspending dreams of being involved in emotionally intimate relationships that demand sacrifice and result in growth; yet most days still feel empty.

    I know this feeling all too well.

    Also, sometimes I find it slightly humorous that the primary people in my life who don’t have as strong of a desire to maintain boundaries are a few of my students, and that’s the place where I actually have to exert effort to maintain boundaries.


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