Over the past few years, my family has gotten their DNA analyzed to learn about our ancestral history. As someone who has a diverse background of quite a few different nationalities, I never found it easy to identify much with my heritage like people I knew who were only of one or two different descents. My family comes from countries including, Belgium (Raes is a Belgian last name) England, Ireland (Republic and Northern), Scotland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Northern Italy. Upon receiving our DNA results, my sister and I found out we also have Norwegian in us. It’s a small percentage but was still surprising. When we found out we were Norwegian my sister and I immediately started texting each other funny GIFs of men wearing Viking horns.
Because the science of DNA is always evolving, yearly, Ancestry sends updated results. As they say, your DNA doesn’t change but the science does, and this week I received yet another update. Nothing changed about my heritage (oddly, I don’t have any Italian in me despite my great grandmother being 100% Italian…genetics is a funny thing) but the percentages of heritage did change, greatly. Suddenly I was over 40% Scottish, a country that I always listed as an afterthought when rattling off the extensive list of where my family came from. I knew that my grandfather, who was born in England, had a family line that was descended from Scotland, but it was not a country I ever gave much thought to beyond that. After getting my update, suddenly I had a hankering to watch Braveheart again.
I think we can all agree, the heritage results you get from these DNA tests should be taken with a grain of salt. The science is always in flux, as clearly evidenced by my sudden Scottish heritage spike, but it did get me thinking about the lens through which we see ourselves. For when Ancestry told me I was primarily Scottish, it was like I had a different way of viewing myself. Whether this Ancestry DNA science is accurate or not, to have a part of me suddenly so planted in one heritage after years identifying as a total mutt, made me see myself differently as if what I had known about myself to be true was changed in an instant.
KNOW YOURSELF: YOU MAY NOT BE WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE
It’s not like I am going to take up bagpipe lessons or seek out my family tartan, but it did get me thinking about the ways in which we learn about who we are. Often, it is not an inner journey but one that is layered upon us over the years. Perhaps you were singled out as the smart one in your family, or the chubby one. Maybe you were ridiculed in school for being a nerd or a magazine article made you feel less than for not having perfect thighs or glowing skin. As we work our way through life, layers upon layers of things that help or hurt us in shaping who we are stick to us like glue and drown out the deep knowing of self that can’t be found through external sources. We know and often interact with the world through things that are told to us and don’t contain a shred of truth.
I once read a story that when the popular 90’s show Allie McBeal first aired in Samoa, a country known for larger people, there was a sudden uptick in eating disorders among girls. These young women, who prior to this show, had no relationship to themselves as large, suddenly saw themselves differently upon seeing the waifishly thin Calista Flockhart grace their television sets. It took no time for them to know themselves differently and act upon it.
This is not to say that external sources and feedback are bad or damaging. Often these cues can be guide ropes we use to find our way towards self-realization. They can buoy us up and encourage us when we feel lost, like a lighted path. On the flip side, however, they can be crushing, damaging, and cause lifelong pain. Good or bad, the source must always be considered. If we spend our lives knowing ourselves solely through the things being told to us, we’re as vulnerable as a young tree in a hurricane. We need that internal guide, that gut instinct or internal knowing, to pull us through and to help us make the choices that are in line with our own truth.
So, ask yourself, what about yourself do you know to be true and what things that you always believed about yourself were picked up along the way, told to you, passed down through generations, or put upon you by someone or something else? Do you really know yourself, have you even bothered to take the time?
The truth is, being over 40% Scottish, while it has made me more curious about my Scottish family line, is just another unreliable narrative. It’s simply another story and that is where I need to keep it, an interesting anecdote that I’ll share at a cocktail party or in passing. The deep knowing of myself is found in my instinctual reactions to things, where my gut pulls me and makes me feel confident, connected, whole, happy, and alive.