How you self-identify— the identity you assume and affirm and reinforce for yourself— matters.
Our identity impacts our beliefs; our perceptions; our behaviors; and our motivation.
Our identity will define what we are and aren’t willing to do to achieve our goals and values. For that matter, our identity will go a long way toward defining our goals and values.
When you think about yourself, who and what do you consider most important?
Are you a parent? A child?
A warrior? A survivor?
An alcoholic? An addict?
An alcoholic or addict in recovery?
Are you what you do for a living?
Are you what you do for a hobby? A runner, a reenactor, an actor, a martial artist?
The truth is, we all have many dimensions on which we could identify ourselves. We’re rarely just one thing. We have many different identities, of varying importance to us.
We get to choose which of those identities define us more than the others. Which means we need to be fully cognizant of how the identities we choose to emphasize impact our day to day thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
For example, I’ve worked with many people who consider themselves “survivors” and “warriors.” They’ve chosen to take important aspects of their identity from the armor they’ve had to develop in order to survive traumatic life situations.
Being a “survivor” or a “warrior” can be a powerful identity when the tasks in front of you are survival and combat.
But what about those times when survival and combat aren’t the most important tasks in front of you?
The truth is, as powerful as it can be to affirm and reinforce certain identities that have been useful to us on our journey, it’s also powerful and important be able to be flexible and shift our identities when it serves us.
We may not want to take our self-identities of “warrior” and “survivor” into intimate relationships, such as romantic bonds or therapy relationships, for example. It’s no fun to feel like you’re going into combat with your relationship partner or therapist.
Similarly, admitting one’s status as an alcoholic or addict can be powerful in a setting such as Twelve Step meeting or psychotherapy group. Affirming that everyone in the room has had similar experience and challenges can forge bonds between group members that are indescribable to anyone who has not felt such a bond.
However, to indefinitely hold on to one’s identity as an alcoholic or addict in every situation can be counterproductive— especially when the opportunity to use comes along. There have been times when some people have figured it’s useless to even TRY not to use when it’s right there in front of them, because, hey, they’re an addict, and what addicts do is use.
Identifying yourself with your profession can be powerful. Very few people would be reading these words right now if I didn’t identify myself strongly with my professional role as a psychologist. I’m proud of the credentials I’ve earned and I’m grateful for the things those credentials give me the opportunity to do.
However, if I took my identity as a psychologist into my intimate relationships, I imagine I would drive my friends, lovers, and employees bananas. No one wants to feel as if every relationship in their life is a full on psychotherapy session.
What I want you to remember is that identity has power. When we shift identity— for example, from “victim” to “survivor” we shift the entire universe of meanings we carry around in our heads and hearts.
But what I also want you to appreciate is that identity can, and should, be flexible. We need to cultivate the skill of choosing what aspects of ourselves serve us best in certain settings— and be willing to shift between those aspects of ourselves as necessary.
Only you get to define who you are and what you’re all about.
Others will try— but you can, and should, deny them that privilege.
Choose your identities wisely. And joyfully. And purposefully.
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