Who Am I?
I think we have all pondered this question at one time or another; especially after a significant loss. This question seeks out our need for an identity.
Currently, most of us define our identity by gender, age, race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, job titles, political affiliation, awards, and successes or failures.
We may identify ourselves by our roles in our family or by the labels given to us within our family: such as wife, husband, mother, father, little/big sister/brother, the baby, the rebel, the black sheep, the smart one, the funny one, the problem child, the underachiever, the stupid one, the pretty one, the athlete, the sick child, the spoiled brat, the peacekeeper, the caregiver, the responsible one, the good one, the preacher’s kid, the cop’s kid, the criminal’s kid, and so on. These are problematic, even the seemingly positive ones, when they become our defining or only label. (What if I lose this role? Who will I be? Or Who will I be if I change?)
This is seen most often with the defining labels of homecoming queen and quarterback/school jock (the big fish in the little pond). They often have difficulty letting go of that label or re-defining themselves after high school or college, when they become a small fish in a big pond.
This is also what leads up to empty-nest-syndrome. (If I’m not mom/dad, who am I?)
Many labels are problematic because they imply expectations we ‘must’ live up to in order to maintain our identity.
All the negative labels given to us by our peers or family that make us feel “less than” become sources of identification. These labels may be carried within the mind and heart for years. Even if they were only heard once, their reference may become a defining characteristic which creates beliefs, thoughts, and feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and low self worth.
Some labels are opinions that show no evidence of validity but will scar and become part of a persons mental tape of self-abuse. Theses include, but are not limited to: failure, looser, fat, ugly, geek, nerd, freak, idiot, and wimp.
Any criticism or character assassination can become part of your identity. Even though these labels are the opinions of others and they may have been said impulsively and thoughtlessly in the heat of the moment. They may even have been apologized for, but we still may internalize them and adopt them as fact.
The sad story of one’s life, chronic illness and addictions (survived or current) may become part of one’s identity. Victim, addict, recovering addict, cancer patient and survivor are examples of the identity labels people often derive from their story. This often causes conflict when undertaking or thinking of undertaking healing, and, it often has a payoff of attention, positive or negative. “Who will I be without it?” “What will I talk about if it’s gone?”
If there is low self-worth, “Why will people pay any attention to me at all if I don’t have this?”
If you have a condition, illness or disease, DO NOT label it as “my _____.” When you do you are laying claim to it and strengthening its connection to you. This also applies to children with disorders (i.e. a person with autism vs. autistic, a person with diabetes vs. diabetic, a person with epilepsy vs. epileptic). It may be something one has, but it doesn’t’ define who they are.
Avoid adjectives; they lead to labels, unless they are followed by the word ‘behavior’ (i.e. neurotic behavior).
Children tend to live to the labels they are given directly or hear; this is why they are so dangerous. Negative labels are often self-limiting, damaging, and even crippling. Labels may have been put upon us, but we can either choose to live with them or fight against it to prove to ourselves they are wrong.
We may choose to live with positive labels because they work for us, make us feel good about ourselves, and help motivate us. As long as we aren’t living up to these labels to please other people or meet their expectations then they may serve us.
We may also choose to live with the negative ones because they may create beliefs that lead one to feel “Why bother to try to be anything else, if that’s all they think I am?” and may give one a built in excuse not to do better.
Fighting against the self-limiting labels is a very proactive step toward self-acceptance.
Your current identity and the labels you accept or adhere to dictate your current beliefs, your priorities, and what drives you, therefore, it is essential that your identity please you.
The Problem with the Question
I’ve come to believe that our language is partially responsible for this need for labels. As a speech therapist teaching language, I taught that people are ‘who,’ things are ‘what’ and places are ‘where.’ So, naturally we would consider ourselves as a ‘who.’
Then we learn to categorize and classify which requires label. Our search for identity through labels, unfortunately, serves to separate us into groups. These separations create conflict with finding where we belong. It may lead to either/or thinking. (I am either this or that, I can’t be both.) This is dangerous and problematic thinking.
Separation serves as a function of the ego. If we are separate then there is superior and inferior and this separation may create conflict with who we think we are, who we are told we are, who we are told or believe we should be, and our authentic self. Carrying an identity that is created solely by the ego (which is formed by fear) creates a very difficult and isolating life.
We are all a work in progress; some are just further along than others. We are all here to learn lessons that elevate us to functioning as what we actually are: spiritual beings. We are all energy and we are all connected.
Who am I, Really?
I am my beliefs.
I am my thoughts.
I am what I believe about myself.
I am what I think about myself.
Your thoughts and beliefs create your perception, for better or for worse. Why not put them to use to improve the quality of your life? Choose beliefs and thoughts that give you peace of mind, peace in your heart, and acceptance of yourself, others and life as it is.
We must stop using labels to separate us and instead, look for the sameness within each of us. Therefore, between “What am I?” and “Who am I?” the former is a better question to ask.
Please come back for the next installment which will help you answer the most important question you’ll ever answer about yourself – “What am I?”
May you perceive and receive all your blessings.
With Much Love,
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