Are you just checking boxes or are you being authentic?
How do you think others see you?
Humans have a terrible habit of identifying with traits, characteristics, roles, and even past events which most certainly includes trauma.
It’s important to realize that the word “identify” is derived from the Latin word idem, meaning “same” and facer, meaning “to make” so when you identify with something or someone, you are telling yourself and the world that you are the SAME AS ________.
This automatic and for the most part, unconscious, habit we have of grouping and subgrouping ourselves is both helpful and harmful.
On one hand, it allows for quick connections.
If I tell you that “I am” 5’3″, an Army brat who hails from New England, a registered Democrat, pansexual/ heteroromantic/ cisgendered, exvangelical, mother of two, ENFJ on the Meyer’s Brigg’s and a Type 7w8 on the Enneagram… your brain can’t help but begin to outline how you see me.
And you might be right. But likely, only partially.
Because on the other hand, identifying with any of those things clouds over who I really am: the conscious awareness or soul essence behind them and shining through them.
And if I (or you) forget that, then we are in terrible danger of becoming susceptible to distress or dysfunction in a variety of ways.
In the short run, we are prone to bouts of being painfully self-conscious, insecure, anxious about what others think of us, imposter syndrome, vulnerability hangovers and the like.
In the long run, we open the door to creating or exacerbating mood disorders, personality disorders, and a felt sense of a loss of who we are/ were.
As one of my new favorites, Lindsay Goldwert, explains:
“Letting others define us makes it easier to check off boxes. To make conversation easier. To help companies herd us into a demographic or match us with a lover according to their secret algorithms…
The messages get deeper, more sinister [too]. Someone told us that short haircuts made a girl appear ‘mannish,’ so twenty years later, we still grow our hair long. Girls who sleep with lots of boys are ‘sluts’ but girls who have lots of sex with one serious boyfriend aren’t. Nothing tastes as good as being thin. Boys don’t cry. You stand by your man. Quitters never win. Baby must make three. We make life changing decisions when we know the least about ourselves.
So who are you, really??
Asking ourselves who we are means reckoning with who we were. This can be terrifying because it also requires us to examine how we’ve changed.
But by not asking, we’re not serving ourselves, we’re serving others. We’re serving society’s expectations, the needs of our partners, our children, our bosses, even strangers. Everyone gets what THEY want from you, but at the end of the day you’re left with the scraps.
One snide remark from childhood can set you on a certain course for life – out of fear of not belonging, of being socially unacceptable, or being alone and unloved. What if who we are is distasteful or goes against the norm? What if it alienates our family and friends or makes us realize we’ve been unfulfilled our entire lives?
So you may know your name and your favorite color, but you may not yet know who you are or who you’ve become. Or maybe you haven’t been ready to find out.”
How do you see yourself?
I cannot begin to tell you how important it is for every individual to have a solid answer to this and thus gut sense of who they are. For many of us, the exploration process begins with re-examining who we got here.
I invite you to ask yourself questions like:
- What did my primary caregivers want me to be like?
- What dreams did I have for myself as a child?
- If I were to create a mood board for how I see and experience my true self, what colors, pictures, archetypes, celebrities, influencers, and quotes would be on it?
- When I’m not feeling anxious or self-conscious, what am I like? What energy do I bring to the room?
- If I weren’t worried about what others my think, say, or feel, what would I want to change about my life?
- If I stripped away absolutely everything that I identify with (all roles, experiences, clubs and affiliations etc.), what feeling of me would still remain? How might I describe that feeling to others? What visual could I give it?
The experience of being human
Being human is an interesting phenomenon of a trifold experience involving:
- A thinking mind narrating our life to us second by second with its interpretations of stimuli
- A physical body taking in the stimuli through our senses and sending them in lightning fast speed up to the thinking mind to be evaluated. After the mind has made its calculations, the body in turn, responds to all conscious and unconscious thoughts by producing neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones etc. which gives us our “feels,”
- And then an awareness of all of it, which the Greeks called a “psyche,” translated as soul.
So “you” my dear are in one sense, the sum of your mind, body, and soul.
But since the body is fragile and changing second by second, you are NOT that. You are simply the one experiencing it in all its complexity and nuances. And one day, this shell or, as I like to think of it, an avatar that you can dress up or modify, will eventually decay and give out completely, and “you” will exchange it for another form.
And since the thinking mind is also just really intricate grey and white matter that yes, can produce all manners of wonders and horrors, but is also subject to its environment and is quite actually easily fucked with… by chemical imbalances, by the media, by diet, by the opinions of those around us, by music, by drugs, by trauma… the list goes on an on, your are NOT that either. You are the one listening to its narrations and at any point in time, can change what it believes.
You are not the histories of this physical mind and body.
You are what exists behind, above and through it all.
And when you can come to unlearn all the dogma (beliefs, opinions, expectations and stories of others including your own mind), you will authentic empowerment as you begin to use the personality/ persona/ avatar to serve your soul.
I’m cheering you on in your journey. And If you could use assistance, reach out. I’d be honored to walk you home to yourself.
About the Author:
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
Her work is specialized to help individuals break free from toxic cycles of distress, dysfunction, and dissatisfaction with life that are created when trying to live according to someone else’s rules. Only by living what she calls radical autonomy, can one obtain soul nourishing relationships and a sense of true life purpose and inner peace.