I have many identities, and like a lot of people, I can feel like a walking paradox.
In the Western world, we live in a set of black-and-white compartments. I am labelled worker, wife, friend, writer, business owner, gamer and nerd. I hold some pacifist views, while practicing martial arts. I know the value of eating healthily even as I eat those chocolate buttons instead of a ‘proper’ breakfast. And I am a qualified mental health worker with personal experience of mental health problems.
These things do not fit with the ‘this-or-that’ view our world believes in.
From the perspective of Psychology, humans are neurologically programmed to see patterns in things. We ‘stereotype’ [assume things are the same as previously experienced things like them] because our brain cannot possibly process all of the information we receive every moment. It saves us time, makes us more efficient and, quite frankly, stops us going mad.
Yet, when we are seeing only the things which fit into those boxes; when we only recognize or legitimize the aspects that ‘match’ with our expectations, we are missing something. And when we are then faced with a shade of grey, it can be a hell of a shock.
The Paradox of Being Many People
Thinking about the panic I experienced with my anxiety, this surprise could spiral quickly, with some wonderfully negative over-thinking.
“Wait, if that’s not right, what else isn’t? If this isn’t how X works, why would Y or Z work that way? Does that mean that nothing is real? What else have I thought wrong? Is anything real?”
And when we feel uncertain, when we are faced with a “the cake is a lie” moment, we feel fear.
Again, the brain is designed to shut down all logical, rational thought when faced with danger or a threat. Instincts kick in, and bring up four main options that most mammals use.
Fight, Flight, Freeze or Faint.
I’m not going to explore those in more detail here, because the point isn’t what happens when we see a threat, but rather, what happens when we feel that sense of instability every moment of the day. When we don’t fit into the boxes we thought we did.
Cohesion and the Search for Who We Are
The question “who am I?” has driven humanity as long as any other question. And in the modern, Western world, this shows up in e-courses, self-help books, mindfulness classes and even the adverts for beauty products.
Our identity is such a powerful idea, it’s used every single day by those trying to manipulate us. Advertising constantly sells us the idea we will be happier, healthier and “more us” with whatever product or service they are trying to sell.
Being a paradox occurs when we don’t fit into the “traditional stereotype.”
I describe myself as multi-passionate.
I have multiple interests and hobbies. I took a Masters in Neuroscience purely because I wanted to understand my brain better. Yet, I also studied Quantum Mechanics at university, for fun. I barely read books anymore, and I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons… But I do have a collection of ‘Magic: the Gathering’ cards, and I read scientific papers online.
I have three degree-level qualifications, am married to a doctor, and yet, I also got attuned in Reiki energy healing even though it had no real evidence behind it at the time.
It’s Not A Flaw
No human fits into just one label.
We are all individuals, with our own stories, and thus, our own reasons for our behavior. My curiosity led me to climbing trees as a child, and reading quantum physics theories as an adult. My need to know myself and feel strong led me to meditation, university, and karate.
These days I support people to know, trust and reinvent who they are, and the first step is to really identify those core ‘threads’ that are common in your life.
What are your values; the beliefs that drive and guide everything you do?
No human fits perfectly into a clearly defined box. Be that in their described gender, their labelled stereotype or just their role. I can be a wife and cat-parent, and also a writer and teacher. In reality, very few things counter each other, and we are so much richer in our experiences than any one-page summary or wheel of life can explain.
It’s Okay To Have Many Identities
I struggled a lot with my identity growing up. I felt I needed to be a certain way, thought I had to ‘create’ a personality for myself. As I grew older, I felt I needed to be ‘fixed’ like their was something innately wrong with me.
Yet, it’s astonishing how much I get to pull on all of my expertise and experiences every day. I can be chatting a friend struggling to parent his kid and explain the brain development. I can share how Reiki helped me when someone says they are in pain and the doctor’s can’t help. When I began writing novels, I found my in-depth experience of studying and flying birds of prey made my main character and her hawk realistic.
The shades of grey are what make this world the wonderful place it is. Finding wonder in the ‘non-traditional’ subjects is what creates the joy and expansion in our life.