How Our Love For Stories Can Be Problematic (2/4)
Part 2 — Over-identification
Over-identification — the story misused by you.
I don’t feel strongly enough about anything to give myself a label. My daughter is a feminist and I identify with her, with her rights and her feelings, and I’m listening to her. I’m learning from her. But I think the second you say “I am this” you’ve stopped listening and learning. — Louis CK
What identity is
Identity is a hard concept to grasp.
Identity represents who you are at this exact moment. It has a sense of continuity and sameness. It can be your belief, your personality, what’s important to you, your character, your quality, your default, or your judgment that distinguishes you from other people.
But, although identity requires some form of continuity and never changing state, it is more malleable and changeable that we would like to think.
Few of us could identify with their younger selves. I haven’t heard anyone says “Gosh I wish I could go back in High School. I was so smart back then.” (Even that’s narrative) Nobody says this because everybody evolves and changes over time, whether it’s for the best or for the worst.
Identity can be changed, improved, and adjusted.
The good and the bad with identity
So there is this dichotomy where one must stay the same, but also change over time. And it’s confusing.
In most cases, identity is not a problem. It’s actually a good and important part of our lives. It creates a sense of well-being with ourselves but also with others. It helps create deep and meaningful relationships. It helps us fit in and relate to other people. It creates a sense of importance and esteem. It helps us decide what to do and what to avoid. It helps us cope with life. And since we are such a social species, the feeling of belonging is important for us.
But identity can also be problematic — especially when it becomes an over-identification. Over-identification to politics, religion, sport, personality traits, etc. It’s even more problematic when the ego is attached to it.
In part, ego is the feeling when you’ve just found out that you are wrong but have a deep visceral feeling that doesn’t allow you admitting you are wrong. It’s also many others things.
When we over-identify with a certain narrative, conversation, understanding, and mutual respect are thrown out the way. It becomes harder to admit when you are wrong. It becomes all about righteousness. It makes you think you are more intelligent, more competent, more important than everybody else. Over-Identification can make us less tolerant. Less empathic. Less welcoming.
A few examples of over-identification
Without diving too deep in politics, it’s a place where narrative rules. And it divide us.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty most people do not identify strongly with any political party. It is values that align people with a party and not a party that aligns people with their value. Hopefully.
But, as much as I can, I try to not identify myself as a liberal, or as a conservative. Yes I have my tendency, but choosing one of them create a divide. Criticism becomes a personal attack. And it becomes all out wars. From both sides, people screaming and insult to each other. People assuming others are on the wrong side of history. People assuming they are the only good guys.
And it’s hard to not react that way. Identity makes us value and believes certain things. And when somebody attacks those values we get emotional. We get angry. We get animal-like. We almost want to rip their throat.
There is also narrative with the way we perceive our personality.
For instance, I strongly identify with introversion which makes me less likely to enjoy and appreciate meeting other people. I have no problem believing I’m shy, terrible at conversation, and plain bad at creating meaningful relationships. But that’s a narrative. That’s a story I tell myself about my personality and who I am.
I’m always butthurt when someone says something I don’t believe to be true about myself. Since I “know” who I am, someone could tell me I suck with people, I will agree. But someone telling me I do a poor quality work will get angry.
Perception vs Reality
Certain persons would say the perception is more important than reality. Believing it’s true is better than the truth itself. Although I do agree with this, to a certain extent, it’s also delusional and problematic.
It’s true to say that if my perception of introversion is positive, that if I accept who I am, my life will get better. Self-acceptance and self-awareness are always the first steps toward change. But identity is arbitrary. It can be literally anything. There is nothing wrong with changing who you think you are.
Believing too much in the narrative of introversion block many path to further life experiences I might have enjoyed. It makes me fearful of change. It makes me stifled. It makes everything outside of this narrative a threat — something to avoid completely.
Because identity defines what you think is right and wrong. It defines how you judge the world. And how you judge the world is also how you judge yourself. It dictates what you allow and do not allow in your life. Identity, as much as it can free us, is also a prison we should be cautious of.
Stories in our everyday life
Stories present themselves in our everyday lives and affect you in ways you might mot be aware of.
My brother don’t really appreciate social media and his perception of it makes him unable to try it out, because what if he likes it. His non-social media identity is threatened.
I think taking picture of myself is self-centered and selfish, so there is no chance, almost zero chances, I might do it. Because it threatens my identity. Same thing about trying out social sports. Same thing with talking to girls. Same thing with showing support, or care for other. All of this might be threatening my “I don’t give a fuck” or my “indifference of others” identity.
Those things are not what I think I am. The fear of changing my identity, the fear of doing something against it, makes me cautious. It makes me avoid opportunities or experiences I might enjoy doing.
What’s the solution then
There are not many solutions for this problem. Identity is who we are.
Anytime we do something that might change the way we perceive ourselves — even if you don’t over-identify to anything (it just make the problem worse) — we will feel threatened. No matter what.
Identity is a story you’ve decided to believe in and changing it is like admitting you are wrong about it.
When I first start writing I wasn’t comfortable writing. I was self-conscious and worrying over details I might not want to share. Worrying about my rights to write. I’m not even talking about publishing. Writing was uncomfortable because, somehow, I didn’t think I was allowed to do it. It was so far-fetched and abnormal to even think I could do it. I mean, why me? Don’t you need a horrible life to be allowed to write? Don’t you need to be special?
That’s some stories I had in my head when I start.
But once we start caring less and giving less power to those narratives I’ve opened myself a whole new world of possibility.
When you choose to say “I might try X” even when your first thought is “I don’t like X” you’re allowing new exciting things in your life. You allow yourself to learn. You allow yourself to be free.
In this way, “Knowing yourself” or “finding yourself” can be dangerous. It can cement you into a strict role and saddle you with unnecessary expectations. I can close you off to inner potential and outer opportunities.
I say don’t find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that’s what keeps you striving and discovering. And it forces you to remain humble in your judgment and accepting of the differences in others.
— Mark Manson, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck
Identity should be as broad and malleable as possible.
But I think the second you say “I am this” you’ve stopped listening and learning. — Louis CK
In many occasions, I enjoy moments and situations which I never thought I would enjoy. I though they didn’t represent me.
“I don’t like going out. There are too many people. I won’t enjoy it.”
Though, most of the time, I had more fun than first expected. I was complaining about it but ended up liking it.
So instead of believing you are the 20 things you described in your Twitter bio, be one broad thing. Maybe two. You just look like you’re trying to prove yourself something.
Remember that narrative are lie. And that you are lying to yourself more than you are willing to admit. Be broad. Be open. And get that stick out of your ass.