Is Your Identity Sabotaging You?
I want to share a bit of a vulnerable story…
I am now a coach and speaker, but back in the day when I was a full-time actor (okay, well a full time waitress/nanny/dog-walker and sometimes actor), I was convinced that what I had to offer the world was what I could bring into an audition room or a performance. And that was kind of tough, because I didn’t get to audition or perform nearly as much as I wanted. When I was on stage, I felt connected, electric, strong, and a part of something meaningful. When days, weeks and months passed when I didn’t have the opportunity to share this part of myself, I felt, well, pretty worthless.
I look back on this old self and I see that she didn’t know her own power yet. She could only see glimpses of it when she was handed the right opportunity. I wish I could go back in time and tell her that she was on the cusp of something she couldn’t imagine back then. She probably would have eaten a lot less macaroni and cheese.
Back then, I formed my entire identity around those moments of transcendence in acting, when I felt a synchronicity of the feelings I so desperately chased. And when I felt them, I tried to hold on to them tightly, to control their staying around. I decided that the actor self must be my true identity. Anything outside of that identity; any choice, inspiration or path that presented itself was dangerous to my whole sense of self and to my happiness.
When I started to step out of this cemented statue of an identity, my whole understanding and awareness of myself and the world expanded rapidly but the process of stepping outside of that identity was not an easy one. It hurt to step outside of that stone skin at first.
When my coaching practice started taking off and I found myself feeling ALL the feelings I desired a lot more of the time, I saw the writing on the wall. I needed to put more eggs in that basket if I wanted to see continued momentum. And I did want that. Very much.
I made a deal with myself that REALLY threatened this old cemented identity.
I chose coaching and building my business over my acting (which I had been pursuing for the better part of my life). Shortly after I made that decision, I got an email from a director I LOVED working with, who I felt I really created art with. This director emailed me to offer me a role but accepting it would require me to divert a lot of time and effort away from coaching, and I knew I was at a pivotal moment for growth.
My old identity wanted her home back bad. She wanted to know who she was. She wanted more certainty. More control. She wanted that heroine-like hit of validation and worth. After some soul searching, I emailed him back and declined the role. .
When I sent the email, I cried on my bed for a while. I’m talking fetal position. Ugly sobs. It felt like I was saying goodbye to that former self who needed acting to feel like a valued person. Then, I realized that I wasn’t losing her. She was actually a critical part of my new creative endeavors with coaching. I promised her that as my mission progressed, I wasn’t leaving her behind, that I would listen to her cravings too, that I wouldn’t let my identity as a coach surpass the full entirety of how I express myself. Yes, I was leaving my acting identity as I knew it behind, but in the process I was taking her creative power with me into something new. And who said I couldn’t act ever again? Of course I could.
It is human nature to try to cling to this cemented identity based on our past. It gives us a sense of control in a pretty uncertain and sometimes scary existence. When we know who we are and where our percieved worth lies, we can use that to avoid potential pain and danger. But in doing so, we often forsake the deeper messages that are trying to get our attention. We wind up sacrificing our happiness to feel safe.
I have also seen people hold on for dear life to negative identity: their identity as “the person with a weight problem who will always struggle”, the victim of another, the door-mat, the loser or the outcast. Because as long as they believe that is who they are innately are, the less responsible they are to their desires. The less they have to become vulnerable and enter into action. They will sabotage their desires over and over again to feel that safety of certainty.
Recently when speaking with a client, she shared that she was so tied up in her identity as a career success that she wound up making most of her choices out of that. And it was costing her a lot; authenticity, connection, truly knowing herself and what she wanted.
“Well, without this, how will I know who I am?” she asked.
“Why would you need to know who you are?” I replied
We are attached to being seen in a certain light because without being seen this way, we aren’t really sure who we are, and if we don’t know how to define ourselves, we aren’t sure how to cope with the flow of life.
What if instead of defining ourselves by pouring cement over our past choices and attachments, we looked at ourselves as creative energy and presence? What if if saw ourselves as the energy patterns, the force underneath these human bodies? What if we are actually a fluid consciousness that is fed by new experiences, roles, and strong connection to deep desire and intuition? Then, we could slide in and out of different selves and roles effortlessly, gracefully and without so much weight and pain. We wouldn’t need a solid definition to to know who we are. We just are.
I get it. It is hard. Even as I write this, I see how a new identity is starting to cement. I may have left the old actor identity in dust but I see myself now attaching to being the “good” mother, coach, healer, and teacher in ego-based ways. And whenever I see it driving the bus, I try to wake up to what I truly believe. I am not innately any one of these things and all of these roles are fleeting. I am all of them and none of them at all. They are just molds and paths to express the creative energy and presence underneath.
So, take a moment to ask yourself these question:
- What is my fixed identity? Who do I definitively believe myself to be?
- How do I respond when someone threatens this sense of self?
- What do I give up by choke holding this fixed identity?
- Who would I be without this fixed identity? What would become possible?
When my client started giving up career success as her fixed identity, she wound up taking a lot more time for self-care, outsourced some of her work, created the space to date and actually have fun, and started exploring her spirituality more, leaving her feeling a lot happier and self-trusting.
Leaving a fixed identity and entering the zone of more of a fluid self can be slightly terrifying, but it can also be incredibly liberating and has wound up creating so much beauty and possibility in my life. I am realizing more and more that I am not the cement statue, I am the light in the cracks.
As Pema Chodron (kick-ass American Buddhist Nun) would say:
“This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky–that’s called liberation.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Originally published at www.soulbodylife.com on December 4, 2015.