What roles do you play?

And how are they affecting your happiness?

I was listening to this podcast last night and in it Glennon spoke about the roles she plays once the family wakes up, and this is why she liked writing first thing in the morning. This idea of roles stuck out to me. I definitely play roles in my life. And the thing about these roles is that they’re often given to you without you realising. And if you don’t stop to question it you’ll carry on in these roles that you’ve not chosen.

A Loving Wife

A key example of this for me is the role of wife. I’ve been married since 2015 and I can see how, since then, this role of wife has subtly started to alter my behaviour. I’m a firm believer the reason I have such a strong relationship with my husband was because, when we started dating, I had clear goals, desires and boundaries in place. But, since we’ve been married my clear intentions have been slowly replaced by our goals and desires as a couple. And they’ve started taking priority over my individual needs.

Now, this change in behaviour hasn’t come about because my husband expects it from me, it’s been all my own doing and decision making. But I can start to see how, through my own volition, I could end up in a position where I feel I didn’t achieve what I wanted out of life because of sticking to the ‘loving wife’ role I’ve been given. And how I’d end up frustrated with the relationship, because I’ll perceive that to be the thing that stopped me from going after my own desires.

And the frustration will all be down to me, not the relationship.

The problem with unconscious role-play

In the above example you can see how, if left unconscious, it could potentially have a big affect on my relationship in the long-term. Playing any roles without questioning them can have similar consequences for any relationships. Are you the “shoulder to cry on” for all your friends? Get frustrated that no one’s there when you need to talk? Or are you the “go to fixer” of the office, who has to work all the hours because you’re always picking up other people’s messes?

These roles don’t just impact your relationships. The amount of time you have in a day/week/lifetime is limited. Do you want to spend it playing roles you haven’t chosen? Or playing them in a way that doesn’t suit you. Spending your time trying to fit into unwanted roles will impact your confidence and self-esteem. You will feel you have less control over your life. I’m sure the reason many of us struggle with self-care is because it’s not part of any of these unconscious roles we’re given.

There are benefits to these roles as well. Having to decide everything in your life is cognitively and emotionally draining. Decision fatigue is a real thing, and playing these automatic roles allows us to reduce some of that conscious processing. It helps keep harmony in your relationships, especially if you’ve been playing the role for a long time. If you’re an obliger it will be much harder to go against these expectations.

What to do about it?

Well, the first step is probably becoming aware of which roles you’re playing. And then looking at the beliefs that are shaping those roles. What are the rules of the role? So, in my example of the ‘loving wife’ one rule is that I have to prioritise the goals we’re setting as a couple over my own, personal ones. There’s also a belief that I should take on more of the household chores and responsibilities.

Once you’ve identified your roles, and rules and beliefs that govern them, ask yourself if you still want to play the role that way? I should imagine there aren’t many roles that you can choose to not play at all, but you can definitely change the rules of them. When considering this also ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the work to change them though. Are you willing to struggle for it?

Don’t want to struggle?

If you’re not willing to struggle for it, that’s 100% ok. As I said not all roles are bad, and if you have a lot already going on in your life it might not be the right time to challenge the belief. If that’s the case, being aware is enough. Awareness can allow you to question things more easily. So, if I ever feel myself getting resentful in my relationship, I can look and see if it’s because I’m letting the rules of the ‘loving wife’ role get in the way. And then it allows you the choice to keep behaving that way, or to disrupt the pattern and try something different.

Willing to put in the work?

If you are willing to put the work in to change the role, the first step will be challenging the existing rules and roles. Identify how they’re not helping you live the way you want to. Challenge the feelings you have about that role, and what it means to you. You’re looking to start breaking the foundations of the role so that you can replace it with the new rules and beliefs.

In order to replace the rules and beliefs you will need to recognise what you actually want the role to look like. You need to build a clear picture of what the new rules and beliefs are going to be. Then start practising those things. Journaling is a great tool for this. You can write down all the new rules and beliefs, revisit them regularly and keep a list of all the way you’ve achieved those knew things. Changing these things takes time, so having the written evidence to look back on helps you see all the ways you’re making the effort when you inevitably slip back into the old role.

For me, the role of ‘loving wife’ is currently going to stay as-is, as I don’t have the capacity in my balance bandwidth to put in the effort to change it right now. I will be bringing my awareness to it though and, when the time is right will look at challenging some of the beliefs.

I’d love to know if you believe you are playing roles in your life? Where do these roles show up most for you and what are some of the rules of them?

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