Lately I have been thinking about identity.
"Who am I?"
Eventually we all ask ourselves this question, whether we know it or not. Striving to figure out who we are and how we fit in this crazy world. Some of the struggles are with things that many consider clear-cut: gender, sexuality- complicated by societal pressures, cultural beliefs- most of all, fear.
Today, my thoughts are on the smaller pieces that we use to build a picture of ourselves. Some of the pieces are pushed or placed on us: perceptions of "the funny one" or "the athletic one", the cliques that pair off in schools and communities, joining in some activity. I think of the ways that we do define ourselves, as mothers, fathers, musicians, athletes, smart, beautiful, patriotic, left handed, blue eyed...the list is endless of the things we incorporate into our sense of identity. The things we choose are often sources of pride, that thing that is just a little bit better than most of the others around us. Those things are reinforced when others give us positive praise:
"Your hair is so nice! I could never have it that short and look good but you have the perfect face for it."
"You sing like an angel"
"I could never draw like that"
"You are soooo funny. You always make me laugh"
There is nothing wrong with this either! It feels good to be noticed for the things we do well and the things we love doing. The struggle comes when our identity is fused to that "thing". Nothing in life is certain. And yes, I know that we all know that. And I know that we still invest in these "things".
By now, either you are saying, "Totally, I feel this..." or "I am DONE reading this, this makes no sense."
We have to put on this role and make our children a priority. I would not argue that but I would and do often say that the parent needs to have their own interests. "I don't have time for that." Yes- that may be true. Between school and homework and making lunch and bathtime and dance classes and karate, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and work.....and and and....there isn't a lot of time left. AND- you have to make time. Children grow up. "I know that. That is why I want to spend as much time with them now while they still want to spend time with me." Okay, then make sure you have a plan for when they need you less. What are you going to do? Coaching Little League is awesome. What else? Do you like coaching? Do you like baseball? Can you play in an adult league or keep coaching after your child has moved up in the ranks or moved on?
The transition from parent to "empty nester" is tough, no matter how many things you do for yourself. "I don't know what to do with myself." and "I don't know who I am anymore" are two of the questions I hear most often.
Parenthood is a sacred thing. We are teaching and witnessing a person figuring out life and doing so knowing they are safe and loved by you. This is the way they can be the healthiest they can be! And it is a cliche and true that they will honor their own sense of identity if they see you honoring yours. Or they will assume that everyone is here to address their needs. That second one doesn't feel to good to me.
Imagine though that you do honor yourself and enjoy something such as art (art, art therapist, come on, you knew this was going to be an example). Imagine that you have spent most of your life creating. 40, 50, 60 years or more. That is a long time. That becomes a part of your identity almost by default because the majority of your life has been spent creating. Now imagine that arthritis is crippling your hands, your eyesight is nearly gone. You can't hold any tools to create. You can't see what you create. Aging is hard enough but if the spirit is crushed by "losing" this part of yourself....frankly, people die from this, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically.
Imagine a life spent hearing how good you look (FINE I'll say it- think reality TV / celebrity image level), how young, how clear your skin, how beautiful your hair color, how nice your figure. No amount of hair dye will keep your hair looking natural- eventually, you are THAT person who is CLEARLY dying your hair ("shes 90. there is NO WAY that is her natural haircolor). Your skin will take on folds and wrinkles and spots. You won't be young and the pursuit to stay young will eventually make you seem a foolish figure to others. Now imagine embracing that your face and body and hair will change over time. Imagine looking at smile lines and smiling more- knowing these smile lines are the medals won of a good life.
Don't get me wrong, I have stared into the mirror searching for grey hair, pulling back the skin around my eyes to "unwrinkle" them. I have relished hearing how artistic I am and enjoyed my identity as the "cool auntie". This is human, just as all of the other scenarios above are human. There is no perfect treatment. The best we can do is prepare. See how beautifully multi-layered we are and see how the hallmark of being human is our ability to adapt. We adapt as the sun rises and sets. We adapt to the seasons. We adapt to holidays and post holiday malaise. We adapt. How we do that is up to each of us- what we do to adapt- or choosing to give up and mourn the loss of our identity forever. Do you know that person? The one who is so busy lamenting life gone by or the unfairness of something that they forget each day and each day to come. The one that you don't really want to be around because they are SUCH a downer. They almost enjoy their identity as someone to be pitied. Someone who is victim to outside circumstances.
I think I would rather add "survivor" to my identity, not victim.
If you are still reading, now you may be saying, "Okay how do I do this?"
The answers aren't here. They are in exploring. Self exploration and social exploration. Trying things, seeing people, digging into the other layers that make you who you are or finding something brand new to do! I recently heard someone on the radio saying it is never too late to learn a new language. It may take longer but its not too late. So maybe you learn a language. Who knows? Don't do it because someone says you should- do it because it sparks your interest and seems fun, seems like it will add to the beautiful pattern of you.
We all age and all things must end. Jobs, day to day parenting, perfect hair, the ability to stay up all night and still function the next day (I'm not sure I ever had that to be honest but definately not after about 28!). You choose what is next.
Ah ha! Good for you! You are the person who stays for the post credits scene aren't you?
One way to help figure out some of those layers is an identity exercise sort of like the picture above. Grab a piece of paper. Any kind of paper- it can be a Post-it pad. Now, represent yourself.
You can use a photograph, print out or draw an outline of a person or profile like the one above, or pick some kind of symbol that has meaning for you. One person used their address labels! Whatever you use, make it meaningful and purposeful. Dipping into the deeper parts of ourselves is UN-COM-FORT-ABLE. No way around it though it may be enjoyable too.
Now, we go into a stream of consciousness or instinct mode. Don't think to much about it but choose words or pictures that somehow jump out at you. You can write, draw, cut out from magazines, type and print from a computer. IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW YOU DO IT as long as you do it.
Once you have a good pile of words, images, phrases or all of the above, take another moment to go through the pile. Again not thinking too much but giving yourself the opportunity to take out anything that doesn't feel right. Not something that doesn't "fit" because you might have unearthed that long ago desire to be a weight lifter or something! But something that feels wrong for you. If that doesn't resonate with you, keep 'em all!
Now grab a glue stick and glue away on your image or symbol. Some people put them inside the image (like above), some around. Notice if you end up covering the representation of yourself. You don't have to do anything with that, just notice. When you are done, simply look at what you created. Put it away for awhile if you would like and periodically look at it again. Try not to force anything. Self-discovery is a long journey.
Beware though that anything where you are focusing on yourself can be difficult and bring up strong emotions. If you are currently in therapy, you may want to bring in your identity piece to talk over with them. You may just want to clear out some time so if you need to be angry, you can be angry. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to be super happy joyous, you are super happy joyous.
"Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from
within when one has the courage to let go."
- Doug Cooper
© Robin L. Shahverdian and livebreathelovecreate.org, 2018- ; Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robin L. Shahverdian and livebreathelovecreate.org with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.