We can attach our identity to so many different things.
It can even feel “right” to do so. After all, we do take on many roles in our lives and what we do and have achieved DOES impact on our identity. What are some of YOUR roles/identities?
They might relate to:
- What you eat – eg I’m vegan, I’m Paleo
- Your relationship status
- Your career or business
- Your spiritual beliefs
- The way you work – eg I’m busy, I’m driven, I’m a perfectionist, I’m successful
- Your body – eg I’m a size x
- Where you live
- Your child status – eg I’m a mother, I do/don’t want children, I can’t have children
- What you own – eg property, car, designer items
- Your income
External labels can be a bit of a short cut to help answer the question, “Who am I?” They are certainly part of the picture.
The way you identify and define yourself may or may not be an issue to you. Usually it will only become a “problem” if something in your life changes, your identity shifts and all of a sudden you realise you were actually quite attached to that old identity and don’t quite know who you are without it!
- You define yourself as a vegan and then, years later, find yourself craving meat
- You’re defined by your career and then take time out for motherhood (clients have often talked about this as a huge time of identity shift)
- Your identity is quite connected to where you live and you suddenly have to move for eg a promotion, or your partner’s job
- You gain a great deal of weight due to eg a difficult pregnancy, or ill health, or injury
- Your perception that you are busy, successful, or a perfectionist is affected when you become injured, too sick, or too adrenally fatigued to work (or at least not at the same level)
- You lose your job, or your business fails or experiences a set-back
Obviously, it’s even more challenging if you lose a number of identity “signifiers” at the same time, which can happen during times of great change.
Have you ever had a time your sense of identity or self-esteem was rocked?
If you’d asked me back in 2011 if I had healthy self-worth and self-esteem, I would have probably said, “yes.” It was something I’d worked on for a number of years and I did feel so much better in myself. Towards the end of the year I became adrenally fatigued and burnt out. I felt tired, uninspired and the number of clients I could see in a week dropped right off. I suddenly noticed I wasn’t feeling so good about myself.
I came to the realisation that my self-worth and self-esteem had partly increased because I’d started a business I loved and was achieving quite a bit of success with it. I was busy and “moving forwards” and that made me felt great! However true self-worth and self-esteem are not attached to your achievements and don’t suddenly drop away when you aren’t “achieving” to the same level. I had some more work to do. These days, my self-worth and my business are separate and my self-worth doesn’t fluctuate according to what’s happening in my business.
My identity was rocked again in a huge way at the end of 2013 when my marriage abruptly ended. I relocated states, left behind my friends and professional network, let go of the clinic I had worked out of for 5 years, moved my business online, and ended up living with family for many months while waiting for my property to sell. What an interesting process it was to learn who I was with so many external signifiers gone. And what a beautiful, deep and strong foundation I now have as a result of this. Ah, the death of the ego. An incredible blessing.
You don’t have to have a huge life event to start to make the shift towards a more solid, detached-from-external-factors identity.
It can be hugely empowering to realise you don’t need external signifiers to feel stable and secure in your sense of self.