I’ve been finding a really good way to tell what you, and others, are attached to and identified with is to see what you want people to know about you (or what they want you to know about them).
If someone makes a point of letting you know how smart they are, they’re probably attached to the identity of being clever.
If you want someone to know you’re hardworking, you’ve probably got a lot invested in the identity of being the hardworking one.
For me it’s being funny.
I remember hanging out with this guy who did not find me funny. At all.
I told him a story that normally gets laughs (about a 15 year old me tagging along with a Greek guy to buy heroin…it’s a good story).
I got to the punchline and he just went “Yeah, I saw that coming”.
I was shocked. One because he didn’t find it (and therefore me) funny, and two because I’d been talking for a while so how long ago did he clock it?!
It was weird. Without being funny I didn’t really know what to do. Like what do I have to offer if I’m not being funny?
The thing with these identities we’re attached to is that we don’t even necessarily like or want them. Sometimes they’re born out of something that’s true (you are smart) but become a persona (the smart one) that we use to relate to the world, and often keep us safe. Sometimes they have less to do with us, and more to do with what we grew up around.
I know how to be the funny one. It makes me feel comfortable. I can make people laugh, and therefore I can make people like me, and if they like me I feel safe, accepted, and loved.
So this guy not finding me funny was quite a shock to the system. It didn’t just feel like he didn’t like my story, at some level it made me feel unsafe. I didn’t know how to relate to him. I didn’t know what I had to offer, or what I needed to do to be accepted.
Very often these identities, or ways of being, are what kept us safe and made us feel loved. We felt loved when we achieved so we got good at achieving. We felt rejected if we disagreed with someone, so we learnt to be agreeable. Certain aspects of who we are (or were) were more valued than others, so we learnt to play up what was welcomed, and minimise what wasn’t.
But these identities can get incredibly restrictive. Firstly, they’re not true. Even if they’re born out of something that is true, they’re not all that’s true about you.
And they can really keep us stuck, doing things we don’t want to do, living a life that doesn’t suit us, and feeling like we’re not actually being ourselves.
How can you tell if this identity has gotten a little out of hand?
Do you feel free to not be it? Are you free to be funny, but also to not be funny?
If you don’t feel free to be and to not be, then you might want to investigate your relationship with this identity a little further. What do you get from it? In what way has it historically kept you safe? What might you need to be free in relation to it?
To get an insight into which identity you’re attached to, have a look at what you want people to know about you. What do you make a point of letting them know, what do you present to the public?
And then see where freedom comes into play. If you’re free to be it and not be it, then as you were. If you don’t feel free, it’s something you have to live up to, or it’s keeping you down, then you’ve got some investigating to do.
And if you notice someone else making a point of letting you know something, you can assume this is important to them, and at a deeper level is their safety net, their way of feeling accepted, and loved. So if you challenge this idea they have they’re likely to have a strong reaction.
This might help someone’s behaviour to make more sense, help you navigate them more easily, or if you’re a bit of a bastard, highlight their weak points (I’m sure you’re not, and please be nice! With great insight comes great responsibility)