Aug 6, 2020
Written by Barbara Davis Thompson LCSW
“Who we are is a story of our self - a constructed narrative that our brain creates.”~Bruce Hood
Identity is something you discover as you travel through life. Which begs the question of what is you and how is it different from what you think and believe is you.
There are a lot of moving pieces to find your true self. Consider that you are an amalgamation of several influences, roles, and parts (your subconscious mind records every second you’ve lived and retained these memories ad infinitum). You are a link to a larger system of family, culture, education, and other institutions that influenced you.
The culture, education, and community of your childhood and youth laid values and beliefs on you when your brain was young and impressionable that a part of you accepted as true about you and who you should be.
Then, too, your epigenetics (patterns laid down by ancestors) and the expectations of your social group, educators, peers, and mentors were laid on you about who you should be, what you should do in life, and how your life should look.
The path to understanding, accepting, transforming, and living your identity is a process, one where the turtle wins rather than the hare.
Identity can be shaped by pivotal moments in life that can change you forever, sometimes in the blink of an eye, such as an environmental disaster (war, plagues, political take-overs), a spiritual opening, death of loved ones, a heart-crushing breakup, a near-death experience, etc. If you have ever experienced an “aha” moment that evolved your thinking or belief in a major way, thinking back on it, you are almost certain to discover that you are no longer the you that you had long known.
Different stages of life can shape your identity because who you were in your 20’s is not the same person you are in your 40’s, 50’s, etc. Perhaps, decade by decade, you are beginning to realize you have become a different person. With this realization, you can choose to reshape your identity so that it better mirrors who you know yourself to be at the stage of life you are currently in
“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” ~Buddha
In owning your identity process, it is wise to know the intention or type of identity you seek. Is it to:
a) solidly own your longer-standing identity
b) recognize and claim the most recent edition of yourself
c) move from being unconscious about self to becoming conscious
If you are more or less clear about who you are, then you are at the midpoint when it comes to owning your identity; you are in category a. This level asks for an updated evaluation that requires you to become clearer about your values, your personality, your world view, and how your identity authenticates your life.
Category b is when you have gone through a transformation of some sort that altered your view of yourself or life; this process asks you to recognize what the pivotal experience taught you or how it opened you to an upgraded consciousness and more awareness of your personality or abilities. In this process, questions may emerge such as “What did I learn about myself from going through what I did? How did this experience grow my skills and resilience? What do I now know about myself that I didn’t know before this event happened to me?” In category b you are asked to integrate the ‘aha’ realizations into your identity.
Regarding the third scenario, category c, at this level, you’re unconscious about yourself, your full range of talents and capabilities, and may have a distorted view of how others see you (your personality). At level c your task is to understand the past influences that most strongly impacted your view of yourself and then get clear about who you are right now. Your process in this category is to retain the influences that enhance your life and eliminate those that don’t.
“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”~Thomas Szasz
You can find your authenticity. It is up to you to build an up-to-date version of who you are today, figure out the person you want to be, find your purpose, and create a vision of a life that allows you to be beautifully yourself and also deeply nourishes you.
The idea is for you to embrace your life with acceptance knowing every experience shapes who you will become.
You get to choose how you want to be and what is necessary to stay true to yourself. Remember, the past is what happened to you and not who you are today. To be authentic, you define who and what you are; inauthenticity is when the outside largely influences who you are in the world.
1. Learn about your self-expression through identifying your personality - perhaps, start with your astrology sign, move on to your Enneagram identification, your Myer’s Brigg signature, and/or any other self-revealing test that gives you information about different traits and characteristics that can be used to define you.
2. Be mindful and check-in with yourself to find out how you are feeling because feelings are self-revealing about what matters and what doesn’t, leading you to be in touch with yourself at a deeper level. Do remember that feelings are not necessarily facts and are more about your past than the here and now. But they offer important information.
3. Identify the people who live the traits and life you want. This includes those persons who model behaviors, attitudes, and values you want to emulate. Ask yourself what individuals motivate and fire you up? You can elect to try on their most admirable traits, attitudes, and behaviors. You can even build an alter ego or persona and try it on for size to see if it fits you. For example, Beyonce said, “When I am on stage I am Sasha Fierce and off stage, I am simply Beyonce.”
4. Update and become aware of the values that truly reflect who you are. Introspect on these values and how they Influence who you see yourself to be.
5. Become more mindful of what or who has deeply influenced you such as a mentor, a life-changing book, movie, or experience that changed your worldview or your view of self. Ask yourself how these influences made you more realistically aware of self.
6. For those who know you best, get real about their perceptions of you. Cull through their feedback. The information you receive can inform whether you are in alignment with the truth of the identity you believe others accept as truly you.
7. Take stock of your past and locate any stuck points, like where your identity may be frozen in roles you were forced to play, labels you were given back then, an identity laid on you by unhealthy people or dysfunctional systems, judgments by unconscious people, and the unhealed wounds of childhood.
8. Create a vision for how you want to be. Be proactive. Know what type of person you want to be in this world; be able to write an identity state, such as the template below: “My name is __________. What I like best about myself is that I have a great sense of humor, compassion, and integrity. My passions are serving the world by supporting human rights and protecting animals and the planet. I’d like to grow by upgrading my consciousness so I find my soul’s purpose and what I am here to do. What most matters to me is equality and justice and I am willing to be on the front lines with these issues. My dream is to write a book and go on speaking tours. What I am most proud of is doing acts of service that I do not talk about but I feel good about myself by each day doing one act of kindness.”
9. Make a list of all you have accomplished and go over that list and notice which achievements pleased you the most.
10. Take educational courses that support you to find yourself, strengthen your identity, and find your purpose and passion. You can listen to TedTalks and/or check out YouTube for videos on finding your identity through Solfeggio frequencies, guided meditations, or how-to instructions.
11. Try something new that can expand your world and acquaint you with unexplored aspects of yourself.
12. Keep a journal in which you record your lifeline, which is a record of major events that you’ve gone through. Write about the skills and strengths gained from having not only survived but grown in a positive way as you met and dealt with the trials and celebrations of your life.
13. Do not put yourself last - recognize your needs, wants, and live the Golden Rule, “Treat thy neighbor as you would treat yourself.” Your needs matter equal to your neighbors.
14. Begin to be more aware of what makes you feel better - realizing the things, people, or activities that you genuinely enjoy.
The suggestions you just read allow you to learn about yourself which enables you to write an identity statement that sums up your self-chosen, attainable, and relatable identity. It is so powerful to own who you are and step into behaviors that reflect your identity because it means you are authentic in this stage of your life (not necessarily forever because identity is fluid). You are now going to reverse Frank Sinatra’s lyrics of dobedobedo...by changing them to bedobedobe.
In closing, perhaps it is not so much about finding your identity as it is about transforming into it. When you release the image of the programmed self, you then allow your authentic self to emerge. Possibly you might consider using the following Polonius quote as a reminder to stay the course to your true self: 'This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.'
Barbara Davis-Thompson, LCSW is a New York, New York private practice psychotherapist. You can contact her at email@example.com.