The late psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term “identity crisis”. He said that the environment in which a child is brought up is critical in the formation of personal identity and self-awareness.
Obviously, the way we were raised significantly impacted who we are now. Imagine how different you might be if all the “moving parts” of your early life were the same, except for the folks who raised you. What if instead of having warm, loving parents, you lived in a home with people who really didn’t want you or care about you? If you grew up feeling unloved, how would things be different now if you had been part of a nurturing home full of respect and support and care?
It’s natural that we carry with us a belief system, established many years ago, about who we are and how “valuable” we are. We may simply accept what we have been exposed to as truth, or we may question everything, but the process of how we identify ourselves started when we were very young.
Merriam-Webster defines Identity Crisis as “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is”.
How do you define yourself? How do you identify yourself?
Do you ever think that you don’t REALLY know who you are? Do you ever believe that you don’t matter in this world? Do you ever feel like you’re searching for your identity?
Is there internal conflict between what you do daily and what your inner voice is whispering?
Last year, five women were at my home for a get-together. The six of us were sitting around the dining room table, when one of my friends asked if we’d be willing to try something different. She asked us to share something important that was on our minds and in our hearts. This group has often discussed issues that are meaningful, but they weren’t necessarily coming from our core self. It was a gutsy request. She began by telling us about something that was going on for her personally. A few others followed. I thought about remaining silent but then I realized this is exactly what people who are gifted with amazing friends “should” be able to do…share…honestly and openly.
What I chose to offer was one of my fears. Sure, I’m afraid of many of the same things as other people my age: growing old, having my friends die before me, not being able to take care of myself, financial security, being alone, but what I shared was, my fear of failing. Its something I continually work on, but I had never spoken so candidly about it, especially with more than one person at a time. I actually said the words “failure is not an option”. Wow.
I’ve been proud, strong and independent for most of my life. I’m scrappy and hard-working. I actively created the life I wanted; I didn’t wait around for someone to rescue me or take care of me or “save” me. I CHOSE a persona of who I want to be: kind, encouraging, honest, successful, strong, independent, and determined. I did not even consider the possibility of failure. Have I always succeeded in being all those things? Of course not. Have I been disappointed in myself when I haven’t? Of course.
In “The Wizard of Oz”, the wizard says to Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.
I empathize with that “Great and Powerful Wizard”. It’s tough to land somewhere that you didn’t expect to be, take on a role you didn’t expect to play and have so many people depend on you that you create a whole “set” (curtains and booming microphones included). I’ve often felt like that man behind the curtain, trying to manage it all and be it all, while saying all the right things, looking the right way, and orchestrating the life I’m leading. The thing is, all that managing takes the place of simply being.
How much of YOUR identity has been “smoke & mirrors”? How hard is it to play out your life with the persona that you’ve finally landed on as the “right one” for you? If you speak up and admit that not everything’s “perfect”, and no one else in your group does that, how do you feel?
Are you comfortable enough to share, at the risk of exposure, what you’re really feeling; to pull back the curtain?
During the sharing time with friends, no one interrupted, no one asked questions, and no one offered solutions. We simply listened to each other. It was scary and liberating. It was vulnerable and it was uplifting. In order for that to happen, we had to feel safe. We had to be unafraid of not fitting it.
We’re bombarded by media and advertisements that shout at us “this is what you’re supposed to look like”, “this is how you’re supposed to live”, “this is how you identify yourself as one of the winners; one of the successful ones; one of the few that have made it”. It’s no wonder we suffer with identity crises.
We stay in jobs we hate because we need to make THAT amount of money.
We dress the way other people expect us to, so that we fit in.
We worry obsessively about “what other people think” because we NEED to be accepted. We even let perfect strangers affect our day because of a random comment or reaction.
We label ourselves the way others see us because we don’t REALLY see ourselves.
When we spend enough time acting like “everything is just perfect” and that we “don’t have a care in the world”, it gets really tough (and lonely) when we hit a bump in the road and realize that, “heck, everything is NOT just fine”.
If you have NO idea who you are because you’ve been playing a role for so long, take the time and be real with yourself. It’s okay to be human…really.
The late evangelist, D.L. Moody said, “character is what you are in the dark”. What are we in the dark? When we’re alone and thinking about life, about choices, about where we’ve been and where we’re going, what are we?
How do we identify ourselves?
bearers of light,
speakers of truth,
messengers of love, and
harbingers of peace.
Amen to that (and to friends who challenge us to be real),
©2015 Peace Full Home