© Steve Whiteford 2021
Identity and ego are good things. They are how we uniquely define ourselves and how we relate to the world. In best-case, we use them to accurately enact our values and allow us to function effectively in the world.
But it’s a problem when we are strongly committed to an inflexible identity, remain unaware of its impact on others, and are emotionally shut down to the results of their behaviors. If we are not curious and lack self-empathy, we can be blindly bound by the defenses we’ve adopted and committed to as “identity.”
If you listen carefully to your self-talk or the phases you actually say out loud to excuse yourself from self-examination, you may hear things like: “that’s how I’m wired,” “that’s just who I am,” “that’s what makes me successful.” These mostly describe habits versus characteristics. Many of the traits we proudly espouse bind our ability to flex, change and grow.
I’m guilty. I’m “direct.” I feel justified in that behavior because several assessments have pointed out that one of my leading characteristics is being direct. I’m also “independent.” I like and value these qualities and I sometimes judge other people who lack them. But assessments are meant to engage self-awareness and when I examine how these two work and don’t in my life, I recognize the value of managing them instead of being strapped in by them.
“I” am not those traits. They are a mode of expression I developed based on early life relationships and are the best ways I could respond to formative environments. I admit these choices are deeply ingrained. But I have learned when they serve me and when they don’t, I can choose other approaches and become skillful at them.
I can also benefit from startling insight when I track what thoughts and feelings are apt to engage these traits. For instance – impatience, irritation, apprehension, pessimism, doubt, anxiety, stress, or tension might rope them in. If I catch the body sensation or subtle thought that flags these emotions, I can lasso the impulse to err with the habitual trait. I can soften, listen, or open instead of charging out of the gate like a loosed bull.
Marc Brackett in Permission to Feel proposes two types of emotional identities, Judgers or Scientists. People who block and criticize emotions in themselves and others are Judges. They see their identity as fixed. Scientists believe that all emotions are valid and offer helpful data. They are curious about the data and believe they have choices of expression. Their identities can be flexible to express their values effectively as a situation may require.
Being a scientist allows us to drop the restraints of fixed identity by becoming emotionally self-aware and honing the ability to manage how we respond to the information feelings provide.
Consider these famous film characters who became emotional scientists – Scrooge (Scrooge 1950), Phil Connors (Groundhog Day), and Charlotte Vale (Now Voyager).
What traits or characteristics have you accepted as part of your identity that may keep you wrapped?