In my previous article, we talked about what an identity crisis is and how to recognize its symptoms so that you can be better prepared.
We also discussed how having an identity crisis can be a good thing if we take the time to question ourselves and make a commitment to explore ourselves to a happier and healthier you.
But how do we begin? What is it that we need to understand to end the confusion and frustration? These are the questions you may be asking yourself now.
The problem of identity crisis stems from the pain of letting go from an identity attachment. The first step to letting go is to recognize your identity attachment so you can feel where the pain is coming from.
What is identity attachment?
You’ve heard of the concept of “wearing many hats”. For example, when you’re with your kids you have your mom hat on or when you are with your spouse or partner, you put on your partner hat. And let’s say your profession is a teacher, then you have your teacher hat on while at work.
We go through life playing different roles, and we take each of these roles and create a narrative of what each of these roles should look like.
So let’s take the mom role for example.
We might create a story in our heads that we can be a ‘super mom’: work 40 hours a week, keep the house clean, cook fantastic dinners and make homemade cupcakes for the PTA. When we don’t meet those expectations, it causes us to suffer. That suffering is the attachment that you have made with that ‘super mom’ role.
Now, let’s look at the spouse role to understand attachment more. Say you have been married for 20 years and unfortunately you get divorced. After the divorce, you become confused and lost in understanding who you are. You’ve become confused and lost because you were attached to the role of being called a ‘wife’ or ‘husband’. The feeling of confusion and being lost is the attachment to the role of being a spouse.
The 3 different types of identity attachments
Life is full of surprises and constant changes and no matter what role or roles you are playing, they are constantly evolving or changing too. These three categories can help you see where your identity attachment might be.
1. By what we ‘do’
This can be defined by our profession or hobby. For example, you are an accountant who runs marathons or you are a full-time housewife or maybe you are a painter.
2. By what we are able ‘to attain’
This has to do with our material possessions. Meaning what car or house we live in or what clothes we wear.
3. By how we ‘look’
At one point in our lives, we were young and maybe called ‘beautiful’. Or, we were fit and ‘business-like’.
Examples of attachments
You may now be asking yourself now how does all this information help me?
Well, the first thing you need to do is to go down memory lane. Think about all the jobs you have had, the different looks you may have worn, and all possessions you have had in your lifetime. Have any of those remained the same?
Some of you may be thinking, “Well I am a ‘mom’ and will always be a ‘mom’”. That may be true, but the type of mom you are will change. One day, your children will be grown and move out of the house and all of a sudden that may cause you to feel useless. This feeling of uselessness is the attachment you have to being a mom to young children.
Let’s say you are a marathon runner and are physically fit. Then, all of a sudden, your knee is blown out and you’re unable to perform anymore and feel very angry that this event has happened to you. That feeling of anger is the attachment you have to being a marathon runner.
We can be attached to our youth or having a wrinkle-free face. When the wrinkles start creeping upon us, we may begin to feel ‘undesirable’. That feeling of undesirability is the attachment we have to looking young.
This goes for possessions too. You may have had a beautiful two-story house and because of a lay-off, you are no longer able to keep the house. This event may make you feel less ‘valuable’ or worthy. These two feelings are the attachment you have to your house.
Are you getting the picture?
When we attach ourselves to what we do, how we look, or to what we attain and then lose it, we suffer. Everything in life is temporary and nothing in life is secure. You must understand that change is the only constant in our lives.
Then who are we?
We are beings with an inner self and external self. The inner self is the only thing that remains constant while the external self, i.e. what we ‘do’, what we are able ‘to attain’ and how we ‘look’ never remains the same.
Once we fully understand that concept, we suffer less. We understand not to attach ourselves to these identities because we know it will change. Change is inevitable!
I think this is what Shakespeare meant by “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
By recognizing the attachment, you suffer less and able to move forward.
Photo: Yoann Boyer @yoannboyer