Identity is a made-up concept of who we are that we’ve constructed from the puzzle pieces of our lives, values, experiences and what other people have told us about ourselves. Yet it plays such a crucial role in feeling secure, confident and alive that I wonder if it’s something not so easily dismissed as all that?
I’ve been on a search to define myself for as long as I can remember. I’ve been defined as daughter, woman, girlfriend, fiance, lover, friend, student, healer, medicine woman, coach, leader, writer and the list goes on. What happens when one or more of these ‘identities’ doesn’t fit or worse yet, it fits so well that when you seemingly ‘lose’ it, you feel completely lost?
Back in 2012 I made the pivotal life-changing decision to give up my clinical practice in Alternative Medicine & Nutrition, and pack up the entire content of my small condo into a storage unit and move to Mexico for what I thought would be a year-long sabbatical. At that time I was totally burnt out with what I later learned was called compassion fatigue, and truthfully I was running away to save and find myself after a period of prolonged grief.
What I didn’t realize is that giving everything up also meant I was giving up my tightly woven identity, the way I saw myself, the way I got significance and validation and the way others saw me.
Who was I to be if I didn’t have the ability to influence, teach and help heal my patients? Who was I going to be if I wasn’t going to have that title and whatever legitimacy I thought my education, position and knowledge gave me? Some of us have these questions thrust upon us when we’re fired from a beloved job or when someone leaves us after a long relationship.
But what if we examined this question before life hit us with it? What if before we feel confined by our chosen identity or the one put upon us we step back and take stock of who we are at our core, the true essence beyond what any worldly definitions through our way? Sounds lofty and maybe a little too spiritual for you? Then consider this: An identity crisis occurs when our sense of self is challenged, but if we’re making up our sense of self, based on external measures then we’re on dangerous territory.
Take the overachieving, type-A woman, (this applies to both men and women but I’ll speak to women for the sake of this article). She prides herself on her accomplishments, getting things done and climbing the ladder of her chosen profession. This, we can say is where she may derive part of her identity. But what happens when this goes away or gets threatened somehow? How does she find equilibrium in her life and sense of self again? This is where developing a firm understanding and relationship with the Self (capital S is on purpose people) can help you navigate times of change, stress and dare I say a crisis of worth and value, which I believe at its core is all an identity crisis really is.
My story didn’t end in Mexico, that was just the beginning.
I struggled for years after leaving my practice to find out who I was. I continued trying to fill the void with external distractions. I continued to chase men that were not right for me. I settled for relationships that were unfulfilling or with friends who were emotionally unstable. I tried to build a new career from the ashes of the old one only to realize that trying to fabricate a new identity doesn’t work either. All of this came to an exhausting end when I realized that my ego had me chasing my tail and the very last thing I was being, was authentic. When you build up your sense of identity on the external and not on a healthy relationship to self you come up disappointed and disillusioned every time. You cannot possibly be open, vulnerable, visible and authentic to those you love or even to the world or those you seek to share your message with.
Eventually, the most solid sense of self you can find is when you stop the external void filling and connect to your Self, that higher knowing intelligence that you might call your soul or your spirit within. This solid foundation and awareness is the only thing that helped me start to come up for air and see the signs, directions, and path to my purpose and my calling. No amount of accolades, romances or money can help you feel a deep and profound sense of resiliency until you connect with this greater presence within you.
I’ve worked with leaders across industries and ultimately, no matter what work we’ve done on their business and or their relationships, it all comes back to my favorite word ever… sovereignty, a state of self-governance and inner strength. From here all things become possible and life can throw just about anything at you and you’ll find your way back to YOU, the real you.
For those of you that want some homework around reassessing identity, here it is:
Make a list of your values, what lights you and that grounds you – where do you feel a profound sense of rootedness and aliveness?
List out what you’re passionate about – challenge yourself to try something new!
Connection, connection – it’s hard to feel seen or have a reflection of how you’re doing without others to connect with. Nurture relationships and avoid isolation.
Give back – in some way or other, find a way to serve others and give of yourself freely (a big identity crisis trap is that it can lead to self-centeredness or self-absorption)
Explore your spiritual side! Meditation or classes on different practices can be a great start.
You are not who you think you are, and knowing this can foster resiliency and help you connect to a more authentic expression of your bad-ass real SELF!