How to Have Ease When Your Identity Changes?

One of the topics Jessica Graham, author of Good Sex: How to Get off without Checking Out, and I touched on during our LaidOPEN podcast conversation was what is known in Buddhist circles as the dissolution of the ego. Jessica shared how surprised they were by some changes in their life over the past few years. Their understanding of the self they thought they were, expanded and shifted because they were capable of allowing this to happen. That takes practice for many people.  

Shifts like these occur based on increased consciousness that may be generated internally, or because new information enters our field of awareness. In Jess’s case, it was both. With new language and permission generated by younger generations and social media, a new way of seeing themselves led to identifying as nonbinary. With more information about ADD, Jess discovered this diagnosis fit and they now have more ease in life in general.

We all have a sense of identity that can be rigid, flexible, or permeable. The more we hold on to who we think we are we often encounter more suffering. Think of someone who knows they are gay but is terrified of coming out. Or someone who’s loveless marriage or pleasureless job is not working, but they are forcing themselves to stay in it because it’s their duty.

Having a flexible identity allows you to see yourself, and gather new resources that make life easier. Or allows you to walk away from situations and people that don’t support who you are becoming or who you’ve always been.

Our egos are invested in us being seen in a certain way. Some perfectionists may feel this more strongly than others, but most people want to be seen as they see themselves, and when they get feedback that is dissonant with that sense of self, it is hard to not get defensive or reject it. The more work you do to become conscious and have a flexible, ever-evolving sense of self, the more you live in Self-acceptance.

One person may not want to embrace having money or being productive because they associate that with their straight-laced parents, so they rebel and sabotage what they want to achieve again and again. It is valuable to uncouple things that may have become associated in your mind. You can be wildly creative and also be financially secure. You can be dependable and still be a dynamic playful person.

Working somatically I warn clients, when your physical body, your connective tissue, your soma shifts so will your identity. When you carry yourself differently it impacts your sense of self-confidence and ease in the world. The story you tell about who you are will also shift.

We have beliefs that are our operating system. These beliefs show up in our body in how we carry ourselves as well as in what sensations we feel inside if we threaten to act outside of our subscribed belief system or identity. As we do this exercise, pay attention to what sensations and emotions you feel in your body and what thoughts and memories arise as you answer these questions.

This exercise is an opportunity to look at your identity and see if there is a way of being that you are ready to redefine or lay to rest:

  1. How do you see myself? How do you want to be seen?

Make a list of all the ways you identify in all realms of your life, personal, professional, archetypal. This could include being an artist, activist, hero, mother, vanilla, gay, generous, powerful, dominant, or a good listener, etc. 

  1. Ask your friends and family how they see you.

Have you been identifying yourself in opposition to your parents or in relation to an aspirational way of being?

What part of your identity feels fixed and unchanging? Is there a way you have been in the past that you feel is in question or you have outgrown? If you let this go who are you? 

3. As you do this writing and reflection what is happening in your body?

When you think about this what sensations, such as heat, tension, spaciousness show up in your body? What emotions arise? 

Considering change and the unknown often brings up fear. What are you afraid of? If it is judgment or failure, keep going, and ask it again. If you fail then what? If you are judged then what? If you lose community then what? Can you embrace yourself if this part of your identity dies? 

4. How do you benefit from your attachment to this identity? What do you lose by remaining in it?  Have you chosen certain roles or ways of being because you want your family or culture to approve of you? Who would you be without this? What do you need to be willing to feel to chose based on what makes your heart sing?

photo credit Sharon Mccutch

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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