Identities – the most dangerous (or the most useful) aspects of ourselves Part 1
The title sounds quite dramatic doesn’t it… the most dangerous but today I am going to tell you something about yourself that you are unlikely to be aware of but has either massively impeded your life up until now or made you successful in certain sections. It’s something that stares us in the face in our minute to minute living as we go through life only we don’t see it.
Take someone who is a successful entrepreneur, or a successful criminal or a successful salesman or woman. They have skills that they more than likely aware of and those skills combine with behaviours that give them a label or an identity. Our problems in life often start by not recognising that we are acting out of a place of identity that we are not aware of which means that we are unconsciously dictated to by that identity. And being dictated to by a part of you that you are not aware of is more than likely going to give you problems…………
So fasten your seatbelts as we dive into the world of understanding identities.
Have you ever been watching a movie, or reading a book, and seen a certain character’s behaviour from it – in yourself? Or listened to a friend tell you about some arsehole they met who behaved in a certain way and you silently cringe because you have behaved in the same way? Or done something when you had too much to drink and the next day thought, ‘I wonder what came over me?’ when it was something extremely embarrassing or shameful?
Many people are familiar with the term identity when we, in the process of growing up, structure our personality to portray the way we want to be seen. As teenagers we wear the right clothes and behave in a certain way to fit in. And as we mature we let go those immature behaviours but as we move into adulthood take on different behaviours. We might want to be seen as a businessman or a professor or as someone sophisticated, or seen as a particular type of sportsman – a golfer say.
To portray these we wear a mask – just like you see Shakespearean actors on a stage – and these masks we call an identity. Only most people don’t see their identities as separate parts of themselves and ‘I’ in their perception is their personality, which may include their body, their emotions, their feelings, their thoughts and if they are a little more aware than most might refer to a behaviour as a ‘part’ of them. that ‘part’ would be an identity.
And that is peoples usual understanding of identity – a particular type of characteristic or mask they wear that portrays who they want to be seen as. What I want to bring to your awareness is that while there is an ‘I’ a centre of pure awareness we confuse this ‘I’ with whatever identity happens to be around at that particular moment. So if this morning you were dressing yourself up to go out and to look good you might have been in the ‘admiration identity’.
The trouble is, is that many of these identities are compulsive and we find them controlling us rather than we controlling them.
I remember one of my clients saying to me after a session dealing with an identity where she realised she had been unconsciously wearing the mask of a ‘subservient doormat’ and afterwards saying:
I’ve spent nearly 15 years of my married life kowtowing to my husband because of my beliefs about men being the boss. Now I’ve woken up! I’ve realised that he had his place in the family and I had mine and that we had different roles to play but as human beings we were equals. I’m very angry that I’ve been stupid enough to buy into that belief for so long and to deny myself the right to do what I wanted to do …..
Identities (or sub-personalities or parts as they are sometimes called) operate in a “Semi- permanent and semi-autonomous region of the personality and are capable of acting as a person.” (Rowan 1990). This doesn’t mean that we are schizophrenic, or we are possessed, where some entity comes in and possesses our body – it means that we use identities in order to ‘play the game’. If you were to go a doctor and say, ‘I have voices in my head’, he would likely send you to a psychiatrist. What we don’t realise is that we all have voices in our heads – that incessant chatter that we have to put up with when we are trying to get on with life. Psychiatrists deal with a different type of voice in our heads. As we will see we have many, many identities that just move in and take over and act out whatever their role is, Only because we are not aware enough we think that the identity is us.
Here is a vignette from a teacher friend of mine which helps us understand what identities or subpersonalities are about:
I taught drama to middle school students in nine week segments. At the end of the year I always saw certain classes again, during which time I would teach them public speaking. As almost everyone knows, public speaking is not something many people look forward to. In fact, it terrifies them. So I would teach my students how to create a speaker’s identity, much like a role in a play. I would explain to them that we create identities all the time – identities for hanging out with certain groups of friends, identities often create identities that have nothing to do with who we are, or what our values are. We create these identities to fit in, to please others, to make others feel we are like them, and therefore “worthy.”We do this with guys or girls we like (I’m talking to middle school students here, remember, but it suits all ages.) We do it on jobs, etc.
At any rate, we talked about what a speaker identity was and how it functioned for the first and second class meetings, and then we got on with the class activities. They had to give speeches on certain assigned general topics, and then their final speech was on a subject of their own choosing.
One girl, I’ll call her April, gave her speech on ‘Being Yourself’. April had started in my class wearing black lipstick, black hair (she was blonde) and black clothes, heavy boots and lots of earrings. She slowly had changed in the last few weeks, and was, on the day of her speech, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. In her speech she talked about what I had said about seven weeks earlier regarding identities, and how we used them to fit in and please others. She talked about all the people she’d been hanging out with, who were the only ones in school whom she thought would accept her. She was, in her estimation, weird. Translate: Extremely bright, with a really adult vocabulary and tremendous insights about life. So she gravitated to the kids who were different, began to use the lingo of her friends, wore only black, didn’t do much school work, and pretty much flipped into a whole new identity.
She talked about how in listening to what I was saying, she discovered that she was not being herself, and she didn’t even like the identity she had chosen. She had spent some time thinking about who she was, and decided that she could be pretty much anything she wanted to be, and she didn’t need clothes or black hair to be herself.
Now, the interesting thing is that she may have simply gone back into a different identity, but she was aware of that on some level. The point is, she gained a sense of who she was behind the identity.
Take a moment to remember a time when you did something shameful or embarrassing and give that identity a label or name. Some names people have come up with for extreme identities are: the Exhibitionist, the criminal, the coward, the people pleaser, the Party Animal, the Loud Mouth and so on. The whole purpose of working with identities is to deal with their untoward ways by becoming more conscious of how they behave so that we are not under their control. Having an untoward identity is like having a tail that wags the dog!
Below are some of the more common identities. How many of them are part of your ‘toolbox’?
The Romantic Sub Personality
I was the incurable romantic. My whole life focused on meeting gorgeous men and ‘living the romance’ – setting up moonlight walks on the beach, sipping wine on a rug beside a blazing fire and of course, lots of sex. This excitement would last for a while and then the romance would just fizzle out and it was: ‘Next!’ And on to another guy to experience that romance again.
I started to see the pattern in this and decided that the next guy whom I liked I would stay with.
A few months later the guy appeared on the scene so sticking with my decision I moved in with him. Before long it was no longer romantic, he was still doing the right things, candlelit dinners, walks along the seashore but for me they had lost their zing. I could see it was I who was the problem and I hung in. My romantic identity had other ideas – it wanted out and slowly she took over. I saw myself becoming nasty, snappy, irritable, critical, in short, a bitch. Add to this I was now desperately unhappy with twitches of depression. My ‘Romantic’ was having severe withdrawal symptoms. It got to the point where, despite me caring for the guy I had to leave.
The day I moved out the stars shone again. Instantly I had a future to look forward to, a future with different good looking guys wining and dining me in Paris, Rome, the French Rivera and other romantic places.
This gives you an idea of the power an identity can have over us. Someone like this would have difficulty getting married and settling down with one person. The ‘Romantic’ identity, if you have one, or any other powerful identity, just doesn’t usually lie down and die – it has its own survival potential – it has to survive.
Kelly was aware she was playing the role of a romantic but had no idea of what it was really doing because on the surface it was fun – what she didn’t see was that she was addicted to romance and that it was scheming and manipulative and destroyed others.
So identities play a part in what we believe we can have, how much money we believe we can earn and how our relationships will be. It would be OK if we only had a few identities but we don’t – we have many. And when all of them are being vocal it’s like listening to an orchestra tuning up before a concert – a cacophony! Imagine the porn star and the prude, the snob and the layabout, the coward and the bully, the fibber and the saint, all trying to live together in one room and trying to get into agreement! This cacophony is, of course, all going on only in our heads – no wonder we get headaches! The purpose of addressing and really exploring the agenda of identities then is to discover all their impulsive behaviours and get them to work in harmony with us. Why? Because an identity has its own agenda. It was, after all, created for a reason which now may be obsolete. But the identity is unlikely to know this and will continue to do the job it was designed to do and can seriously prevent us from achieving new fulfilments that we want from life. When we work with them we are able to see that we are distinct and separate from the identity and instead of being its behaviour we can observe its behaviour and not get sucked into its behaviour patterns. When this happens our ‘I’ is now in control and we can use the attributes of the sub-personalities when we need to, instead of them taking us over. We remain the leader while the identities are happy to work with us, as opposed to having their own agenda.
The more we work on these identities and get them into harmony with us, the more we are able to operate coherently, with more strength of purpose, more awareness and more freedom, simply because their energy has been transformed so that they are now working with us. The recognition of identities explains why we behave the way we do. We are like a chameleon, liking one thing one minute and disliking it the next, seeing our behaviour change when we talk to an appealing member of the opposite sex, our in-laws, our spouse, our kids, our mates in the bar and the Chairman of our company. We also notice that we talk about being in ‘two minds’ about something.
Note. Many people, after hearing or reading about identities for the first time, form the idea that if it’s a identity causing them to do what they do, they can fob off all responsibility onto it. Much like ‘I didn’t defraud the company I was working for, my criminal identity did.’ This might be a flippant remark but what if a ‘murderer’ identity took over and killed someone and you now are facing the gallows? This is why they can be dangerous and for us – the ‘I’ and try to understand them more.
Our interest in identities is that by addressing them we find that it is one of the most effective ways of addressing destructive behaviour – behaviour that prevents our life from running the way we want it to run. Here is another identity that I think everyone has –
The Critic is probably our most insidious identity and like all identities it serves us in some way. But for some people the Critic becomes so powerful it takes over their life and berates them to the point of immobilization. It becomes a chatterbox that never gives them any peace. Does this sound familiar?
‘You really made a fool of yourself there, can’t you do anything right? Idiot. Why can’t you keep your mouth shut?’
‘She/he won’t be asking you out again and you will be sitting alone at home in the evenings’.
‘And what you did at work today – you’re useless.’ What is wrong with you?’
A Critic identity like this would be perhaps serving us if we had done the Can-Can on the table in front of distinguished guests at a dinner party. Another way would be criticizing us if we violated our values. But for most of the time our critic seems to revel in destroying us for doing the best we can.
It would seem that our critic is born the moment we perceive that in some way we have been rejected by our parents and that therefore, we are unlovable or unworthy. Obviously (we think) we must be doing something wrong to not be loved and in an attempt to ensure that we receive this love, set a standard for ourselves that no human being could possibly live up to. I have never come across anyone who had a destructive critic who did not have critical parents. Our peers also haven’t helped. Can you remember a time when you were rejected by your playmates or weren’t invited to a party? You more than likely went away asking: ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Rest assured that our critic will oblige in telling us:
You are too fat.
You look weird
You aren’t good enough
No one likes you
You can’t do anything right
And then we have
The People Pleaser
‘If I don’t do what they ask of me they won’t like me’.
I think we all have a people pleaser in us to some degree. In our desire to be liked or approved of we will disregard our self, our feelings, our integrity and our respect just to be accepted.
Here are some anecdotes. This one from
I used to get really pissed off with myself. I would meet a guy for a date and we would start to kiss and cuddle. When it got to the point when I should have said ‘No’ I couldn’t because I didn’t want him to not like me so I would end up sleeping with him. I eventually solved the problem by wearing a tampon every time I went out on a new date.
And then James
It was nearly home time at work and while I didn’t have any plans for the evening I was looking forward to spending the evening with my wife. My boss came up to me asked me very nicely if I wouldn’t mind finishing a spreadsheet off before I went home. It was an hour’s work at least and I just heard myself saying ‘No problem’. Grrrrrrrrrr, it was a problem, I wasn’t going to be paid for the extra hour, and I didn’t want to do it.
Stop for a minute and think of a time when you did something to please. Our mind probably takes the following steps (although it’s likely to be jumbled). ‘S/he won’t like me if I say no, and they will show contempt towards me and I will feel smaller and unliked. I will hurt their feelings and I can feel what that will do to them, so to spare them the hurt of rejection I will just do it.’
Does this sound familiar?
The people pleaser causes us to violate our integrity towards ourselves. The belief is ‘I am not important, worthy’ (i.e. I don’t count).
The people pleaser has as its underlying drive a much-distorted idea of selflessness.
And then we have
And this story from
I didn’t even know I was a womaniser until some irate female told me where to get off and that I was one. The thing about my womanizer identity was that it just needed to know it was liked and women proved it was liked once I knew they wanted to sleep with me. The ‘high’ was knowing I was lovable. The drive to fulfil this was totally unconscious and it took me years to recognise it. Like a drug, I needed that high. It wasn’t the sex – it was the high I wanted, so I went from woman to woman to woman. One of the things I realised about it was that it helped me escape from feelings of worthlessness or emptiness. Being aware of it now, and by working on it to reduce its hold over me I see how it operates, which has allowed me to settle down with one woman and enjoy my life with her.
And then there is
The Workaholic. This I what a client Peter had to say:
If I wasn’t busy it felt as if the world was about to come to an end. Putting in long hours at work was a joy and when I came home I was on the computer sorting out my daily life. My wife used to tell me I would regret not spending time with the kids as they were growing up, but while they were important to me I had more fun shaping my career. She was also miffed by the lack of attention I paid her. Any suggestion on her part of a package tour holiday, a walk in the park or an evening together was just too much – where was the excitement in that? As for an afternoon nap – forget it. Someone once said that sleeping was a pleasure; to me it was a pain in the butt, an interference that got in the way of life.
One of the biggest reasons why workaholics are workaholics is to stay one step of their emotional anguish. It’s unlikely they will even know the identity is there until something stops them from being a workaholic. Like being forced into doing nothing because of a life circumstance and feeling the big feelings of emptiness and aimlessness start to take over
Let me leave you with some more common sub-personalities to think about
The top dog
The doting wife
The religious fundamentalist
The dutiful daughter/son
The control freak
The subject of identities is huge and today I have just touched the surface. Take your time to think about them. I talk about them in more depth in the Premium page.
Thanks for watching