Wrestling With Identity: Who are you today?
Identity work is some of my favorite work to do in the therapy space. I relate to it on such a personal level and suspect this is why I enjoy guiding clients through it as well. We are made up of so many different parts of self. We all have an inner child, a parent self, a confident self, an anxious self, and so much more. Getting to know each individual part in seeing the parts of the whole are imperative in understanding the ways we function. Knowing yourself is one way to remain successful in connection and relationships with others.
Let's start by thinking of how you might answer this question honestly: What do you know to be true about yourself?
Sit with it for a moment and think about how you might respond. Are you confident? Are you reserved? Do you enjoy routine? Do you crave change? What are some statements you could make about yourself in this moment that you know with absolute confidence are true about the you that exists today?
One statement I like to work on for myself is: "my intentions are always good." I try to check in with myself on this one if I'm convincing myself my intentions were good when in reality I may have had some underlying bad intentions. This keeps me accountable. I'm only human.
Some things we can say with absolute certainty (I can say I have naturally curly hair with certainty) and others we are wise to question (I may question that I'm easy to talk to on a day when I'm in a bad mood or had a poor night of sleep).
This is what I refer to in the title of this post when I mention how we as humans tend to wrestle with our identities. We have conflicting voices in our own minds at times. This may be due to the fact that there are several factors at play when describing ourselves. One day we might feel more confident compared to the next. In certain environments we might be more easy-going compared to other environments where we feel more irritable and particular. With certain people we may be hilarious while with others we come across as boring and somber. We are complex creatures with fluctuating personas depending on a variety of external and internal factors and forces. What matters in identity work is that we continue to stay curious about ourselves and about how we show up in the world in interaction with others.
One of my favorite therapeutic interventions for identity work is the Johari Window, created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 from their research on group dynamics (https://thedecisionlab.com/reference-guide/psychology/johari-window). A visual can be seen below.
Consider each square as if it were a window into your identity.
Open Self: The area that is Known to Others and Known to Self. What are the things that are obvious about you to others and to yourself? Examples: You are an engineer. You love cars. You are social and approachable. You are athletic.
Blind Self: The are that is only Known to Others and not to self. What are the things people have said to you over the years that surprise you? Positive or Negative. Examples: You are intimidating. You are beautiful. You are easy to be around. Your smile is contagious.
Hidden Self: The area that is only Known to Self and not others. What are the things you are self conscious or insecure about and try to hide from others? What are the things you might feel embarrassed about if other people really knew? (Hint: this is often the area of the deepest vulnerability). Examples: You secretly hate the way you look. You don't feel confident in your work. You worry about what people think of you more than they may realize.
Unknown Self: The area that is Unknown to Self and others. What are the things that you push away in your thoughts and avoid thinking about or sharing? What might you need to look at that you aren't? Examples: You are questioning your religion despite committing to it most of your life. You are questioning your sexuality but are in a committed relationship. You wonder if you are in the wrong area of work but are afraid to derail your career path.
I find it helpful to check in with this exercise at least once per year. It also helps to do this along with a values sort whenever a big life decision needs to be made to make sure the decisions we are making align with our values and beliefs while acknowledging that our values and beliefs can shift and adapt. These tools are meant to help us stay on top of self-awareness and remain curious about ourselves.
A great online values sort tool: https://harvard.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_e35whN7tkXtvlHv
Individual therapy is also a wonderful way to explore even further as you get to know yourself. I find self-awareness to be crucial in overcoming mental health obstacles.