Tell me about yourself? When someone asks this question they are asking â€œWho are you?â€� Most people will tell you that they are a mother or father, they will tell you they are a carpenter, a school teacher, a software engineer, a wife or husband. Many may tell you that they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, etc. Some may tell you they are a Viet Nam Vet or they belong to the NRA or Green Peace, etc. Often when we speak of who we are we use the roles that we fulfill in our life as a way to help someone understand who we are.
The roles we fill, our belief systems and our affiliations are a very big part of our life and when we identify with them in an attached way we come to believe these Â roles, beliefs and affiliations Â are who we are.
A couple of weeks ago I was flying back from a workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina when I had the pleasure to meet a fellow traveler who shared his story with me. He shared how he and his wife had separated after twenty plus years of marriage and how he was dealing with this part of his journey. This separation was not something he wanted however separated he was and the experience had been very painful for him. As he shared his thoughts on his marriage, the separation and the possibility of a divorce I was impressed by the work that he had put into trying to understand what had led to the separation and how he was processing all that he was going through. Although he was still in great pain he was in many ways in a very good place from an awareness perspective. At one point in our conversation I commented to him that I believed he was now in a good place and that his awareness coupled with the work he was doing to grow from this part of his journey was positioning him to come through this in way that would serve him well. When I told him this he smiled and said, â€œI understand what you are saying however if I am in such a good place why do I still feel like crap?â€� To which I said one of the big reasons you feel like crap is because part of you has died.Â I went on to remind him that for the last twenty plus years a major part of his identity had been that he was a husband. A major part of how he identified who he was, was to be husband, married man, provider, protector, Mr. Fix it, Mr. Cut the Grass or take out the garbage, etc. When he thought of who he was he thought of himself as married man, as husband, as being in a life long relationship. Over the years he became attached to this role and in doing so this became a major part of his identity. Â Now this identity did not exist in the same way it did, his role had changed and would continue to change. In essence because he identified so with his role of being husband a part of him was now dying or had died and he felt like crap because he was in mourning for the death of his identity. Â Although in many ways he could see the light down the road he felt lost and confused because he was no longer who he thought he was and this felt painful.
My new found friend was experiencing what many people experience when their roles change, be it the end of a relationship, the end of a career, a change in our physical abilities because of a stroke or a disease or anything else that forces us to change roles. We become so attached to our roles, belief systems and affiliations that they become part of our identity and therefore when any of these change or we perceive they are threatened than we believe our identity is threatened or changed and this causes us to react in the same defensive way as we would if someone was threatening our very life and if these do change then we feel as though a part of us has died.
It does not have to be like this, we can choose to engage in our roles, belief systems and affiliations and know that we are separate from them, that these things are not who we are they are rather things we choose to engage in. When we are able to strip away all of these things and stand naked in the sun, we are then able to know who we truly are. When we know who we truly are and that we are not defined by the roles, belief systems and affiliations we choose to engage in we then do not feel as though a part of has died when these things change in our life. When we are able to keep these things separate we understand that there is a constant to who we are and despite the changes that come our way we are still whole, we are still enough and we are not afraid to stand naked in the sun and be.