The Identity Trap

The Identity Trap

I say poo-poo to the saying, “Change is the only constant.” I think of ‘constants’ as fundamental internal descriptors of who we are on an individual level. They are the steadfast elements that represent our authenticity, our truest identity, and a heap of opportunity, especially when we’re facing a significant life change.

Many of the women who come to me for life coaching are searching to discover their identity after navigating a significant change in their lives. They want to know: Who am I after leaving a career that almost killed me? Who am I after my kids have left the nest and gone to college? Who am I after my divorce or breakup? Who am I after the death of my parents or my partner? Who am I after retiring as a professional woman with a title? Who am I after menopause?

In the years leading up to ‘after,’ the women I coach formed identities and those identities became their truths. They were mothers and wives. They had responsibility and titles. They were children caring for aging parents. They were younger and sexier than they feel now. The identities they assumed defined their worth and dictated the way they lived their lives.

And I totally get it. Change can be tough. When I left my corporate career, I had to reframe my identity. When my son left for college, I had to reframe my identity. When my Dad died, I had to reframe my identity. There are no short cuts but mindfulness, courage, and curiosity helped me create a path of discovery that led me back to my true self.

Identity (/īˈden(t)ədē/): “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

Here’s what I want you to know. Sure, identities can give you a way to understand yourself, but, they can also become straitjacket like labels that keep you bound and separated from who you authentically- are at a fundamental level. External identity labels only tell a small slice of your whole story. And if you put too much stock in that small slice, it’s super easy to find yourself stuck in the past, missing the present, and getting lost, when the identity you’ve assumed no longer exists. Here’s one example.

One of my clients struggled with her identity after her husband of 30 years died. Her identity of ‘wife’ no longer existed. This rocked her world. In being his wife, she’d forgotten who she was outside of that identity- who she authentically was as a woman. As she worked through her grief of losing him, she got blindsided because she found herself working through the grief of losing the primary identity she’d assumed, as his wife.

The first question I asked her was, “Who were you before you were married?” She had a hard time remembering so, we got grounded in a short meditation and switched gears. A bit later in our conversation she said, “I’ve always been an artist. I’ve always loved animals. I’ve always been a traveler. I’ve always loved to sing.” As she said the words, she smiled as tears ran down her face. That one realization re-connected her what I call her ‘constants’-  a part of herself that was core to who she was authentically-the woman she’d always known and been. Her awareness opened her mindset and gave her a new way to identify with herself. It gave her an opportunity to become something aside from a widow and a way to step into her life after losing her husband.

And you have ‘constants.’ These are the parts of yourself that are fundamental to who you are. The qualities, interests, talents, and gifts, that are always part of you, no matter what stage of life you’re navigating. Mindfulness based life coaching empowers you to connect with your constants. It gives you the freedom to tell your whole story and live a multi dimensional life. Your constants can create possibilities by giving you multiple ways to identify with yourself, independent of fleeting external factors like your work, marital status, sex drive, or age. So, if you’re asking yourself, “Who will I be after…?” you can kick off your journey of self discovery by asking yourself these three questions: Who was I before? Who have I always been? Who do I want to be now? 

If you’d like life-coaching support for your ‘after’ story, send me a note. Let’s grab some time to talk.