All my life, I’ve struggled with my self-identity.
That left me in a place where, first off, it felt confusing for me to figure out what I liked or wanted, and because of that, I sometimes found it difficult to express myself to others.
This all led to difficulty establishing and enforcing appropriate boundaries and eventually snowballed into a love addiction.
However, I’ve come a long way in establishing my identity and what I stand for.
In this article, I detail a step-by-step process and walk you through a framework of acceptance and conscious decision to help you become the person you want to be.
1. Become aware of the way you talk about yourself.
This is of utmost importance for anyone trying to figure out “who they are”. In most cases, your subconscious probably already has an opinion about this.
When you describe yourself to other people, what types of things do you say? Are they mostly positive or negative descriptions? When do you use absolute language to describe yourself, such as always and never?
Some examples might be:
“Oh, I’m so anal about xyz”
“Yeah, I’m just not the type of person that does xyz”
“I’m never like xyz”
“I’m always like xyz”
2. Notice the person you want to become.
A great indicator of this is when you use the word “should”. In most cases when someone says “I should do this” or “I should be this way”, they are revealing the person they are aiming to become.
When you use this word, you might be picturing an ideal person that you want to become more like. For example, if you say things like “I should work out more” or “I should have studied more this weekend”.
3. Analyze the “why” of that ideal.
Many people are influenced by internal and external standards that they don’t take the time or energy to analyze. If you don’t analyze why you strive for certain standards, you may be allowing yourself to be defined by standards set by society or the people around you.
That’s why it’s important to look at why you believe you should be a certain way.
For example, if you thought you “should” have studied more this weekend, here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
How much do you think you should have studied? Why do you have a specific standard in your mind? Is it because you decided you wanted to study a specific amount or do you have a vague idea of how much studious people should be studying to be “successful”?
What does success look like in this specific situation (ie, what’s your desired outcome)? Do you want to finish out your degree? Do you want to pass a certification?
What do you believe that it says about you if you don’t achieve that outcome?
In answering those questions, do you find yourself attaching a piece of your identity to what you do? If you didn’t study as much as you wanted to, what is the potential failure that you’re naming there? For example, if your outcome is to pass a certification, what happens if you fail? What would you believe about yourself if you failed? If you fail, are you “stupid” or “an idiot”? Do other feelings and memories pop up, like the feeling you got as a kid when compared to your older sister or when you got chosen last in PE?
4. Use how you think about others as a clue.
If those questions were difficult for you to answer, it might help to think about how you judge others. If a coworker is consistently late on projects or someone cuts you off in traffic — what thoughts flash through your mind? Are they an idiot for always dropping the ball? Is the person who cut you off an inconsiderate asshole?
Oftentimes, how we think about others has roots in how you think about yourself. If you judge others or assume things based on their actions, you may do the same thing with your own behavior.
If you didn’t study as much as you thought you should, do you believe it means you’re lazy? That you’re just someone that “lacks motivation” or “can’t get her shit together”?
5. Give names to the voices in your mind.
Having internal narration is fairly common, and there’s research that suggests the more you do it, the better you get. For some, it may not come as intelligible words but in intentions or images. When we become aware of that internal monologue, we can usually, separate that stream of narration into different personalities or characters. It may help to visualize the characters that say those things.
For example, I have defined three main characters in my own mind. There’s a critical voice, a compassionate voice, and a wounded child.
The critical voice is an extrapolation of how my family spoke to me growing up. That’s the voice that tells me I’m dumb and ugly, that I shouldn’t even try, or that I should give up because I don’t have what it takes. It asks me,” Who do you think you are?” and tells me firmly,” You’re not enough.”
The hurt child is the voice that appears when I’m triggered by childhood traumas. When I react in an extreme manner to something in the present, usually it’s linked to a core hurt. For example, one of my core hurts is that “I’m not worthy of love”. When that belief is triggered for me, I become childlike in my reaction. I may throw a temper tantrum or cry uncontrollably instead of responding appropriately as an adult.
The compassionate voice is the protector. It holds the hurt child and comforts her, while also pushing back on the critical voice that may become louder when triggered. This voice recognizes and understands where I’ve been and why I do what I do. She wholly accepts the person that I am and celebrates the progress I’ve made.
6. Learn to control those voices and let go of the ones that don’t serve you.
Once you become aware of the different characters playing out in your mind, you will start to be able to control the volume of those discrete voices. Recognize what role each of those voices has served in your life. Like Marie Kondo, thank the ones you don’t need anymore, and then let them go.
6. Decide on who you actually want to be.
When you have worked out who your ideal self is based on how you talk about yourself and others, now you have a solid foundation to consciously choose whether or not you actually want to be that person instead of passively accepting the norm.
For example, do you gossip at work because that’s what everyone else does? When you take a step back, do you actually want to be that person?
Find out what you stand for, independent of what others expect from you or what the status quo is.
7. Re-write your narrative to reframe your identity.
Who you are is largely based on who you think you are.
Who you think you are is based on the way you see yourself.
How you see yourself is based on what you focus on.
The way I see myself completely changed when I realized one thing: I get to choose who I want to be.
Not only that, but I am already who I want to be.
Let me explain.
One time, a girl came up to me after a training session for a volunteer gig to tell me she admired my boldness.
She was referencing how, earlier in the evening, I had sprung up out of my seat to make a speech (yes, I was being super extra) when it was my turn to introduce myself to the group.
When she told me that, I was slightly taken aback. The reality is, when I’d gotten up to do the speech, I wasn’t feeling very bold. I had been extremely nervous, hands sweating and heart pumping uncontrollably.
I realized something then: how she perceives me completely determines who she thinks I am.
In the same way, how we perceive ourselves determines who we think we are.
If you had asked me before that night if I considered myself a timid person or a bold person, I would have leaned towards ‘timid’.
If you asked me why I thought that, I probably would have talked about how nervous I get public speaking or how I wasn’t comfortable speaking my truth. Both of those reasons are based on the fact that my feelings don’t align with how I think a bold person should feel when they do bold things.
I then spent some time reflecting back to all the moments in my past where I had chosen to do bold things despite my fear.
If someone were watching from the outside, it made sense that they would see me as “bold”.
At that point, it finally clicked for me.
I realized then that you can’t just decide who you want to be. You also have to believe that you have always been that person, that you presently are that person, and that you will continue being that person in the future.
You must believe that your identity is congruent with your past, present, and future in order for it to impact your behavior.