One of the most challenging things to deal with in the middle of a period of brokenness is that our identity is often challenged at the same time by what we are going through.
We are grieving that which has broken, grieving some the loss of some aspect of our identity as we've known it, and trying to redefine ourselves all at the same time. It's painful and unsettling and challenging.
But most of the gold that I've discovered in the healing process has come out of the willingness to wrestle deeply with these identity questions and thereby come to know myself in deeper, more authentic ways.
We are taught early on (often implicitly) to value whatever our culture considers "normal." We learn our society's definition of success, what qualities are valued, and what will buy us the most acceptance.
We're bombarded with these messages all the time from our parents, our extended families, our peers, our churches, our schools, advertising (which is ubiquitous), and the story lines we encounter in books, movies, games, and TV shows.
Most of us unconsciously embrace these messages and begin creating a self-identity based on how well we measure up to those standards of normal and of success by comparing ourselves to those around us. Others actively rebel against them and create their self-identity based on how well they subvert those standards by comparison to those around them.
Either way, we define ourselves and our value in reaction to the cultural norms we've absorbed.
When our self-identity gets broken open by loss or trauma or some other encounter with life's brokenness, we have the opportunity to dig deeper and discover who we really are without relying on the definitions that our culture has given us or our comparisons with others to form that identity.
That's not an easy thing to do when we are being bombarded with cultural messages and pressure from others to conform to those. That's why it sometimes takes the overwhelming impact of an encounter with brokenness to push us out of our ruts and into this deep inner exploration.
The more we let go of the culture's norms and the expectations of others, the more freedom we have to discover what truly makes us tick—how we function best, what brings us joy, what makes us most alive.
Healing, by its very nature, changes us. We are restored to wholeness, but we do not go back to the exact same person we were before the brokenness.
As we liberate ourselves from ill-fitting definitions of ourselves and begin to live into self-identities that are more authentic, this changes our beliefs, our choices, our opinions, our reactions, and the way we move through the world.
Even when those around us are happy to see our pain and struggle diminishing, it's common for people to resist our resulting changes (even good ones!) because our changes cause them to also have to change, and that's uncomfortable.
I liken this to what happens with my kintsugi work with polymer clay. When I break a piece and repair it in the kintsugi style, the thin line of repair changes the shape of the original piece. This change is often a minor one, but when the piece needs to fit back into a bezel (like the one on the left), the repair often distorts the shape just enough that I have to re-shape the piece with extensive sanding to get it to fit again.
This same thing happens in our relationships. When we allow the healing process to change us by helping us to rediscover more authentic definitions of who we really are, we don't quite fit back into same space we used to inhabit in our relationships or our world. Those around us will do their best to try to sand us down to try to make us fit again in the same way we used to.
It takes a great deal of courage to resist these efforts—all the more so because these pressures come at a time when we are still feeling our own way toward the new self-identity that is emerging and are still tender and uncertain in those areas.
The resistance we encounter often feels like rejection of the new parts of ourselves (or new understanding of ourselves) that is emerging from our healing process, and this can be excruciating in the midst of an already challenging time.
It helps when we know to expect this resistance. It still doesn't make it easy to deal with, but it does help to de-personalize the resistance we encounter because we know it is truly about the other person's comfort level and not that these emerging parts of ourselves are lacking in any way.
It helps even more when we expect to encounter that same resistance from ourselves.
I am still working on re-discovering and bringing forth a more authentic version of myself several years after the period of intense brokenness I most recently experienced, and my inner resistance to the changes this is creating (especially in the ways that it makes me less "normal") can sometimes still be intense.
I was recently added to a Facebook group for planning my thirty-year high school reunion. I am not in contact with the vast majority of my former classmates, and my first reaction to encountering them all again online was to worry about what they would think about me life now.
I have made so many choices that do not conform to the normal definition of success. Those choices have made me happier than I've ever been, and I feel indescribably lucky to be living the life I currently do (even though it is still less than perfect), but I am very aware that those choices often look like failure to others.
It's a sign of my growing health that the anxiety only lasted a minute or two before I laughed at myself and once again stepped into my truth about who I am, what is meaningful to me, and what makes me happy and released the weight of the expectations of others.
Knowing to expect that this kind of internal (and anticipated external) resistance to my choices, however, made it easy for me to recognize what was happening, release it, and move on with this life I'm creating on my own terms.
Re-discovering your authentic self at a deeper level during your own healing process will bring similar freedom from your established norms and all of the resistance and anxiety that comes with that (internal and external). Expect it, but have the courage to keep moving toward that healing and a more authentic self-identity anyway.
It's worth it!
Questions to consider
How has the healing process triggered changes in your self-identity at different times in your life?
How much resistance did you encounter from others to those changes? How much internal resistance did you encounter?
What has helped you whether that resistance to emerge from those times with a more authentic self-identity?
How could you move toward releasing the expectations of cultural norms and of those around you to live more fully into any self-identity that is emerging from your healing now?
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