This phrase has been bouncing around inside my head for a couple of weeks now: you are not who you think you are.
This may sum up one of the most profound things I learned during my experience of having my world fall apart. It is also among the profoundly beneficial things I learned. It is a big part of my gold.
You see, very often the things that cause the greatest brokenness in our lives do so not only because of the grief of the actual loss or trauma we have experienced, but also because of the way these experiences shatter our self-identity along with it.
Some part of who we understood ourselves to be or some part of our belief about how the world works gets shattered along with it, and this often ignored secondary grief is at least as damaging (if not more so in some cases) than what caused it.
Painful as it is, however, it also offers us the chance to re-discover parts of ourselves that we've lost along the way.
Here are a few of the things I've discovered about my own self-identity along my journey through deep brokenness and healing.
My shadow's influence
Our shadows are those aspects of ourselves that we are unwilling or unable to face directly. It is made up of our dark shadow traits—those parts of ourselves that we find shameful and unwanted—and our bright shadow traits, which may be talents or gifts that we've never claimed.
Other people are often able to see these shadow sides of us much more clearly than we ourselves can because these aspects we refuse to face have great power over our actions and reactions. In fact, our denial of their existence tends to make their control of us that much stronger because we cannot control that which we don't acknowledge the existence of.
One of the first things that happened to me as my world began falling apart several years ago is that my blinders were ripped off and I was forced to long and hard into my dark shadow. It felt like I suddenly came face to face to every shameful trait, pattern, and habit of reacting that I had ever tried to ignore.
And it wasn't that I thought that much of myself to begin with, so encountering this much of myself that seemed so ugly and unlovable was devastating. It was so tempting to try to turn away and ignore what I'd seen about myself, but I'm glad that I didn't.
As I have slowly learned to embrace even the parts of myself that I find to be most ugly and shameful, they have come to have less and less influence over me because I am working with these tendencies consciously now even though they are still very much a part of me.
I've also found that the more I accept and embrace these dark shadow traits, the easier it is to discover the bright shadow traits that had been hidden behind their darkness.
But I've also discovered that there is and will always be more shadow for me to explore. I will always be discovering that there are parts of myself that I have not yet faced and acknowledged, which means that whatever idea I have of who I am now is still incomplete. And that's ok.
I am a multitude
My ego likes to think of myself as a solid, defined self-identity.
The more I've learned to observe myself from the objective stance of a curious observer, the more I've discovered that I am not as solid or as unified as I'd like to think.
I am actually a whole host of constantly competing thoughts, wants, needs, emotions, and beliefs all at once. There are few things I could honestly say about myself that the opposite is not also sometimes true.
Inner and outer circumstances constantly influence which of the many possible expressions of myself might emerge in any given moment.
Part of letting go of a rigid notion of who I think I am allows me to take this whole host of competing "selves" into consideration to steer my actions and choices toward the ones that are most likely to move in the directions I want to go rather than allowing them to covertly hijack the process by ignoring them.
Consciously embracing this multitude destabilizes ego's tyrannical control enough for all of the parts of myself to work together better ... even when that means embracing the pieces who go against my idea of who I think I am.
I am ever-evolving
Another thing I've learned in this process is that any concept of who I am in this moment has the solidity of a passing cloud.
My self-identity at any one time is merely a seed being planted to break open into a new understanding in the next moment as I continue to grow.
My tendency to try to lock my understanding of my self-identity into one solid, unmovable configuration inhibits this process and makes the inevitable change that comes with time and growth more painful. In fact, this desire for such solid self-identity is precisely what set the ground work for so much of devastation that brokenness caused a few years ago.
Embracing such an open and fluid understanding of my self-identity makes continual growth and change so much easier because I am not clinging to any one idea of myself. I accept change in and around me with much greater grace and ease.
I am not who I thought I was. I am also not who I think I am now. And I have discovered that this is a very good thing.
I continue to peel away the layers of my shadow, continue to get to know the many parts of myself that contribute to the whole, and continue to allow myself space to grow and change with each new moment.
And the most amazing thing of all is that I've discovered much greater peace and contentment in the midst of embracing this fluidity of self-identity than I ever experienced when I thought I knew for sure exactly who I was. What gold that is!
Questions to ponder
How do you react when your self-identity is challenged? Is it easy to embrace new sides of you that emerge?
How well do you know your shadow? Do you actively seek out those parts of yourself that you have hidden from view? Or do you avoid them?
How solid is your self-identity? How do you react to the idea of having your self-identity become more fluid? Does that sound appealing or uncomfortable?
What experiences in your life have challenged your self-identity? How did you handle those experiences? How might you handle future challenges differently?