I specialized in the study of identity as a Master’s student in cultural anthropology. I know through my research that identity is central to our sense of self.
Simply put, identity is how we define who we are, whether that’s based on how we think of ourselves or based on the perceptions others have of us.
We develop our sense of self based on three main types of identity:
1. Personal—how we define our personality or temperament (e.g. shy, extroverted, adventurous, generous, etc.)
2. Social—the roles we take on, such as in a family, on a team, or at work (e.g. mother, goalkeeper, CEO, etc.)
3. Cultural—these provide inclusion within a larger community (e.g. nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, political ideology, body (dis)ability, sexual orientation, etc.)
These self-concepts come to determine our self-worth and sense of belonging. Ideas of who we think we are, or who we’re supposed to be, can lead to an “identity crisis” when we experience change or transition.
Life events such as moving to a new city or country, changing jobs or careers, getting married or divorced, having a child, or the death of a loved one can all lead us to question who we are or the roles we fill.
It’s normal to grieve losing parts of ourselves, but it’s also possible to navigate this loss with resilience. Here are 3 ways you can reframe and overcome identity crises in times of change and transition.
1) Allow for Flow
One of our biggest setbacks in times of transition is attachment to definitions of who we’re “supposed” to be and what we’re “supposed” to do. The more attached we become to these definitions, the more we mold and shape who we are to fit into an “acceptable” version of this identity, and we lose our true selves in the process.
We’re accustomed to “performing” identity, so we start to spiral when it’s challenged. Static, fixed definitions of identity don’t allow for the nuance and complexity inherent in intersectionality—a gay Christian or an American Muslim, for example.
You don’t fit into a box and you’re not meant to. Get rid of rigid definitions of what things are “supposed” to look like and be true to who you are, even when it defies definition. Allow identity to be fluid and allow yourself to flow with the inevitable change of growth and evolution.
2) Embrace Duality
Every human being on the planet is the embodiment of contradiction. Two things can be true at once—you can be happy and unfulfilled, you can be a good mom and want time away from your kids, you can love someone and be sick of their behavior.
Growing up in an abusive home, I subconsciously taught myself to deny anger. I associated it with violent, destructive, and harmful behavior. Eventually, years of suppressed anger began to bubble to the surface. I thought anger couldn’t coexist with the perception I had of myself—a loving, forgiving mediator and peacemaker. The more I pushed away my anger, the less control I had over how it manifested. It wasn’t until I accepted anger as a valid emotion, and allowed it to be one part of me, that I finally found peace within myself.
It’s important to embrace the duality within you. Whatever you push away or suppress is longing to be seen, acknowledged, and accepted, because true love is unconditional. You can’t invalidate or dismiss any part of who you are if you want to be a whole, thriving individual.
3) Let Toxic People Go
We tend to avoid going against static definitions of identity because we fear what other people will think or how they’ll react. Yes, sometimes people will judge and reject us. They may choose to abandon us. This is nothing more than a projection of their own insecurity or an expression of conditional love.
When I made the decision to leave my religion and walk away from a very significant part of my identity, many people I thought were close friends wanted nothing more to do with me. They said and did hurtful things. I learned that I don’t have time, space, or energy for people who don’t accept me for who I am.
You deserve people who accept you as you are. If they won’t honor the truth of who you are, it’s ok to let them go. You’re the only one who pays the price when you betray yourself for other people. The more you stand firm in who you really are, the easier it is to find the people who get you, accept you, and celebrate you.
All these points boil down to one important life lesson:
You can never cultivate a fulfilling life until you choose to honor your truth.
Who are you when you look beyond your fears of inadequacy, rejection, and abandonment? When aspects of self are stripped away, it’s an opportunity to see what lies beneath your conditioning and conformity. It may feel like a confusing chasm or hopeless void, but when the clutter has been cleared, you have space to rediscover and reconnect with who you were before you became who you were taught to be.
As you practice doing this, you’ll be empowered to unapologetically express and embody your most authentic self. Honoring your truth will naturally lead to more confidence, courage, clarity, joy, and fulfillment.