I have been on a lifelong search for identity. To feel that I matter, deep within myself, regardless of the opinion of others. To stand alone, as myself, in all situations. To stop pretending to be someone else in order to be liked and instead have the courage to express my own opinions and let the chips fall where they may.
Most people begin this process in adolescence. I guess you could say I am a late bloomer, because I began it at the age of 37, and have never looked back. Recently I read this quote about identity in Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate's book Hold On To Your Kids, "To be an individual is to have one's own meanings, one's own ideas and boundaries. It is to value one's own preferences, principles, intentions, perspectives, and goals. It is to stand in a place occupied by no other."
I love this phrase, "To stand in a place occupied by no other" as it is a beautiful picture of identity. The goal is not to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in, but to stand out and be who we really are. I've discovered that this process can make other people uncomfortable, and rightly so, for in many ways it is counter to our culture to stand firm in your own identity.
It's easy to say that we value identity, and another thing completely to live by this process. That is true of most things (taking the high road, repaying meanness with kindness, being the bigger person even when we've been hurt by someone) because talk is cheap and action is where the lesson resides. We all know it's better to be kind than mean, and ourselves instead of conforming to what we perceive others want us to be; the trick comes in living it out in every situation we find ourselves in.
For the most part, I fail miserably at this. I now understand who I am, and I want to be that person in all situations, but old habits always die hard. There is immense pressure to go back to the old ways of functioning in any stressful situation. I know how to please people. I know what that looks like and feels like and where it will get me in the end. It makes for significantly less conflict, but it's also deeply unsatisfying on a personal level.
I have committed to standing in that place which is occupied by no other. This means I have to re-draw my boundaries on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I can no longer bear the weight of everyone else's disappointment and frustration. If someone is angry with me, I don't have to be angry in return, and I don't have to hinge my emotions on the other person's. We are two separate beings.
I must value my own ideas and priorities, and respect that others must value theirs. Where they conflict, or don't agree, I want to learn to live with those gaps. I am not responsible for everyone else's emotions. Only my own. Often I'm tempted to go back to caretaking for others but that's not my job, and it never was, and I have to stand in my own space and allow others to stand in theirs. Conflicts and disagreements will come and go, but identity is ours to own forever, and I need to remind myself of this until it begins to take root and grow inside of me.