Who are you? That’s a common question people ask and get asked in many different contexts. Usually, you can answer with your name.
A more complicated question is, Who am I? I know that as I have explored my life and worked to grow, learn, and change, the answer to that question has shifted over time. More than that, though, just being able to answer that question, for some people, is even more complicated.
For example, someone I care a lot about has spent most of their life as one of three people. They have either been “so-and-so’s sibling” or “so-and-so’s spouse” or “so-and-so’s parent.” That is how this person has been identified most of their life.
Several things have happened in that person’s life over the last year or so that have shaken them to their core. The result, though I don’t think they have quite reached this conclusion themselves yet, is that they are learning they do not know the answer to the question — Who am I?
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Often it’s rather benign, as you get associated with people and groups and such along the way. But when that identity overwhelms you and becomes you, it can cause crisis down the line.
What is the crisis?
Like every individual, this is going to differ from person to person. However, I think I can offer some generalizations for this and break it down to a few common crises.
Crisis 1: Lost Yourself Amid the Identifier.
The problem, as in the above example, is that you have been denied your individuality. Thus you may find yourself struggling to know what you want from your life, how you want it to look, and as such you have gotten lost within this identifier. You may be “so-and-so’s sibling,” but that is only one aspect of a multi-faceted you.
Crisis 2: Changing an unknown.
If you are trying to make changes in your life, but discover that you do not know who you are, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to change that. Face it, if you don’t know the answer to the question Who am I? how can you change it? You need to know the answer in order to alter it, and that could be disconcerting and a major cause of crisis.
Crisis 3: Something has rocked your world.
You thought you had a good handle on yourself and your identity, but something outside your control has totally thrown you off. Someone died; a job was lost; you were rejected from a project, career path, relationship, and the like. It was unexpected and now you feel like everything you believe about yourself is a lie.
Crisis 4: You did something out of character.
You probably have your own personal moral code, and way of being. Most people do. Your sense of right and wrong is set, and you know what from what. But then you do something completely out of character. You have sex with someone you shouldn’t; you steal something; you tell a bald-faced lie. You cannot fathom why you have done this, and you are almost afraid you have been somehow possessed or something. Who even are you?
Crisis 5: You just cannot answer the question.
When Who am I? is something you simply do not feel that you can answer that can be a major crisis. It’s not that you do not exist and that you are a non-person or anything. But it is a matter of identity, and how you see yourself or show yourself to other people.
Of course, there are numerous other possibilities and various combinations of all of the above crises.
Understanding is a step towards resolution
Recognizing that you are having an identity crisis can help you resolve it. But because of the disconcerting nature of this, it can be very difficult to perceive, let alone work with and change.
How can you tell if you are having an identity crisis? In my experience, having been through this myself a couple of times, there are a few ways to recognize that you are in crisis. This may include, but is certainly not limited to:
· Constant restlessness
· You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin
· It’s easy to get angry about anything having to do with direction and time
· You feel constantly out-of-sorts
· An unusual tendency to resort to escapes like alcohol, drugs, sex, and other distractions
· You are afraid to go into your own head
· Spaces you occupy become unruly and cleaning or organizing them is avoided
To be sure, these can just be other matters. But if they are unusual, and you are constantly struggling with your overall sense of self, it might be worth your consideration.
The other issue that comes from an identity crisis that I have seen is how it impacts the people in your life. They may no longer be as comfortable around you; they might be asking difficult questions meant to be helpful but that are ultimately annoying; you find yourself frequently fighting with them and may not understand why.
Resolving an identity crisis
Finding the resolution to an identity crisis can be difficult. There is no shame in seeking help if you are having such an issue. That’s one of the reasons to see a therapist of some sort. They can assist you by providing tools that will help you identify yourself.
If you have a confidant you feel comfortable confiding in, they can also be a sounding board for trying to find yourself.
On a deeply personal level, the best means to the end of resolving an identity crisis is to be more mindful.
When you are working on being more mindful, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can better recognize your identity. In modern society, with all the fast-moving, instant gratification, extreme-connectedness of it all, being mindful can be really challenging. This is because all that information can overwhelm, and lodge itself into your subconscious.
When your subconscious is full of too much stuff, you can lose track of yourself. This can be yet another cause of your identity crisis. Recognizing this, however, can open you to working on your mindfulness, and better being in the now in order to take care of yourself and find yourself.
When you are aware of what you are thinking and what and how you are feeling, in the now, you can become better aware of who you are. You will likely get uncomfortable in the process of working with this, but that’s a part of all growth and change.
Don’t be afraid to find out who you are
You are certainly not alone in coping with an identity crisis. Minor or major, I think most people experience this or at least an aspect of this at one time or another. You may not recognize it for what it is, but because it’s so common there are lots of tools out there to help you regain self-awareness.
A number of these you can use on your own, like practicing meditation to help with mindfulness, as well as yoga and other exercises to clear your head. Even if you have a tough time with the idea of meditation, taking just five minutes to be still and breathe can make a huge difference in your ability to simply be.
Unless you have bad intentions towards others, plans that will cause hurt, or seek to disempower someone else to empower yourself, who you are is a good person. Don’t be afraid that you will dislike who you find when you do find yourself.
Even if you are not the ideal you, it can be changed.
Who you are is not written in stone. You are able to grow, to change, and to be the best you that you can be. You’re worthy and deserving of this because you matter. It is that simple and that profound all at the same time.
Change is constant, and life is full of potential and possibility. Don’t be afraid to find out who you are, and know that your crisis of identity has a resolution, and it can be incredible and awesome. That’s because you are capable of being incredible and awesome.
Who am I? A good person constantly learning, growing, changing, and striving to do the best with this life that I can. Who are you? Someone who is worthy and deserving of the same.
You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you matter, whoever you find that you are.