Defining Ourselves: Out of the Shadows
When we are young and we are unsure of the person that we are, it can be helpful for us to define ourselves as the Good Kid, the Rebellious Kid, the Smart Kid, the Quiet Kid etc. When we do this, it gives us a structure to grow up around and to fill out. At the times when we feel uncertain and lost, we know what to be. However, there may come a time when this doesn't work for us anymore.
The roles we take on …
These roles that we find ourselves growing into are just part of the way that we grow up. When we are unsure about how to act, at least we can always act true to type. This is heavily reinforced by our parents as well – they're keen to understand us, and when they can see a pattern that they can recognise they start giving us labels and these are the same labels that we adopt for ourselves. We mightn't always like them, they mightn't always work for us but at least we're not uncertain about who to be.
…become a false self
The difficulty about defining ourselves in roles like this is that when we are older and we have a better idea of the person we actually are, heavy role identification can be too confining. If our role is of a good person, then we can find it hard to be a little bit rebellious without other people making too much of it; if our role is of a smart person, people can be dismayed and disappointed when we do things without thinking.
The role we've adopted for ourselves becomes a false self that we are trapped inside and we find we can't be anything else; the lives of others begin to look both more attractive and more remote. We begin to fear that will never be anything else – except older.
The process of psychotherapy can help with this. When we take the time to understand what we really think and feel and become more familiar with the person that we actually are, we can see how this differs from the false self that we have adopted, and what it costs us to maintain our false self. From there, we can start to gradually explore what it might be like to be the person we actually are and, with the support of therapy, how we might become it.
– Tim Hill
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