Who am I? Am I my illness? Am I my career? Am I my family roles?
When you meet a group of strangers in a networking event, what would you tell these people about yourself? If this networking event is a work-related function, you may tell these strangers about what you do in your career. If this event is a social gathering orgainsed by one of your friends, you may tell others about different roles you take in the family, such as a mother or a wife while you describing some fun happenings in your family. You may also tell these strangers which university you graduated from and may find out that the stranger himself or herself also graduated from the same university. These information we tell others about ourselves is related to our identification with what we do and which roles we belong to. In some cases, we may also identify with the illness we suffer from and feel shameful about having the illness, such as some kind of mental illness.
In view of our sense of self, we usually construct a self-view. That is, we identify ourselves with some aspects of our experience as “I, me, or mine”. For example, a client of mine may identify herself as a mother, a person with depression, and an architect. Another client of mine may identify herself as a fat person according to her own view of her body image. Our self-image depends on the positivity or the negativity of the aspects of our experiences we identified with. My client who identified herself as a person with depression might feel shameful about being a depressed person. My client with a body image of being a fat person might feel defective given her perfectionistic tendency.
Another way we create a sense of self is by comparing with others. In our mind, we constantly compare ourselves with others and might create a sense of self that we are smarter, richer, or nicer-looking. For some other people with poor self-image, these comparisons frequently create their sense of self as uglier, poorer, or dumber. In other instances, we also identify with the sense of self created by how others perceived us. For instance, if a teenager felt that his mother preferred his elder brother more than him, he might feel being a less lovable and adequate person compared with his elder brother. In fact, the way this teenager acts may also be affected by how his mother treated him. If his mother treated him less compassionate compared with she treated his elder brother, this teenager might become more disrespectful of his mother.
The question is are we the one whom we identified with? The fact is, the more we tend to identify with these limited and narrow aspects of our experience, the more rigid and restricted we become. For instance, if my client thought that a professional architect should be positive, happy and capable all the time, she would feel very upset when she became negative, sad and inadequate during the period when she had depression. To have a free and peaceful life, we need to have a healthy release of identification with our aspects of experiences. In doing this, we need to be aware that our identity is more tentative and fluid. Our sense of self is changing constantly. For example, our self confidence might change from time to time depending on the difficulties or achievements we face in our lives. We need to be aware that we are all unique human beings with special qualities and nature. However, we should let go of our self-centeredness that our sense of self is fixed and restricted to a limited set of definitions.
To be able to release our identification, we can choose to stay in our present moment experience with mindfulness. By doing this, we would gradually be aware that our sense of self flows like water in the river and we are the one who are witnessing the flow.