Who we think we are
We all have roles to play in our lives and these change as we move through it .In a previous art icle we considered the dif ferent lif e stages that we can gothrough and as well as each having their own priorit ies they may also demandus to play new roles.We all start as a son or daughter, maybe then add to that the role of sister orbrother, then f riend, pupil, team-mate, student , girlf riend or boyf riend,candidate, employee, colleague, partner, husband or wife, manager, father ormother, aunt or uncle, godparent , grandparentthe list goes on!Just reading that list may have conjured up some images in your mind of whateach of those means to you. You will have some kind of percept ion of each ofthem, how to behave or not to behave in that role. Relaxing with old schoolf riends over a few chat ters will suggest a dif ferent way to behave than if youwere with your boss or your young niece or nephew.
All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merelyplayers; they have their exit s and their ent rances, and one man inhis t ime plays many parts. William Shakespeare, As You Like It.
A role, according to the dict ionary, is what you are expected to do, or yourfunct ion. As the Shakespeare quote above suggests, all the players have theirassigned role with prescribed direct ions which are set out in a script . Theact ions they take are the ones that the other players expect them to take,they have to stay in role in order to relate to the other players who are also inrole. And over t ime each person will have many roles or parts to play.Consider a t ypical week of a father who works. He wakes up as the husbandnext to his wife, he gets up and wakes up his children in the role of father. Hehas breakfast as father and husband and then walks to the stat ion or his carand performs the role of commuter.An hour later, he is performing the role of employee, or manager, or engineer,or accountant , or whatever. In the evening he again pract ises his role as acommuter and during the journey gets out of his role as employee, just in t imeto return home as father and husband.
to return home as father and husband.The weekend will usually be much more father and husband and lessemployee. Meet ing up with the wider family for Sunday lunch for example willput him into a dif ferent set of roles, perhaps uncle or nephew or son onceagain.Playing roles is necessary in order for society to operate smoothly everyonehas their exit s and their ent rances. The role is about ones funct ion in thatrelat ionship and having it def ined within a broad area of agreement providessome securit y for each person entering into that relat ionship.A feeling of certainty as to what to expect.An unspoken but yet agreed way of operat ing which enables the interact ionbetween the part ies to be more ef f icient and skip many of the stepsotherwise needed to build up a relat ionship.
Role conflictOne of the challenges with having mult iple roles is that there is no reason whythese should all be compat ible. Indeed it is unlikely that they will all be.For example to succeed in the role of mother you need to spend qualit y t imewith your children.Yet to succeed in the role of employee you need to be at work, showingcommitment to that role too.
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If we are constant ly playing roles, we are always doing what we are expectedto do whether that is what others expect of us, or what we expect ofourselves, according to the label on the role that we are playing at that t ime.By definition these roles cannot be the true us.So if you were to spend your lif e playing roles, as most of us do, when do weget the opportunit y to be ourselves? When does the actor get to put asidethe script , take of f all the grease paint and be themselves?
Our identityIt is very easy when juggling mult iple roles, or intensely living one role for at ime, for these roles to become our ident it y. We ident if y with a role so muchthat it feels like it is us.If the actor never gets to take of the grease paint then he will inevitably losetouch with himself and ident if y more and more with the role.Roles require us to be only a part of ourselves and they may require us to besomething that we are not . The more we do things, the more they become ahabit and the more that we think in the same way, the more these pat terns ofthought and behaviour become our ident it y.The roles that we play can give us strength and self-confidence.For example if you play a technical or professional role at work, you may f indthat you derive a great deal of sat isfact ion f rom that role. People come toyou for advice and guidance, they listen to what you say, youre the expert ,and you are needed. Your feelings about yourself , your self -conf idence cancome f rom that role and not f rom yourself .
When our ident it y is derived f rom these external roles, our t rue ident it y getsforgot ten and we believe the lie that we are our roles.If we get used to wearing a mask of one type or another, interact ing in a safe,predictable way with others, we can feel secure and more certain about ourlif e. The more that we depend on the masks and the safer that we feel as aresult of wearing them, the greater the risk and uncertainty we feel of takingof f our mask and interacting openly, honestly and authentically.
Feeling lostWhen we ident if y with an external role, our ident it y is taken out of our hands.Our ident it y exists only as long as the role exists. So if it is a job role forexample, an unexpected redundancy comes as a huge shock. It is not just thepract ical dif f icult y of f inding a new job, it is a loss of a sense of self , a loss ofa range of comfort ing feelings such as self -conf idence, purpose and status.This sense of feeling lost can occur with the end of a variety of roles whenchildren leave home, a relat ionship break-up or divorce, a redundancy orret irement . All of these can feel like a loss of ident it y when the roles made upsuch a large part of lif e and of our ident it y.
Personality and egoWhat we describe as our personalit y is probably taken as a given by most ofus, it is what or who we think we are.
Psychologists have described it as the Ego (meaning I) it is our sense ofself .However the more one t ries to examine what personalit y really is, the more itseems to elude us. For example you can hear the confusion in peopleslanguage she has a nice personalit y which must mean that she and thepersonalit y are dif ferent .However if the personalit y is our sense of ident it y, but is not us, then who arewe?Our personalit y is part ly nature and part ly nurture, it is part ly a given f rom ourDNA and part ly developed f rom our experience of the world, which starts asearly as the fourth month of our existence whilst st ill in the womb.The part of our personalit y that evolves during our lif e does so because it isof use to us. The brain comes with lit t le or no hard-wired templates about howthings should be and so it has to learn through experience, throughrelat ionships with those around us and f rom the feedback we receive.Our personality can then become a given or continue to evolve.It seems reasonable to assume that once we have been in contact with mostof the situat ions that we will experience in lif e than we have got a reliable rule-book to follow. It worked last t ime and so it should work this t ime.
For example I related well to my parents my early authorit y f igures in thisway and so I will relate to all authorit y f igures in this way.However the authorit y f igures, such as an employer or policeman may notrespond like the parents did there is no reason why they should and so therulebook either needs to be updated or lif e become st ressful, puzzling andpotent ially self -dest ruct ive.Our personalit y is like a piece of armour which is at the same t ime ourgreatest shield and also potent ially our greatest prison. It enables us to dealwith the outside world, but it can also insulate us f rom it and f rom otherpeople.
The process of increasing our personal awareness helps us to see ourpersonalit y for what it is and to enable us to choose to update the rule book.
Internal identityPract ically speaking we have to play roles to operate ef fect ively in society,but these can dominate our sense of ident it y and we can end up feeling lostwhen they end.The solution is to find a way of playing the roles without them becoming ouridentity.We need to f ind an internal source for our ident it y, not an external one. Whenwe have found an internal source for our ident it y we can pick up roles and playthem with conf idence, knowing that they are not us, just a role we play andthat when we step out of role we come home back to ourselves, we do notfeel lost .Get t ing back in touch with who and what you really are f inding yourself opens up the possibilit y to play roles and move in and out of them withf reedom when you like.
ConclusionWe all perform roles in lif e, yet we are not our roles and if we ident if y tooclosely with them we may feel safe but only temporarily. We are also not ourpersonalit y, which has in large part been forged as a result of the experiencesof surviving and protect ing ourselves in the real world.Get t ing back in touch with who you really are is about becoming aware of therules in the rule book that you have acquired during your lif e and ident if yingthe ones that do not f it t he real you.This journey has to start with self -awareness, which we will look at in a futureart icle. To ensure that you read the art icles as soon as they are published, YOU CANSUBSCRIBE HERE TO OUR NEWSLETTER.orYou can LIKE and receive not if icat ions f rom our Facebook page:ht tps://www.facebook.com/doracademyintorYou can FOLLOW our Google Plus Page:ht tps://plus.google.com/+DorAcademyInternat ionalInspired by: Find yourself Andy Turnbull
Articles from D.O.R. AcademyWho we think we areRole conflictOur identityFeeling lostPersonality and egoInternal identityConclusion