Friday, May 11, 2018

Exploring Identity – Through Writing

by Elizabeth Venart

You are a ruby encased in granite. . . . So come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. – Rumi

Who am I?  There are countless ways to answer that question. We may complete the sentence “I am . . .” by describing our roles, jobs, moods, values, personality traits, behaviors, and relationships. There is also a “me” at the center of all of it: The one who reflects on the question – and goes inward for words to follow the ellipses. Who is this one, the constant observer in the sea of our consciousness?  

Writing provides us with a way to connect with ourselves more completely. As we explore our public and private identities, the overlap and separation, our attention may be drawn to those roles with which we are strongly aligned – and then wander to the questions that linger and yearnings that call. What are our dreams? What haunts us? What motivates us? What hidden passions await? Going within to reflect and write can allow us time to unfold the tucked away papers of our identity and explore the complexity and heart of who we are.

Take out a piece of paper or open up your computer. Answer the question, “I am” over and over again. Maybe 30 times. I am. . . I am. . . . I am. . . . See what you discover. You may surprise yourself to hear from a voice you haven’t heard in some time. Just listen. Write down the shouts – those voices you know well – and also record the whispers – the things that surprise you and may be hard to acknowledge. Stay curious. If you dare, keep writing. Answer “I am . . . . “ 100 times. Be serious or have fun with it – or, better yet, make space for all your beautiful contradictions. Marvel at what comes forward.

Elizabeth Venart is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified EMDR Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant. She is the Founder and Director of the Resiliency Center. She specializes in working with Highly Sensitive Persons, other therapists, and those who are creative, intuitive, and empathic. She hosts a monthly poetry gathering to read and discuss the writings of Rumi Hafiz, Rilke, Mary Oliver, and inspired writers. To learn more, contact her at 215-233-2002 or

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Personal Identity Throughout the Lifespan

by Kim Vargas, LCSW
Merriam Webster defines identity as the “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances.”  Basically, identity is the core of who we are, regardless of time or place. Identity encompasses the narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the values we hold dear.
But what happens when our lives or external circumstances change so dramatically that our old sense of who we are no longer seems to fit in our current world? What pieces of identity can be brought with us across life transitions, and what pieces go by the wayside?
I first started to explore these ideas in my work with new moms. There is little more jarring to an identity than to go from life without kids to new parenthood. The competent corporate executive may be in the board room making million dollar decisions one day, and the next day find herself without the knowledge or skill to feed a newborn infant. The personality traits and skill sets that have helped her succeed in the business world often have little or no bearing on success in quieting a screaming infant or potty-training a defiant toddler. New parents may suddenly feel unmoored as individuals. If part of identity is the constancy of personality traits across time and space, these new parents may begin to question who they are when those traits can no longer manifest as they have in the  past.
As I watch various clients go through their own life cycle transitions, it has become increasingly clear that questioning of one’s personal identity is not limited to new parents. Teenagers moving into college seek a grasp on identity as they shift from dependent child to independent young adult. Parents of newly minted adults struggle to redefine self as they let go of the day-to-day oversight of their children. Retirees look for a new understanding of self -- as they move from workers, with the inherent boundaries, restrictions, rules and external validation of a structured job – to a more unstructured existence. And these are just a few of the many life changes that can contribute to feelings of loss or confusion with respect to roles and identity.
Given the universality of these shifts in identity, I have given a great deal of thought as to how these transitions can feel less like a shift in who we are at our core, and more like positive change and growth. Here are a few of my “identity shift guidelines”:
1.     Think about what makes you “you”. Consider this in terms of personality traits that are not specific to your current stage, but rather define the parts of self of which you are most proud. For example, the high school football star who derived a large piece of his identity from his role as a quarterback might learn that the important personality trait isn’t the football skill itself, but instead his extreme perseverance in working toward goals. This perseverance can persist throughout life transitions.

2.     Think about activities that make you feel happiest and most fulfilled. For example, the new mom who loved to be social in her old life may feel like the combination of work and baby have made her disengage from friendships, losing a core piece of self. For this mom, creating a Saturday playgroup or joining a neighborhood bookclub could hit the mark in returning to the social elements of self.

3.     Allow yourself to let go of old behaviors that are no longer functional in your current life stage. Recognize that adopting new behaviors does not spell the end of an old trait.  The man who derived a sense of self from being the “fix-it” guy as a single person may need to find new ways to feel that same sense of competency and satisfaction when family responsibilities no longer allow for spending an afternoon fixing an appliance. But he may be able to take a leadership role in the local PTA and feel competent and able to “fix” something in his new world.

4.     Explore new ways to identify self. Take a class that sounds interesting but may be out of your comfort zone. Take on a new role at work, at school, or as a volunteer that may highlight pieces of self you want to hone or never even knew existed.

5.     Define yourself according to your values, not your accomplishments. Much of who we are derives from how we see ourselves treating others, including the choices we make with respect to allocation of our time and resources.
The good news is that identity is not a solid, stagnant thing, and it is certainly not set in stone. Sometimes it takes trying on some elements of identity for size before you can determine whether (or not) the fit is appropriate.