Who am I?
What am I?
What am I doing?
Why am I doing this?
These are common questions we ask ourselves as early as adolescence and throughout our adult lifespan. For many the answer to, “who am I?”, or the spark, “this is what I am meant to do!”, may come early in adolescence or be unveiled as a young adult. For others it can be a lifetime of exploration constantly wrestling or stumbling around with one or many questions related to our identity.
If you fall into the category of wrestling with “who am I?” You might also experience that little something in the pit of your stomach sending signals that “something doesn’t feel right” regardless of the context, situation, etc.
During our childhood, through adolescence, and into young adulthood we are exploring, consciously and unconsciously, seeking to find our place and fit in. Said another way, we are trying on different masks to find which one fits us best. Or, find the one we feel most comfortable wearing.
Comfortable doesn’t always mean authentic, genuine, or true to who we want to be or what we will eventually become. Comfortable may be due to the context of our situation, environment, resources, influences, etc. We may adopt the mask that simply allows us to feel safe and survive.
Eventually, we grow up, get older, and the path unfolds for us. The questions to “who am I”, “what am I”, etc. may be answered by choice and influence or they may be resolved by fate or conditions beyond our control. Regardless, that little something in the pit of your stomach, that once only sent signals to those wrestling with "who am I", may now be sending signals to those that thought they had it figured out as well.
The little signal saying “something doesn’t feel right” may become a louder pounding beat. Or even begin taking more extreme measures to catch your attention such as impacting physical or mental health.
What is the little signal you ask?
- A mid-life crisis when I’m in my thirties? Forties? Fifties?
- An epiphany that I don’t like what I do for work?
- Questioning if I want to be in my marriage?
- Wondering if I am cut out to be a parent?
The little signal may also extend itself through more pronounced feelings of loneliness, lack of motivation, isolation, social anxiety, disconnection, etc.
If you find yourself wrestling with some of these questions or experiencing stronger than normal feelings it may be worth your time to check-in with yourself and wonder if you have foreclosed on yourself already.
Identity foreclosure is something more commonly experienced in adolescence. Adolescence is the period, for many, that identity formation evolves. The process of forming who they are, how they see the world, and learning how to navigate it kicks-in. Kids are exploring and finding their unique identity.
Adolescence may foreclose on themselves, unknowingly, by simply going with the flow and committing to a role, character, or persona in the absence of exploring alternatives just to fit in. They may also foreclose on themselves due to external pressures and influences. Such as, my parents were lawyers so I have to be a lawyer. My sister was the best athlete in school so I have to be better. My parents didn't graduate so I don't plan on graduating.
Fast forward a few years and as adults’ life can change again. And again. And again. Depending on circumstances, context, etc. Adults navigate many different roles, wear many different hats, and can get lost in which hat is theirs. Adults can begin to foreclose on themselves as well.
As adults, we continue to try on different masks as well, through all the various roles we “opt-in” to. Such as, partner, spouse, husband, wife, parent, doctor, social worker, engineer, entrepreneur, advocate, coach, friend, caretaker, and so on. These roles may be both satisfying and unsatisfying. They may be by choice or happenstance.
Love them, like them, or tolerate them, for many their “role(s)” become routine, comfortable, or safe. Like what was mentioned earlier, comfortable doesn’t always mean authentic, genuine, or true to who we want to be. Comfortable may again, be due to the context of our situation, environment, resources, influences, etc.
As adults, we may adopt the mask that simply allows us to feel stable and enables us to survive.
Identity foreclosure, as an adult, is more common than you may realize. Pause, ask yourself, do you know of someone in your extended social or professional circle who identifies as “the super parent” but then feels isolated or type-casted because they over function as “super-parent” and no one sees them beyond that role. So they concede and stick with what others see them as.
How about the friend or family member that is the depressed one or anxious one and they cannot see themselves as anything beyond being depressed or anxious.
Do you know of a co-worker that is the “best coder”, all the while they want to become a manager, and the organization sees them as just a “coder” therefore they settle for their role and continue on, regardless of that “signal” in their stomach.
Although, research has demonstrated that the “Big Five” personality traits don’t shift to extreme as we get older, it doesn’t mean that we should foreclose on who we want to become.
Developing our authentic identity that is true to who we believe we want to be is a process of self-exploration, courage, questioning, seeking alternatives, trying, practicing, failing, vulnerability, strength, ignoring external pressures, influences, etc. in an effort to cultivate a healthy and genuine response to “Who am I?”
If you feel that little “something” in the pit of your stomach. Take a pause. Check-in with yourself and try to identify under what context is the noise getting louder. Is it possible that you may have foreclosed on yourself already?