Image courtesy of Go idea at freedigitalphotos.net/Once you realise your identity is just a series of masks, is there anything you would not do?
If your parents held no expectations of you as a child, nor now, to a lesser degree, that you’re an adult, would you have chosen a different job? A different marriage partner? Would your preconceived ideas about what was the proper way to behave, to dress, what kind of person constituted a proper partner or spouse be totally different? A little different?
It is almost impossible that society has not moulded you in some way, that our environment has not impacted upon you at all.
Most sub-streams of Psychological Science recognise both nature and nurture in contributing to the kind of person we eventually become – both looks, and more importantly, our personality and our cognition. For it is our cognition that shapes the choices we make, and ultimately, our values – what matters to us.
Deep down, it is what is important to us, our values, morals or ethics that constitute our identity.
You may have become influenced before you can remember. The pressure to become a particular kind of person may not have been forced upon you : “You must become a doctor, but looks are not important, so don’t pay much attention to how you look”. However, you may have been asked a lot about how you performed in your exams, but if you put on make-up and made an extra effort to look nice, this may have been ignored if physical appearance was not considered to be a worthwhile component of your identity.
It may not have been your parents who had the greatest influence on you. If they were largely absent in terms of not conversing with you during your formative years, a teacher may have made you feel you had special talents, or more unfortunately, particular deficiencies and made these obvious to you.
We may have an idea that we don’t value empathy, compassion and caring, but, if we peel back layers of expectations, pseudo-identities or identities we have assumed because they helped us to survive, stopped us being teased, or punished, or because we received attention for them.
However, are these identities really us? The fact is, under all the layers of the facades we wear, that we have been taught to don to protect ourselves lies the “real us” – the person who doesn’t have to do, who can just be. Then, because we are no longer diverting our energy so our ego can get stroked, because we have discarded what really isn’t important, compassion, caring, our childlike self who doesn’t care what others think and who isn’t self-conscious emerges. Much like a butterfly from a cacoon.
Our identity is not one particular trait or role or choice. Our identity may be a sum of student, athlete, “introvert”, sister and “the girl who works at the Coffee Club”.
However, take away our roles – the fact we are a mother, a great tennis player, a wife and a friend – who are we then?
Are we still important?
I guess an ultimate way to find out who we are behind our “identities” our masks or facades is to ask ourselves “What would I do if I knew no-one else was watching?”
This conversation came up today as my friend and I were going for a walk. My friend said “Go on, pretend no-one is looking – do a funny run!” Well, I was just going to go for a run and come back – to the nearest tree and back. Well! I skipped along and then waved my hands in the air like a lunatic, and spun around and came back again. My friend and I were laughing hysterically!
On the second go of doing a “do something like no-one is watching” I did an even more ridiculous trip in lieu of the run. I skipped from one side of the pathway to the other, like a drunk! Well, it was fantastic. We laughed so hard!!! I hadn’t had such a joyful walk in a long time.
Now, on the way back, I did notice two men in a boat, and a cyclist. I believe the cyclist had a grin on his face. For a very very short while I felt really silly and small. But not for long. My friend quickly reminded me of our truth – “Who care’s who is watching?” “Are other people that important that I should burden myself with feelings of embarrassment and humiliation? Moreover, “Am I that important that it should matter to others if I choose to be completely silly?” It sure brought things into perspective.
I am not “my silly leap”. I am not “my waving my hands in the air”. At the end of the day, I am actually just a bunch of molecules. But, my friend and I, we were a bunch of molecules who were really having fun. It occurred to me that if no-one else was watching, it's not so much what I would or wouldn't do - it's whether I would or wouldn't just be.