Identity Crisis – Identity Choices

By Val Boyko • May 3rd, 2011

“If I give up my old familiar ways, who will I be and what will become of me?” In an earlier post on mid life identity  crises, I shared John Welwood‘s three choices that we face when are in an identity crisis. Today I’ll explore more about what these can look like from a coach’s perspective.

looking into the futureChoice 1. We can decide not to rock the boat and not risk moving into the unknown, even if our old identity isn’t working for us. We cling to our familiar ways, fearful of the unknown consequences of changing or “breaking the rules” that we grew up with. In doing so, we hide from other possibilities for ourselves.

People who make the choice not to change, often believe that the cost of change is too high. The anxiety and fear are in the drivers seat.  We close our minds to possibilities and often withdraw to protect ourselves. In doing so, our hearts and minds close. We feel stuck. Although we may feel safe,  we know that we are not expressing our true selves. There is no vision to pull us into a better future. This can be a place where resentment and grievance grows.

In my experience, many people are in this place. They don’t need a coach, they want to be left alone. They create their own story that makes sense for them to stay where they are. However, often as not, something happens that shakes them loose, or throws them overboard from the rocking boat! It could be being laid off  at work, divorce or a death of someone close. I believe the universe will keep sending us the opportunity to reach in and find our true selves. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to face our reality and make a different choice.

Choice 2. We can attack or punish ourselves for the personality we have or strive even harder to live up to the ideal of who we think we should be. Again, we are trying to avoid the unknown, and whatever action we take it will not be based on our genuine path. Instead we feel bad about our selves. We are afraid that we aren’t strong enough or good enough, and so we struggle to make it not be true. We push ourselves to achieve more, hoping that it will bring validation that we made the right choice to stick it out.

I have clients who come to coaching who are here. They think there is something wrong with them. They believe that if they try hard enough and really put in a big effort that they can get back onto the right track. They think they need someone to hold them accountable to following a set of  rules. The cost of this can be high. It takes up a lot of energy to be someone we are not meant to be! Stress, sleepless nights, constant worry, unfulfilled relationships and never believing we can live up to who we think we should be, takes a huge  toll on our well being and self esteem. When they see that things can be different, and that they are not alone, it opens up a new way of thinking about themselves and the possibilities of who they can be. Its good for your health too!

moving into the futureChoice 3. We can open ourselves to our experience, face the reality in front of us and work with ourselves the way we are. Becoming open  to the unknown  requires the capacity to be present with whatever we are feeling and experiencing. By being present we tap into the power of our own being.

When we are ready to wake up and face the unknown it’s time to open our heart to the situation we are in – feeling it, facing it squarely and letting it touch us.  At the same time it allows for a natural expression of caring for ourselves to take place, rather than a crusade against our failings and what’s wrong with us.

Only then will we be able to move forward. We become more accepting of our imperfect selves.

Our mind opens to new possibilities. A new future is being born. One where we love ourselves and others more fully. Yes – including our mothers!



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