Recently, at a gathering of my women’s group, my fabulous friend Catherine led an exercise about understanding your identity. I was asked to bring an object that best describes who I am in the world.
I shared my favorite quote by Rumi, “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.” I explained that I love to support people by identifying the things that excite them, and encouraging them to follow their bliss. In essence, I’m like a spiritual cheerleader.
I have been like this ever since I was young. (Ask my friends from high school!) I’m the first born, spoke all the time for my younger brother, was a peace-maker in my family and felt deep compassion for others. I worried about other people’s happiness from an early age and this gave me heightened skills in empathy, compassion, listening, and giving.
Sounds great, right? I have a successful coaching practice and life purpose because of this identity. And of course it is very energizing to support people in meaningful ways.
Your shadow identity
With every dominant identity, there is a repressed shadow side. Some part of you had to get closed off and put in the closet so that your primary identity in the world could really take hold.
We adapt and begin to favor our dominant identity at a very early age. Perhaps a parent told you to toughen up and stop crying all the time, and that, in turn made you into a strong, unemotional leader.
Or maybe you were constantly rewarded for being smart and good in school, so you made it your mission to never look like you don’t have the answers. Or maybe, like me, you were praised for being positive and kind, and as a result you put your feisty, more self-serving identity in the closet and decided it was a bad thing to take up space and receive.
For every fabulous quality you possess, there is a shadow part of you that rarely gets any airtime. And here’s the important part: there is a COST to this pattern. When we come into this world we are our most authentic selves — the good and the bad are alive and well. It’s through conditioning that we learn to celebrate some parts of ourselves and shame the others.
Blocking takes a real toll in our lives. When we block certain parts of ourselves, we block our power and potential in the world.
For me, I miss out on opportunities and a lot of support because I am resistant to receiving. One of the funniest and most uncomfortable moments of my life was on my 40th birthday. My closest girlfriends and I went on a birthday hike to the beach.
We assembled in a circle and I asked each person to introduce themselves. The first person said her name and then proceeded to share all the reasons why she loves me. It was so hard to take in that I interrupted her and started to tell her all the reasons why she was amazing. The whole group told me to stop and just receive! Although it was uncomfortable to take all their kind words, it turned out to be one the most memorable moments of my life. I was completely filled with love.
What is your shadow identity?
- Take a minute to think about your dominant identity in the world. What do people come to you for? When people think of you, what adjectives would they use to describe you?
- Now think about the direct opposite of that identity. For instance, I am a giver so my polar opposite is a receiver. It’s hard for me to accept help — I do not take up much space and I feel more comfortable focusing attention on others.
- Once you’ve identified your opposite, ask yourself what would it look like to bring that part of you out of the closet and into the world? Step out of your comfort zone, and I promise you’ll learn volumes about yourself.
For me, this means saying YES to the offerings that come my way, including all compliments! When someone at the market offers to help me take the groceries to my car I accept! And when friends ask about me, I share — in spite of my discomfort — instead of immediately turning my focus to them.
When you begin to accept all the parts of yourself you become more receptive to the power and miracles that want to come into your life.
A version of this post appeared originally on On Your Path Consulting
Johanna Beyer is the founder and principal of On Your Path Consulting and specializes in working with individuals who feel unfulfilled with their current careers and are ready to create their next stage of work that is fulfilling, challenging and purposeful. Prior to starting On Your Path Consulting, Johanna received her Bachelor’s Degree from UCLA and her Masters Degree in Organizational Development from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Learn more about working with Johanna.
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