The Identity Label that Could be Getting in Your Way

In an effort to help people understand who you are, it’s common to use identity labels and roles. “I am a worrier”, “I have anxiety”, “I am an introvert”, “I am a failure”, “I am stupid”, “I am an awkward person”, “I am a nurse”, “I am a plumber”, etc. Once you adopt an identity label, your brain quite easily gets comfortable with it. If it’s a nice label, great, but sometimes identity labels can create and maintain all sorts of problems that prevent you from living life fully and achieving all your goals. “I am” and “I have” involve what are called negative nominalisations, that can make or break you, and you may be using one right now without realising it!

A nominalisation is when we use a noun (a thing) to describe a process, feeling or experience. For example, when someone says, “I  am a worrier” they are describing themselves as a thing, not a feeling they are experiencing. They make the feeling of worry concrete. The problem with doing this is that it packs it with all sorts of connotations and meanings. As a result, you could limit what you allow yourself to do, be and have, and in some cases possibly use it as an excuse to get out of doing things that could ultimately be amazing for you. “I am a worrier, so I can’t put myself forward for a new job, in case I get a panic attack.” or “I have no confidence so I can’t have friends; people won’t like me.”, when the reality might be “I am feeling scared and I don’t know how to make myself feel relaxed.” or “I feel shy and I don’t know how to change it or communicate with people.” Identity labels can leave you disempowered, as though some “thing” is superior to you. On the other hand, when you own a feeling or process, everything can change and open up for the better.

I used to use identity labels that didn’t serve me. In fact, I existed under one that nearly killed me! Quite frankly, sometimes it was easier to have a label, so I could blame “it” for my behaviour and the way I was feeling, instead of looking at what was really going on. At twelve years old, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, and nobody, including me, knew how to “cure” me. As a result, I took on the identity label, “I am an anorexic” and it brought with it all kinds of connotations and meanings (beyond the challenges I was having emotionally) that I believe kept me stuck a lot longer than necessary. Eventually “anorexia” drove me into such a hole that I was given one week to live. That’s how dangerous identity labels can be! It was only when I took back my power by changing perspective that my life changed for the better. The reality was I was not anorexia. I was (and am) in fact Donna. I was simply choosing to engage in a very unproductive behaviour in an attempt to cope with a traumatic event I experienced a few years earlier. For years I repeatedly chose to do anorexia and I generated feelings and thoughts to keep it going. I didn’t eat, I wouldn’t eat, and I almost died as a result. However, having learned to think differently, I now choose not to do anorexia behaviour. In fact, for the last twenty-six years I have not engaged in anorexia behaviour, and I have no interest in doing so ever again. So, what happened? Did, by some miracle, on the day I decided to change my behaviour the monster “anorexia” decided to up and leave me? Of course not, my choices changed, and I let the label go. I decided to take back my power. I decided that if I was to live a full productive and successful life, I had to let the label go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to think that if you’re finding things difficult, it’s a matter of saying, “I don’t want that behaviour or thought anymore” and abracadabra, all is well. It takes time to train your brain for better things, but as soon as you make the decision to let the identity label go (whatever label you have been using), it’s so much easier to change and life starts to get better. You begin to own your life again.

In the next moment do you think I could choose to engage in anorexia behaviour again? Absolutely! I could make the choice right now not to eat again and go on to die a miserable death. But it’s not the case that anorexia would suddenly decide to come to get me again; it would be a matter of me making a decision and choosing to do the behaviour again instead of dealing with life in any given moment. Now I know that might come across a bit blunt and possibly ignorant, but I guess I’m qualified to say it to you as I’ve lived it. I’m not just spouting textbook material at you to make myself sound intelligent, although I have the formal qualifications, More importantly, I lived through the pain and came out the other side of it happy, so I understand it at a deep level. To get you real results in the real world I will tell it to you as it is and not sugar-coat it to keep you in the familiar. My interest is helping you, not disabling you, so blunt as it may be, I’m presenting it to you today.

You see, if you nominalise emotions, you make achieving the life you want very challenging because, if what you want does not fit within your existing identity label, by the very essence of the nominalisation you cannot allow yourself have the life you want. For example, “Depressed Shy Mary” couldn’t be seen to get excited and have fun. She’s been Depressed Shy Mary for years. When it comes to your identity, saying a disempowering, “I am” or “I have” is like slapping a massive sticker on your front and walking around with it. “I am” and “I have” define you and they are very powerful definitions.

I understand that it might feel somewhat daunting to put aside identities and nominalisations that you or others may have placed upon you over the years. After all, it is easier to be what we have known ourselves to be and to be what others have expected us to be, even if it’s not desirable. However, you were not put on this planet to play small; you were born to be you, to be authentic and to be your best self. If you live in congruence with who you really are, who you are underneath all the layers of past programming, conditioning, and nominalisations, you can feel more amazing than you even thought possible, no matter what you have experienced.

What are your current “I am” and “I have” statements that disempower you? Grab a pen now and write them down. They aren’t necessarily extreme, but knowing what they are can be really useful and empowering as you journey through life. Be totally honest with yourself, even if it’s uncomfortable. I promise that doing this little exercise will serve you well. Take back your power by replacing any old “I am” and “I have” identity statements with an understanding of a process that can be changed, if you work on it.

Then create empowering positive productive “I am” and “I have”statements using descriptive choice. To help you do this I want you to think of the good things about you and turn them into activity. Write 10 “I am” descriptive choice statements. For example, “I am good at choosing to be healthy”, “I am excellent at creating exciting moments”, “I feel driven to reach my goals.”, “I have an intelligent brain that I can use to find a solution.” etc.

It’s time to starting doing things that bring you in the direction you WANT. Imagine knowing with certainty that you are a worthwhile person and feeling totally capable of achieving whatever it is you desire. How great will that be? What would you do differently? What would you allow yourself to experience?

Drop the label and own your life. You are here to shine and reach your potential!

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