I mean, I’m certain I have heard the word before…
But you know how you hear something that you’ve heard before and for some reason at one particular moment in time it lands with you in a new and different way?
That describes my relationship with identities.
I was at a coaching mastermind just a couple of months ago when I became acutely aware that there are different parts of me that show up in different situations.
Like, distinctly different people.
You see, there’d be moments where I was confident and bold and fierce in my language and advocacy for another and yet, there’d be other moments (in the same day or the same hour) where I felt insignificant and not good enough and like I needed to learn more before I could serve others and fully step into my powerful self.
Does this sound familiar?
In the past I have sometimes felt like a crazy woman, so if you’re thinking the same thing about me, it’s cool. But, keep reading.
Here’s my truth:
I’ve spent over 25 years of my life trying to pretend these parts of me didn’t exist. I shoved them in the closet (Think of it like what you might do when company is coming over and you don’t really have time to clean…) and slammed the door shut in the hopes that no one would see these “less desirable”, “unattractive”, “weak”, and “ugly” sides of me. When my closet was overflowing, I began shoving them under the bed. Shoving, and all the while, smiling at the world. My exterior facade would say, “Everything is perfect. I’m great. I’m handling all aspects of my life brilliantly.”
And yet, internally I was terrified that you might see one of my “under the bed monsters”. And if they happened to sneak out in a vulnerable moment, I would give ’em a low, hard, back kick and through gritted teeth, while I kept smiling, there was a stern, “Get back under there where you belong. I’ll deal with you later.”
What I’ve been able to discover is that the person shoving others in the closet and under the bed, the person who was being verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to me was not actually me.
Not the REAL me anyway.
She was one of my identities. Keep Up Appearances Kate. She was working in tandem with Perfect Paula. And if I slipped up and into fear, doubt, worry, or had a vulnerable moment where I showed weakness… Punisher Pam was ready to bring on the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical reprimand for my behavior.
And together, they were slowly crushing me. The real me.
I was on a coaching call in 2016 when, for the first time, I shut Paula down. I was DONE. No more pretending. No more acting as if my life was perfect and that I could flawlessly handle all of it. That story was bullshit and I was exhausted and burnt out from telling it. I wasn’t always “okay”. I didn’t always feel “good”. And I was tired of pretending.
Because of this new decision, the next step for me was to square up with my self-described “ugly” identities. The ones waaaaay back in the closet. The ones I didn’t want anyone to know about. The unlovable, mean, fierce, and ferocious ones. The ones no one clapped for. The ones no one was proud of. The parts of me that don’t love me.
Acceptance became my first real step toward attaining the elusive “self-love”. Fully accepting who I was.
All of me.
And now? Shit. I meet new identities daily. Just last week, I met Verbally Abusive Victoria, Self-loathing Sally, and I’m Sorry Stephanie.
The next day? Overwhelmed Ola.
The day after that? Self-Doubt Debbie, I Can’t Win Cathy, and Not Good Enough Natasha.
This week I’ve had encounters with many, many, many of my identities. I believe it’s because I’m stretching. I’m growing. I’m expanding. And with that, comes new layers to peel back, new sabotage to square up with, new identities to meet, and old ones to welcome back.
What do I actually DO when they show up? Check out the 5 things that have been working for me lately.
1. Name them.
I opened this conversation in a previous article, (See “Busting Through Your “Not Enough” Story in 4 Steps ) but it is important for you to differentiate your identities from YOU. They are not YOU. They are your sabotage developed by you. Go ahead. Give them a name. As you may have noticed, I take what they “do” and use that in their name. For example, “avoid”, “punish”, “second-guess”, or “busy work” turn into Avoidance Anna, Punisher Pam, Second-Guess Sally, and Busy Work Brenda. I find alliteration to be helpful and fun. My 2 rules? Don’t stress about this part and don’t make them any part of your name. Remember, they’re not you. The objective here is that you’re able to distinguish and address them as a separate identity.
2. Recognize when they’re trying to get your attention.
Notice yourself. Become aware. Pay attention to your urges, your head talk, your language, your gut reactions, and your responses. Notice your habits, your actions, and your behaviors. What are you doing? What are you not doing? What are you languaging? How are you feeling? Just notice. Try and do this with no judgement. Simply observe. Stay as neutral as possible.
For example, how did I know Overwhelmed Ola was trying to get my attention? Well, I heard myself saying things like, “I don’t have time to get everything done… I am so overwhelmed…” I noticed that I felt “off”. I was unusually emotional, easily irritated, and sad. I noticed that I crawled back into bed even though I had things to do. I watched myself be needy and clingy and saw that I was seeking validation.
3. Welcome them and invite them inside.
This may seem counter intuitive, but they’re showing up for a reason. Invite them in. Literally. I said, “Why hello Overwhelm Ola! It’s nice to see you. Come on in.” It may seem absurd, but it works. I can’t speak for you, but personally, I would rather experience the transformation to freedom and come across as a little weird if the alternative option is to stay stuck in my stories while *appearing* cool.
4. Ask them why they showed up, what they need, and engage in conversation.
Again, literally ask the question.
You can do this out loud (my preferred method) or you can journal, but you’ve got to ask the question.
In my case, “Ola may I ask you, why are you here right now? Is there something you need?”
The important piece here is to answer the above question as Overwhelm Ola (or whatever identity/sabotage has presented itself to you).
It is important that you let THEM speak.
In my case, it went something like… “Yes! I need someone to acknowledge that I’m doing a good job. I have a lot on my plate and I’m juggling a lot and I’m getting things done and no one is recognizing that. No one is telling me good job and I’m struggling with getting it all done. I just want someone to notice and recognize my efforts.”
5. Love them.
Love them like you would a child. I said, using a phrase I learned from Matt Kahn, “Ola, I hear you. And I honor your power.” Then, I proceeded to give her what she needed. I said something like, “Ola, you are doing an amazing job. I’m so proud of how you’re handling day to day life as an adult, how your navigating the early stages of buying a home, how you’re writing, coaching, how you’re taking consistent effort to build your business, how you invest time and money in personal coaching and training, and how you work your job all while trying to care for your fur babies, eat well, workout, and show up as the best wife you can. You are crushing it and I while I know it’s not always easy, you keep showing up. You are a champion. A rock star. A bad ass. I love you so much.”
Of course, your personal language will be different, but please allow it to be loving and supportive.
You cannot and will not abuse your identities away.
I know because I’ve tried.
6. Ask for completion.
I said, “Ola, is there anything else that you need from me right now?”
She said, “I’m good.”
I said, “Wonderful. Thank you for stopping by. Stay as long as you’d like. You’re welcome here.”
And you wanna know what happened? SHE LEFT! She didn’t stay because she didn’t need to. She got what she came for.
Please note, if she had said, “No. I’m not good.”, I would have repeated a version of my earlier question asking, “What do you really need right now?” and I would have continued affirming and asking until she was complete.
Of course every identity is different and each one will require individual attention. This isn’t a one size fits all approach and I don’t want to portray it like it is. Sabotage is personal, it’s squirmy, and it takes on different forms in each individual.
But what I know for sure is that my identities want to be heard, loved, and welcomed. They want to be celebrated and embraced. They’re seeking nurturing and reassurance. The ONLY reason they are yelling is because they’re trying to get my attention. When I fulfill their desire to be heard, there is no reason for the yelling to continue.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let me know if this resonates, if you’re willing to begin the process of awareness and acceptance of your identities, or if you have any questions!