How Role-Identity Can Lead to Self-Sabotage

Who are you?

Posted Oct 27, 2020

Are you the funny, irreverent clown in your family? Or the person in your friend group who is organized and plans the gatherings? Are you the serious one at work? The person who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions? 

It is accurate to say that all of us take on a wide range of roles in our lives. We are multifaceted and complex, and that is what makes us so interesting. You probably present to your grandparent in a much different way than you do your best friend or your colleague at work. We are behavioral chameleons, by necessity, but sometimes our roles can keep us firmly stuck in a rut. Sometimes the role we take on in a certain area of our lives is a form of self-sabotage

How Can Roles Sabotage Us

When actors play a certain type of character for a long time, they often struggle to get other types of roles that deviate from that character. This phenomenon is known as typecasting and it can put unwanted limitations on an actor’s career.

As we become stuck in a certain role within our family, friendships, intimate relationships, or work life, in a sense we typecast ourselves. While this may not seem like a big problem on the surface, it can quickly turn into a dissatisfactory lifestyle in which we are molding ourselves into a set of behaviors that no longer serve us. 

For example, a person who has always been known for their sense of humor and irreverence may feel they cannot talk about serious topics. That person may feel that others wouldn’t take them seriously if they attempted to be vulnerable or show other emotions outside of the role of comedian. In this way, our roles can become a burden, and this can leave us feeling trapped and lonely. 

When we allow our chosen roles to limit our ability to communicate and be the most authentic version of ourselves, we are participating in self-sabotage. 

Image by Victoria_Borodinova via Pixabay
Source: Image by Victoria_Borodinova via Pixabay

Getting stuck in a certain role in our relationships can negatively impact our well-being and even contribute to emotional health challenges. A role is only as good as it feels, and if we typecast ourselves and get stuck in a certain role, it can bring a lot of dissatisfaction our way.

Depression: Unexpressed feelings often exacerbate depression, particularly if those feelings are being thwarted as a result of not being true to oneself. Behaving in a certain way for the benefit of others or trying to maintain a version of ourselves that isn’t fully accurate can challenge our sense of self. 

Anxiety: Having unmet needs and trying to adhere to a role is a type of behavioral secret-keeping, which feels disingenuous and can increase distress and anxiety. 

Imposter syndrome: Playing a certain familiar role may feel comfortable, on some level, but if it doesn’t line up with how a person is feeling internally, it can create a sense of falseness in relation to others. 

Loneliness and emotional isolation: If you find yourself stuck in a role rut, you may end up experiencing loneliness and a sense that others do not truly know you. The isolation that can stem from being stuck in a role can limit relationship connections. 

Digging Out of Role Rut Sabotage

Even if we are experiencing all these negative emotional side effects from being stuck in a self-sabotaging role in life, we can make behavioral changes and shift our mindset to feel better. 

Let your guard down

Freedom from typecasting requires vulnerability and bravery. Like the actor, trying to break out of a particular character role, we must show the world something different in order to expect something different in return. 

Name it

In a sense, you are showing people this other part of yourself that they’ve never seen. It’s not new to you, but it may be new to them. If you name it for them ahead of time, this transition to a different version of you might be better understood and accepted. 

Try out some different wording, such as “I know I’m often serious in these meetings, but I just wanted to share a funny story that happened to me over the weekend,” or “You usually only see the funny, comedian side of my personality, but I’m struggling with something today and just want to be real with you about how I’m feeling.” 

Feel good about it

It may feel intimidating to share other parts of yourself when you are typecast with certain people in your life, but try to shift your mindset and embrace the positive aspects of this role-breakout. 

You are modeling authenticity and that can be a rare commodity in certain situations. Honor your desire to be a real, whole person in this world that too often demands that we fit into a neat category. 

By bravely expressing your authentic self, you encourage others to do the same, and the result can be a much more satisfying relationship with others and a greater sense of self-worth