Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

I Am Not My Identity

Then who am I?

We use the word identity in numerous ways. Many of these usages imply that our identity is who we really are. For example, gender identity means that we can identify with a gender beyond that with which we were assigned at birth—but this new identity is more authentic than the one assigned at birth. And that usage of the word is correct.

When I use the word identity in this article, however, I am not speaking of the authentic self, as we are in the case of gender identity. I am speaking of a mask and costume that we put on so early in life that we do not even remember it. In this case, I am using the word identity, as it was used by Kathleen Riordan, in one of the best definitions I’ve yet to see:

Identification is the opposite of self-consciousness. In a state of identification, man does not remember himself. He is lost to himself. His attention is directed outward, and no awareness is left over for inner states.[1]

What this means is that it is entirely possible to live in a mask and costume we don’t even know we are wearing, but which keeps us out of touch with our own authenticity. Generally, we can define this identity by its patterns.

For example, a person who is living into what I have referred to as the good guy identity, (also referred to as the scapegoat identity in previous articles) in the book

Andrea Mathews
Source: Andrea Mathews

“Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self,” will generally display patterns such as being literally run by guilt; always striving to please, help and fix others; having a hard time doing anything that others might perceive as selfish (but which actually are self-affirming, self-caring and self-empowering acts); getting involved in relationships in which abuse in some form is present (simply because they are trying so hard to be good that they tolerate, forgive and try to fix their abuser); getting used and manipulated by others; being scapegoated by others, etc.

Those who have what I have called the Rescuer or the Superhero identity will often display patterns such as being attracted mostly to people who need rescuing; and feeling that it is not only their job but almost a calling to rescue others; getting themselves, therefore, into some pretty sticky situations.

Those who have what I have called the Black Sheep identity will display such patterns as getting “in trouble” in all kinds of ways from childhood forward; being labeled as a “bad kid;” having a great deal of trouble trusting others; displaying behavior that looks to others to be made up of some kind of hardness of heart (often the softness is long buried under fear of being abused, used or otherwise harmed by others); a deep sense of unworthiness; a low-grade sense of chronic hopelessness, etc.

These are just a few of the identities which I have explained in previous articles. The most important thing to understand about these identities is that they are not the authentic Self. In fact, these masks and costumes were built very early—made up often of the introjection of parental projections—and reinforced over time in order to protect the authentic Self from exposure to harm, abuse and/or rejection. The identity basically agrees to sacrifice awareness of authenticity in order to feel a sense of belonging to families of origin.

So what can we do? When we begin to see the patterns, we can also begin to see the other internal arguments against those patterns. For example, the good guy identity is often run by guilt, but she may also feel a great deal of resentment for “having to do all those things” that she doesn’t really want to do. That resentment is an internal argument. It says, “You are doing a lot of things that are not really genuine.”

What we can begin to understand then, is that we have an internal messaging system that we can rely on for information about what is really going on within us. It tells us the truth, while we’ve been previously believing the lie of guilt. That lie has informed us that we can only trust guilt or the fear of guilt to tell us what to do. What we may begin to learn is that actually our compassion and passion is enough to get us to right action. We don’t have to be led around by that awful feeling of guilt which threatens to make our days miserable if we don’t do what it tells us to do.

And, of course, seeking therapy is always an option when it comes to healing old identifications.

So no, identity, as it is used here, is not at all the same as the authentic Self. And the healer for this identity is the authentic Self.


[1] Riordan, K. “Gurdjieff.” (1975). Transpersonal Psychologies. C. Tart, ed. New York: Harper & Row. P. 303.