Ever felt so stressed about not being how you’re “supposed to be” that you can’t be who you want to be? You’re not alone. Our language is full of suffocating identity labels keeping us in boxes. A “full time mom” won’t return to the work she loves for fear of losing the respect of her friends. A “high powered executive” worries he’ll look lame if he stops attending happy hours to stay sober. A “good couple” worries their separate vacations will sabotage their image.
There is no objective book for how “good kids” “working women” “executives” “successful people,” or “happy couples” behave. But you would think there is, given how restricted we feel in how we behave once we’ve given ourselves, or been given, a label. What’s amazing is that our associations with these words come from early childhood experiences and understanding of language. But we forget that – and rarely re-evaluate the boxes we stick ourselves and others into. Next thing we know, we’re a well-crafted character, but the play is a drag.
Here’s an example: A couple, bound by perceptions of how “married people” should act, neglect to take the separate vacations they crave. Instead they bicker incessantly when travelling and return home weary and distressed. With counseling, they realize they are basing adult relationship decisions on very childish, boxed-in views of how married couples should behave. Their parents travelled together, characters on TV travel together, so they figured they had to travel together. Breaking out of this and doing what worked for them instead of what they thought “should” work for them was freeing and brought them closer to the wonderful marriage they both wanted.
Sound at all familiar? Ask yourself: Am I locked in an identity that is holding me back? Is my self-perception actually limiting the intimacy in my relationships? Am I a character in a play I don’t even like anymore? If so, seek to drop the artificially created definitions that limit you. Come in and talk about it. Let’s find a better script and let you play the character you want!
*Like in all my writing, examples are fictionalized and are not based on specific clients, family members, or friends.
Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.