Our identities do not exist within our bank accounts and email addresses. They are not locked away, per federal standard, on the third floor of a low-rise commercial building. Our identity exists within our physical makeup… somehow.
Where our identity exists is as much a mystery as why we need one in the first place. Should someone ever show you a neuroimage of the brain and offer “identity lives here,” [points confidently at specific gyrus] quickly funnel that idiot down the nearest flight of stairs. We have no true idea where identity exists or how we choose what is internalized vs. rejected, but we know what is true and untrue of our identity almost immediately. We deftly block and refute evidence of a self that differs from our perceived-self. Just as quickly we will have dropped our head at the overwhelming discrepancy between our idealized-self and our perceived-self. It never seems that the proximity between ~who I am~ and ~who I want to be~ is close enough to bridge, leap or bound.
We know who we want to be. We can even identify feasible routes to reach that self. Who we want to be remains fluid, but we know the general direction we’re heading if not the precise coordinates. Along the way life happens. That’s a more cliche sentence than I would ever like to be credited with co-opting but how much more clearly can the accuracy within be portrayed. Our idealized-self lives within a vacuum, inherently.
If I could afford the time, energy and financials to get the degree I want I could have the career that I want, and the love life that I crave, and the peripheral upper middle class accouterments worth live-blogging. The amount of control, or what I would call “cosmic luck,” to reach this idealized-self - even with a concerted effort and some generous boons and breaks - is highly unlikely viewed through a pragmatic lens.
Something will always come up. Our alignment will be off. The world can be disorienting when we are pulled back from the tunnel vision required to achieve a more refined and ideal self. The relationships we build, career paths we take, course we enroll in all exist outside of self and yet we wear them as part of our greater identity costume. These things are tenuous. We can perform badly in them. They can fall apart and go away from us beyond our control. Attacks to the periphery of our costume make it difficult for us to believe in ourself as retaining the identify of our character.
When we are failing and flailing we exist within a body horror film. This is not me. I cannot control this person. I am not this monster. It needn’t be so dramatically dark and twisted, but we relate to the idea of being different from ourself. How is this possible? How can we feel anything but ourself? Do we internalize the self others confirm they see in us? Do we wish for our self to more closely match the characters on TV? Do the values of capitalism so deeply undermine our ability to define a unique sense of achievement that we are never content, no thrilled even, to be ourselves?
Are we doing well enough to make our parents proud? Would my graduate school mentor glowingly describe my work to incoming students? Does my significant other believe in my ability to overcome obstacles and remain emotionally balanced?
We are bombarded so constantly with these external questions that we could barely begin to address them all. Unfortunately, we in turn are prone to internalizing these outside doubts as ruminations. Ruminations carried as doubts swirling and building all while we internalize them as self-attacks from within our own minds. Here, within these internalized doubts, we commit identity theft.
From within our own mind we doubt our self, its construction and the degree to which our perceived and ideal self even fall along the same country road. By internalizing our external pressures and fears we have stollen from ourselves the identity we hold dearly and have worked to keep and hold. An identity that we have worked to construct through reflection, effort and experience we have similarly derailed at the mouth of the outbound platform by buying into external doubt.
And so our question becomes are we the self we perceive, the self we want to be or the self others confirm us to be? The answer is unclear and the possibility of a balance within healthy, or otherwise, is uncertain.