The apparent advantage of a negative identity
Many people struggle not to identify with a troubling experience. This is because it can provide benefits. Or so it seems. Believing that we are a “victim” or “failure” may attract certain reactions and behaviours of others into our life that we even appreciate and value. For example, if a person believes they are a victim, people may feel bad for them and treat them with more care, consideration or more compassion than they would otherwise. This reaction, of course, is vital at first to a person who has suffered in some way. When someone goes through a tough or traumatic time in their life, human compassion, respect and understanding are undoubtedly essential and there are not nearly enough displays of these behaviours in our world. However, once enough time has passed (and this period varies from person to person), the person who has suffered must eventually process their experience, re-evaluate themselves and decide who they really want to be from then on. If they continue for an extended period of time to label themselves as a sufferer or victim of an experience, they will continue to be treated as a sufferer or victim and even attract these kinds of experiences. Over time, this is incredibly disempowering. In addition, though they may receive love and compassion for their strife initially, it can become damaging as it turns to pity. If the person is treated with pity or viewed as a victim, they will be rendered weak and powerless simply because they see their experience as who they are. If we see a negative experience as something we are and not something we have, we are in trouble in the long term.
Seeing an experience as something we have is another route; the choice of separating from experience.
Separating from a negative experience
Choosing to separate from a negative experience differs from forming a negative identity in the way that an experience is not believed to represent our permanent self.
This does not mean we take our past experiences lightly and it certainly does not mean we do not acknowledge our experiences. It means that a choice can be made (once the past is processed and acknowledged) to not make the past a part of who we are today.
Separating from a negative experience is mostly done through internal work. It is a realization that the experience does not have to define the self.
If a person continuously identifies with the label “depressive” or “depression” or even worse, says things such as“my depression is so bad”(owning depression as part of who they are), this colours their thoughts, beliefs, actions and their experience of the world.
However, if they stated instead “I experienced depression last year” or “I am having an experience of depression” or even better “I had/have depression but I know it is not who I really am”, it allows them to see the separation of self and experience. They understand that depression or suffering or failing is not who they actually are, as a self, as an identity, as a human being. When this separation and distinction occurs in someone, they can acknowledge their experience, yet they understand that is doesn’t have to hold them back and stunt their potential to lead a fulfilling life.
At any point in our lives, we can choose who we want to be. We can choose to form an empowering identity by drawing from positive and negative experiences, or we can simply choose to separate from a negative experience. The way we interpret ourselves and our lives is our choice to make.
- Do I believe that I can choose my identity?
- If I could choose my identity, what qualities or attributes would I choose for myself?
- What experiences, positive or negative, have I had that shape who I am today?
- Do I use any negative experiences as a way of avoiding responsibility for my own life?
- Do I label myself according to any negative experiences I had in the past? If so, how is this affecting me today?
- How can I label myself in a positive way, drawing from my specific past experiences (positive or negative)?