Separating Our Identities From Outcomes

In many ways the world has seemingly stopped around us and is focused on this one virus.

I started the beginning of this pandemic at my college house and did not have a single plan or obligation for weeks. Even now that I am working in Richmond, it feels like everything around me has stilled. In many ways this is giving me the slowness I have needed to breathe after the past few years of what has only felt like pain. Even in the joyful moments the hurt from my childhood, lost friendships, betrayal from those I trusted, and the ending of a relationship is still there, not fully healed.

The aspect that I have struggled with most in the past several years is separating these circumstances and the outcomes of them from my identity. It is also hard for me to look at the hurt I have experienced from others apart from their identity.

My mind by default goes to black and white thinking. In order to push through the pain, I go to separating people, circumstances, and feelings into good and bad. Right and wrong. Strong and weak.

My best friend always laughs when we are talking about our lives and I explain my thought process behind circumstances because this type of thinking so clearly comes out in these conversations. She is the complete opposite where she lives only in the grey areas. Listening to how we interpret the same situation is insane because most people would probably not know we were talking about the same situation if they were listening to us. I am thankful for her because she helps me not separate things around me into definite categories.

Because of this black and white thinking, I put many circumstances and their outcomes on my shoulders. If I am not responsible for them, then who is? If this didn’t happen because I’m this way or that, then why did it happen? It is all on me or none of it is.

However, that line of thinking is so dangerous. Not only does it give shame a field day, but it stops myself from growing into different aspects of who I am and seeing others for who they are. This thinking then begins to dehumanize those who have hurt me. As the world has slowed and all the hurt from the past few years seems to be right in front of me, I have been recognizing how harmful this way of thinking can be.

I am faced with a decision of whether or not I am going to let this hurt define me for the rest of my life. If who I am is going to be solely determined by the rejection, fear, and pain that people and circumstances have left me with. Am I going to process the outcomes of these circumstances as if they make up my identity or am I going to process them aside from what my identity is and will always be? Am I going to tie the hurtful experiences and how others made me feel to their identities? Or am I going to free them and free myself from this burden?

If I had a dollar for every time I attacked, shutdown, or defended out of fear, anger, disappointment, and so many other emotions, then I would probably be able to feed the whole world forever. When we are in the midst of such intense emotions, that we often cannot name for ourselves, we act in ways we do not always want to. As much as I want others to understand and feel the hurt I feel because of what they said or did, I do not know the emotions they were also feeling in the midst of each situation.

It is so much easier for me to put people into categories of good and bad rather than acknowledge the humanness in each one of us. When I step outside of myself and do this though, more compassion grows. I see the beauty and complexity of humanity. And I am able to have compassion for myself and others. I am able to have the strength to move through and out of my anger or fear or disappointment and into a place of love, forgiveness, and compassion.

Don’t get me wrong, it takes me what feels live forever to be able to do this. When I am hurt personally and deeply, or when someone close to me is hurt, it is easier to be angry than move into a place of understanding. Rage (but what I like to think of as passion) is always at the surface ready to come out. This is how I am wired. However, as I have grown and learned more about myself, I move through this anger and have learned how this emotion can be a catalyst for love, change, and redemption.

Our emotions are valid and important indicators of what we are experiencing around us, but they do not define our identity. I have to separate the outcomes of circumstances and the emotions I experience from these outcomes from who I am at my core. I have to separate how someone made me feel from their own identity as well.

Who I am at my core and who they are at their core is not defined by this circumstance and the outcome of it. Each of us is worthy right now. (Something I have to tell myself MANY times when shame and anger seem to be surrounding me on all sides).