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Adaptive Identities

Adaptive Identities

Who am I, really?  Who are you?

Good way to go crazy, you might be thinking to yourself about now.

Bear with me for a moment.

Think about how—once you started to think about it at all—the way you think about yourself has changed over the years.

As a teenager, you may have done a lot to impress your peers, whether it was acing the science test, hanging out with the “cool” kids, or getting into a super prestigious college.

Chances are, you look back on moments (or maybe years) of your high school career and hope that no one ever rats you out.

Whether you went on to college, or decided to do something else, those years were (are) also times of change.  Maybe you fell in love and decided to get married. Perhaps you decided on a career.  Maybe you found faith – or lost faith.

As the years go by, we change.

But we also learn how to adjust our behavior according to the situations we find ourselves in.

Maybe we’re loud, uproarious, and inebriated with our friends. Quiet and a little shy with that special someone. Focused and driven at work. We have so many different sides to our characters that sometimes we ourselves get confused about who we really are.

Sometimes that can get us into trouble. How often do you read or see a TV story about someone who turns out to be leading a completely double life?  Say they have a wife in New Jersey…and one in Wisconsin. Or administrative assistants who sell government secrets to foreign powers. Or candidates who tweet naughty photos while running for office?

While the mental mechanisms that allow this to go on aren’t completely understood, it does seem as if we humans have a great capacity for compartmentalizing and rationalizing. We keep a lid on our real selves in one setting, while allowing all kinds of wild things to escape in another.

And that’s not even to mention all the societal expectations that help to shape our identity as a citizen or a community member.  If you’ve ever gotten stopped by the police and ticketed for speeding, you know exactly what I mean: unless you are a professional drag racer, speeding is just not something you want other people to know you are doing (particularly the cops). For roughly the same reasons, you don’t cheat on tests (or on your partner). Even when you do get away with something, it may leave a bitter taste behind.

When those implicit standards are breached, chaos can break out, as it has recently, with an epidemic of hate crimes and online threats.

On the other hand, the standards we set as a society aren’t always fair and just.  Sometimes it’s good to have them challenged the way that a multiracial coalition headed by African-Americans did during the Civil Rights era.  Challenging our societal identity can help all of us.

How do we figure out, given all of our evolutions and shifting identities, who we are at the core? How can we own and celebrate that person?

One thing I think people of faith get right is owning up to the fact that very often, we aren’t our best selves.  Many opportunities exist for confession, owning up, and repentance.  But it isn’t only people of faith who apologize and ask for forgiveness—or we wouldn’t have all those anonymous confessional websites.

We could all stand a frank look in the mirror now and again. Though we may not always like the person who looks back at us, we have a chance, if we are on the earth, to make a new start.

Maybe you’re a person who has done the time and the work to get yourself together, and you’re pretty darn happy with where you are right now. But if you aren’t quite there, ask yourself: what’s the first step you could take (you get to choose whether it’s a big or a small one) towards being the person you want to see when you stumble out of bed in the morning?

Who are you? Who am I?

Finding out could be more exciting than we think.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on identity from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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Evans is a freelance writer, columnist and mother of two young adults. Her work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Religion News Service, LNP Media Inc., the National Catholic Reporter/Global Sisters Report and many other media outlets.

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