For much of my life, I have struggled with the feeling of being “too much” … too many things. I have felt as if there were too many facets to my personality, too many conflicting interests and preferences. My empathy often extends to both sides of an argument, and my opinions constantly change based on my research and discussions. I know no person is static, but I have always fought hard against the gut instinct that I just didn’t “fit” anywhere.
This week as I was reading something written by therapist and Co-Founder of Motherlift, Morgan Myers, LPC, of East Dallas Psychotherapy, something struck a chord with me. Myers believes that each person is a constellation. She says that we “aren’t strictly one thing. We can be any one of the stars in the constellation, depending on the day, the mood, the fact that we’re hungry or tired. It can vary depending on the life stage. All of it is you. If we can view ourselves as constellations, we can loosen the grip on who we think we should be, and just be.”
When I step outside my insecurities, I can see how the stars in my personal constellation work together to create me. I need each star — even if they may be in direct contrast with one another — to create my whole person. So why do I keep fighting to extinguish all but one star?
I believe it’s because we live in a branded world. Identity — a perfectly defined identity — is sold as the key to success. From theme songs and logos to endorsements and catch phrases, we are taught from an early age that people are characters, not complex beings. People in business become the brand, and it is integral to the sell. In that way, I find myself adapting to the various roles in my life by showing each group of people only the most appropriate “star.”
Myers says we do this because we’re all looking for belonging. “We, as a culture, have an unwritten list of what we think is appropriate in our life stages, in our social circles, etc. We’re all trying to measure up, when all we really want is to be acceptable.”
We are accustomed to pigeonholing each other, says Myers, and we do the same disservice to ourselves. “You may say, ‘I’m not the kind of person who’ or ‘I don’t know why I did that; that wasn’t me!’ Well, it’s all you. When you finally accept these parts of yourself, you can free yourself. You can make unconventional choices, be spontaneous and still be fully authentic. It is SO FREEING!”
Myers likes to look at it like this: She says our identities are comprised of our ideal selves (our potential) and our shadow selves (our limitations). These are two equal parts of each person’s identity, but we choose to showcase and highlight the ideal self. “The ideal self is the ‘most appropriate star’ you talked about,” says Myers. “It’s how we want to be perceived; we like this part. We applaud our ideal self on Instagram, and it is something to be celebrated. But it’s not alone.”
The other part, the shadow self, tells us about our limits and is an essential part of our existence. “Parker J. Palmer talks about how we walk a path, and sometimes the way closes or the way opens. Often we blame ourselves when the door closes. Sometimes we think we just need to try harder. This can become shame,” says Myers.
In her own life, Myers has overcome fighting her shadow self and has landed in a place of rest. “I always wanted four kids,” says Myers. “I loved the idea of a big, full house. But when I had my two girls, I was hit with deep postpartum depression. I have slowly come to terms with this ‘way closing,’ and after many years of processing my shame about my limitations, I have begun to own it. Once I owned that ‘star in my constellation,’ I felt freer. I can now embrace what I do have in my family. I can be honest about my limitations. I can even join others who have the same limitation. There’s grief in recognizing my limitations, but there’s also a deeper rest in myself.”
If we’re looking for a deeper rest and acceptance of our own selves, Myers insists that we stop the all-or-nothing thinking. “This kind of thinking boxes us in, telling us we’re only one thing … and, dammit, we’d better live up to that one thing,” she says. Instead, she suggests we combat this thinking with “and” statements:
I can love my family and not want more babies.
I can be an advocate for racial discrimination and enjoy the blessings I do have.
I can be a good friend and make a mistake in the way I communicate with them.
I can love my husband and feel dissatisfied with how I’m treated.
I can have a strong faith and have doubts sometimes.
I can meet my children’s needs and meet my own needs.
I can, I may, I can be …. and, and, and.
Another variation of that is “I may” statements. “Instead of ‘I should’ or ‘I shouldn’t,’ try ‘I may,’ says Myers. “Give yourself at least 2–3 options. ‘I may decide to go out with friends even when I haven’t seen my kids all day, or I may decide to stay home.’ ‘I may go back to school, or I may decide to wait, or I may decide not to go at all.’ It sounds simple, but when you feel limited by your circumstances, your past experiences or your ‘shoulds,’ then ‘I may’ really opens up the world for you.”
Myers reminds us that we can be more than one star, and we can make mistakes. “Your constellation will have some contradictions,” she says. “If you have time, draw a constellation. Now put at least 20 stars on your constellation, each one labeled with a quality you possess, good and not-so-good. Allow for contradictions. You might begin to notice some themes about who you are.”
Through exercises like these we can begin doing the challenging work of discovering our true identities, so that we may bring their light to the world. If we are gentle and honest with ourselves, we unlock — and, better yet, accept — who we are.
Want to read more about how to become a better person? How to give your children a better future? Try our “What I Wish You Knew” series:
“What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son in America”
“What I Wish You Knew: Life For Refugee Mothers”