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Who Are You?

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in church, and a guest speaker had brought up the notion of self-identity in his sermon. His subject reminded me of many conversations I had as an outpatient therapist working with teenagers and young adults in which I proposed the following question to them; “Who are you?”. Posing such a question was an interesting exercise for building rapport and it encouraged them to develop a healthy sense of themselves by being mindful of who they were becoming as individuals.

As the guest speaker proposed his argument I thought about how many of us in society can answer his question with complete clarity and without equivocation. Here is my answer, “I am God’s chosen, I am the receiver of God’s undeserved favor, I am a joint heir with Christ, and I have been given full permission to rule over what God has given me stewardship over. I have the gifts of encouragement, leadership, and communication. I am God’s hands and feet on earth-called to impact and influence this world. I am a husband that has been called to provide for, protect, and spiritually cover my wife. I am a father who takes pride in providing for, teaching, coaching, and serving as an example for my son. That is who I am. No more, no less.

Sounds simple, but it is not. I challenge those who have not done so before, to write down who you are. Here is the catch. Your careers and your vocations are not acceptable. You should focus on gifts, talents, and attributes that make up your core that you know define you as a person. Examples are your faith, your relations to others, your drives and your motivations to accomplish “X”. By the way, it is not important what “X” is, as much as the motivation for accomplishing it. Please feel free to post your declaration of who you are to my blog or Facebook page.

How does this relate to mental health? A healthy sense of self identity has everything to do with good mental health. Thoits (2012) explores how self-concept or self-identity is involved in how we process stressful triggers. Her research suggests that when we have healthy self-concepts/self-identities it leads to more effective coping mechanisms and problem solving when our sense of self identity is high. In other words, when you know who you are, you develop blinders that help you bypass distractions when problems do arise. Moreover, you can more effectively handle negative circumstances, problems, and stressors because you have already defined who you are instead of the circumstance, problem, or stressor defining you.

Coming to an understanding of who you are takes time. Often, finding our self-identity is stunted especially in our youth. Over time, we accept others’ assessments of us and allow their opinions of us to infiltrate our thinking, to the point that when asked, “Who are you?”. We just regurgitate what parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and anyone else in our sphere of influence has told us. Although in some situations self-discovery can be delayed to our mid-twenties, it is not necessary to work with a therapist to answer this important question. However, if there are underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, or fear in one’s life that has not been properly processed or dealt with, it may negatively impact how you define yourself.

For example, if there is a failed experience with fatherhood as a teenage dad, it can be hard for that same man, even as a grown adult, to see his self-identity as including being a good father because of his perceived failure during those teenage years. Likewise, some women who have experienced divorce, even after they move on, judge themselves to be undeserving of a fulfilling and loving relationship because they perceive it was their fault the previous marriage failed. Some sons and daughters who have not received the affirmation of their parents, even when the whole world tells them otherwise, have a hard time seeing themselves as successful in life, without such confirmation coming directly from their parents.

Such experiences and circumstances sometimes require professional help to process and come to terms with, in a healthy and proactive way. If you are struggling in this area and feel you may need the help of a professional, please know that True Impact Counseling Services PLLC is here for you. We provide confidential counseling services in a private, no judgement space. Our counseling services take place in an office setting, evening and weekend appointment times are available. Be blessed!

Travis E. Williams M.Ed., LPC, CRC is Lead Counselor and Owner of True Impact Counseling Services, PLLC. Travis is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor. Travis is a solution focused counselor that specializes in men’s issues, couples therapy, and individual therapy. Travis also provides career and vocational counseling. In his spare time Travis enjoys walking in local parks, green way bike rides in Wake and Johnston Counties, and spending quality time with his wife of eighteen years and his son.

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