SHAPED BY THE CHARACTERS, PLAYED BY YOURSELF: How Others Contribute to Your Identity
By Hailey Hechtman
Twitter: @HaileyHechtman IG: @hailey.hechtman
Hailey Hechtman is a social impact leader, mental health advocate and Executive Director of Causeway Work Centre. She is passionate about inspiring positive change through community collaboration, constant learning and self-reflection. Watch her interview on 'Life Outside the Box' here.
"Whatever your little life looked like, those fragments of time, although often forgotten yet never buried, hold a significant amount of influence over how we show up and bigger than that, in how we see our own reflection. "
Let’s start with something corny like “this is the story of you”, except it is and it isn’t. In reality, this is the story of how we are all shaped by a unique combination of our inner world and our external experiences; moulded, boldened and dimmed by the voices of those who surround us from the first moments to the last. While in some ways this sounds like forces exerting themselves on the identity that comes to light, it is more like the character in a game.
Imagine yourself, starting off a new video game—one where you have no spoilers, no preconceived notions about how the character is supposed to act, be or feel. Now, there may be some built-in qualities, ones that are formed by the context of the environment, ones that are so innate it is like they are scripted before you even press start.
Then, as you step foot into this new bright world, your identity takes form. Some of the traits that you take on are put on you by the story itself. Some you earn as battle scars as you face challenges and overcome obstacles. There may be crossroads where you get to choose what aspects of yourself you want to build up — maybe inspired by brave figures you have come across or deflected by those you do not want to emulate. Some may be pragmatic, traits you choose to embody in order to survive the harshness and unfamiliarity. Others still come from interests, from wanting to show up in a way that makes you feel alive, engaged and powerful. Over time and as you interact with others, foes and friends alike, the story and path becomes more clear to you.
In many ways, this is representative of how we become who we are. It starts in our childhood with our parents or those caregivers who were closest to us. When you think about that little you and how you were carved by those early years, what stands out? Were you encouraged to be more of something and less of something else? Were the expectations set out before you based in seeing your strengths or in fulfilling the dreams, ambitions or assuaging the fears of another? What needs were those in your life trying to fulfil through you? Were they trying to support you to be safe by pointing you in the direction of a path that they felt would promise comfort and security? Were they wanting you to become independent and have freedom by nudging you towards options they saw as impressive, bold and successful? Were there insecurities that were rearing their head, worries that had plagued them throughout their lives that discouraged you from taking a deep dive into a talent that you held with excitement? Perhaps there was an ability to see you, to see what gifts you possessed and with a helping hand, you were guided towards curiosity, creativity and authentic pursuit of your truest capabilities. Whatever your little life looked like, those fragments of time, although often forgotten yet never buried, hold a significant amount of influence over how we show up and bigger than that, in how we see our own reflection.
"The carvings on our identity that are etched through our social connections follow us and amplify when we fall in love. Our romantic entanglements too have such immense capacity to inform our best selves and our darkest internal rejections. When you think about the partners, whether those that were by your side for years or those that spent a lifetime in a moment, how were they integrated into your self image?"
From our first impressions we take these thoughts, these pieces of identity and walk them into the next stage– our relationships with our friends. In the early days, our peers can come into our circles by proximity (hey neighbour!), through common interests (wow, you love insert rocking 90s boyband too?!? Let’s never leave each others side) or through bonds that shift and come together over time. These relationships give us life; these people choose to be around us despite the many classmates, workmates or teammates at their disposal. Friends can influence what we like, our sense of style, our taste in music, what we value most and can either help us evolve or hold us to the past. The exploration that we get to embark on with those trusty friends by our side may give us the courage to become who we want to be and yet equally, depending on the person and how they respond to our changing shape, can be something that sets up patterns that we for long afterwards try to break.
The carvings on our identity that are etched through our social connections follow us and amplify when we fall in love. Our romantic entanglements too have such immense capacity to inform our best selves and our darkest internal rejections. When you think about the partners, whether those that were by your side for years or those that spent a lifetime in a moment, how were they integrated into your self image? Did they sparkle at your strengths and ignore all the rest? Did they encourage you to become an investigator, getting to know the multitudes within you or did they focus on who they wanted you to be and show up as? Did you feel a stronger knowing of you through their uplifting or did you hide behind a mask and minimise your full spectrum to protect yourself from their judgement? For me, one of the most precious gifts in all the world, was the voice that I was so warmly empowered to embody through the love of my partner. He saw something in me, a quietness that lived only out of fear of being too loud, that with a soft home and a kind heart, could turn into a flame of speaking up that I had never known before.
"Throughout our lives, through trial and error, through heartbreak and embrace, we learn the difference and we can choose to embody what serves us and leave behind what doesn’t. An opinion isn't true because it is said and an identity is not made from the outside but from within."
While there are many more secondary players you will have encountered on your journey and there will be infinite more as you tackle the next levels, there are a few key types to be conscious of as you reflect on how the people around you have played a part in your perception of yourself. There is the artist, the one who uses their paint brush to help uncover and add beauty that you were not able to see and highlight the pieces that are only visible when seen through the lens of appreciation. There is the mirror, the one who reflects back at you, the magical and the uncomfortable and is always honest and clear. There is the engineer, who may see you as a project; wanting to fix parts of you that they feel are broken or need fine-tuning. And there is the con, the one who tries to convince you that the goodness is missing, that you are not enough, that you need them or what they have on offer in order to be worthy. Throughout our lives, through trial and error, through heartbreak and embrace, we learn the difference and we can choose to embody what serves us and leave behind what doesn’t. An opinion isn't true because it is said and an identity is not made from the outside but from within.
As you ponder forward on how the people, like chapters, have crossed before you, joined you on adventures and left imprints on how you see the surface and the depths of your identity, consider the following: who has at all costs, worked alongside you, wiped your tears and helped you see the brightness when it all felt dark? Who asked the pointed questions and called you out on your bullshit when you needed that nudge? Who ensured you knew that you were worthy even when you made mistakes and who celebrated your evolution as you came into the being who you are now? Keep track of these ones and leave the voices, the beliefs, the ramblings and the sharp words of those who have sound alarm bells when you grow, when you shine and when you feel grounded in who you are becoming. You are one person and yet you will be many over the course of your lifetime. The game is just beginning regardless of where you are on the path and you get to choose your character over and over again.