It’s tempting to believe in the social identity: the roles we perform, the personas we embody, at work, with friends, amongst family gatherings. Over the years we become so caught up perfecting these roles that we forget they’re fabrications, based on exaggerating our “winning” traits—our knowledge, sophistication, skills, achievements, etc—while concealing what believe be our weaknesses—inexperience, confusion, disappointments, loneliness and so on.
We establish our roles to win visibility to others, so they can provide us with approval, pleasure and comfort. Unfortunately, the hunger is unquenchable: we’re filling an emptiness, experienced as internal discomfort, that’s produced by our own feelings, attitudes, perceptions. The lack was established by all that we’ve abandoned to gain attention, and each subsequent abandonment creates even greater appetites.
As our identities are forged by insatiable thirst, we cling to them and protect them fiercely. We worry about being judged, as if other people’s views can deprive us of happiness, and are concerned about reputations that don’t even exist. What other people think about us attains crucial import, obscuring all that we really have in life.
And so we struggle if we forget, or perhaps never even learn, that identities are meant to be fluid and detachable. It’s only when we’re liberated from protecting the these social identities—forged by loss—that we can begin to reclaim what we’ve discarded and suppressed. We step outside the illusion that stability can be attained from others, and learn to address these internal needs with compassion. And amongst others we put down the masks and inhabit the fulness of all that we are and experience.