Construction of a Self PART 6

Summer Sometimes Clarifies

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

As the summer barreled along, with little time for reflection, the prominence of identity as a cornerstone of personality and action emerged again and again.

Winter is a contained season.  Summertime?   We share the heat, desperate for ways to escape burning up.  It’s a grittier time, when more hangs out, openness prevails, formality suffers.  Seasonal celebrations take us to locations where conventions  differ.  Even modest  travel  exposes us to fresh  scenes and varied lives.  Longer evenings encourage amiable, intimate conversations .

And more old friends turn up – releasing wonderful images  of the past jumbled with glimpses of the changes wrought by decades.

Inner Congruence: Sign of a Solid Core?

And woven throughout the stimulation, I again saw in many of us the ongoing development of a sense of ‘who I am’.  What we identify with, how we define ourselves to others, the appearances that are deliberately altered – these aren’t static.  There may be persistent signs of the artist within, the country club membership, the hands-on trademan, but there are also subtle changes that mark newer comfort with oneself.

Being more at ease with oneself – is this maybe to do with the degree of congruence between the projected identity and the inner being ?

Change Can Remain Comfortable – or Not

I heard friends comparing how they used to think about themselves  and how they do now.

As one said, “I thought I was the kind of person who would work until I dropped .  Now I’m retired, I realize I love the quiet, working in the garden, spending time with grandchildren.  I’m not interested in that old life.”  The external style has shifted:  more casual clothing, little makeup and jewelry, little stress around preparing a lovely simple dinner.  Her actions have changed along with her sense of herself. – a change in both identity and behaviour.

And she seems easy with it.  But she was a congruent person in the ‘before’ life as well – at home with herself in both states.   In neither identity (competent confident career woman, and relaxed  homebody-gardener-granny) did I ever get the sense that she was acting a part and wasn’t ‘comfortable in her own skin’.  Her core self was at home from a much earlier time in her life.

Quite a different order of change is that observed when a person, in senior years, seems to have settled for the first time into comfort with who he or she is.

For decades, a male friend – driven to fulfill his potential for achievement and income – was a particularly tense person in daily life.   Under some slight stress (such as getting up a bit late), his wife and children could become targets of blame in his hurried discomfort.  When he occasionally took a moment to reflect, he’d speak of disappointment in the mistakes he’d made shaping his career.  His identity then  fully that of a successful businessman but he seemed uneasy in himself – a disconnect between his striving identity and the humourous, generous, warm, family-loving person one often glimpsed.

In recent times,  he seems to have acknowledged that he had all the talent and ‘smarts’ needed but that the will to push for an even greater measure of success  just wasn’t Him.  There is an ease, a congruence about him now, in retirement, that only maturity has been able to bring about.  His self-identity better matches his core self.

Ongoing Construction of a Congruent Identity

Many younger people, encountered this summer, seem more at home in themselves then ten years earlier – more settled into a match between identity and core self.  (Indeed, more than did my generation in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, as feminism and new social-sexual morays madly churned up our identity options.)  There are clearly more big ‘identity shaping’ times ahead.  But is it just my wishful thinking that those who are presently congruent – at home with who they are if not necessarily with where they are – will be at ease with themselves as they move into future changes?

Some of the Big Adult Identity Shapers

It takes a while for a newly married person to truly add ‘life partner’ (‘wife’, ‘husband’) to all the other characters residing in herself.  When settling-in as a couple beyond the initial intensity of ‘falling in love’, few move immediately into understanding how the partner expects us to be.  Am I, as a wife, now expected to let him know when I decide to linger with friends after work?  How often can I choose to go away with girlfriends?  A lot of adapting of identity from Single Free-Wheeling Independent Woman to Considerate Wife has to happen.

And then, add ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to the mix.  Such a huge identity shift – can’t measure it!!  A common poignant example :  early on, one forgets, for an instant, that one actually has a child.  The babe may be left behind in the grocery store, and remembered when father is partway home!   It’s not a sign of failure for New Parent.  It’s just that he hasn’t fully integrated Daddy identity.

Break-ups – oh, probably the most painful of identity shifts.  Apart from the big hole that opens in one’s life, there is getting used to not being part of a couple.  Seeing oneself as alone in the world can be shocking – even though in reality one is less alone that one feels.  But such a bereft image – an identity one doesn’t want to resume, even if one was happy as a single before.

Congruence – to be desired

The main point is that it doesn’t seem to stop.  If we grow, we shift in our sense of who we are.  So the big questions that have emerged for me this summer are the same as the old ones…What is needed for these changes to not knock us totally off-balance?   What firms up the identity early enough that we aren’t subject to trying always to be something we’re not?  How do we stay open and flexible and also at ease with who we are?  How do we keep growing and stay solid?

Please send along as Comments any remarks you may have.

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