It seems each of us struggles with something, or maybe a few things, our entire life. And no matter how hard we work to "fix it," we never quite get past it. We work and we work and we work, and still it's the thing that trips us up. Every time. For me, that thing is identity. My identity is constantly shifting and changing. I've never been confident in who I am, or I have but it's only lasted a few hours at best. I'm constantly second guessing myself, worried that I'm not who I think I am, and convinced I'll never be who I want to be.
People always say, "Don't pay attention to your feelings. They're not reliable." I used to get so upset by this statement. Not that I let feelings guide me necessarily, but I think they're important to notice and pay attention to. I tend to think there's a reason you're feeling what you're feeling. Don't act on them, but observe them, sit with them, see what they're trying to tell you. Anyway, it wasn't until I went through the enneagram that I learned why.
I'm a type 4 on the enneagram. To quote the enneagram directly, "Fours base their identity on their inner feeling states ("I am what I feel"), so they tend to check in on their feelings more than other types. But the one sure thing about feelings is that they always change. This presents a problem. If their identity is based on feelings, and their feelings are always changing, then their identity is always changing." So essentially, what I am hearing when people say feelings aren't reliable is that I'm not reliable. I know it makes no sense, but I cannot separate the two.
If you're not familiar with the enneagram, each type has a basic fear and a basic desire from which they operate. My basic fear? "Of having no identity, no personal significance." And my basic desire? "To find myself and my significance, to create an identity out of my inner experience."
I was blown away when I read that. Everything in my life suddenly made so much sense. I was also angry. How am I supposed to create an identity and not let my feelings determine my identity if that's literally how I operate? I threw my enneagram book on the floor and didn't touch it for 3 months. I didn't want to know the answers; didn't want to do the work.
But like every time God or life is trying to teach you something, eventually you have to give in and learn it, or be miserable trying to outrun it. So I gave in and picked the book back up. That was a year and a half ago. And honestly, I have not learned it. I'm aware of it. And again, I keep trying to "fix it," but I still find myself trying to create my identity out of things that don't sustain; my art, writing, feelings, jobs, the words other people use to define me.
My thoughts sound something like this, "If I write a pretty sentence, people will love me more. That will be my identity. A writer" or "I feel loved, so I am loved" or "I feel lonely, so I'm alone." I still don't know how it feels to know who I am or to know that I have inherent worth just because I'm here.
I have gotten to the place in this particular lesson where I can feel myself placing my identity in things I shouldn't. I've learned my patterns and my tendencies. This is the greatest thing the enneagram has taught me. But I am in the middle of this, and I think on some level I will always be in the middle of this. But that's okay, you know? Sometimes we never conquer our demons completely, we just learn what they are and how to pursue health and joy anyway.
This might sound backwards, but I think I moved to New York City to learn this. To heal from placing my identity in jobs or people or feelings. To learn what my true identity is. It sounds crazy, to come to a city known for its hustle and grind and chasing dream jobs, in order to learn how to rest easy in who I am and not worry so much about what others think, or being known for what I do. But it's what's happening. I'm grateful for the new lessons being thrown my way.
On good days, I can say with confidence that I don't care anymore about being known as a great writer or artist. I don't want to be known for the things I've done, but for the love I gave away. I want to be known for sitting and being with people in their pain. I don't care about accomplishments and accolades. On a good day.
Mostly, I still have bad days where I panic about not being recognized for my accomplishments. And I'm convinced people are just pretending to love me. But if I'm lucky I can get my thoughts under control and remind myself it's just how I feel, it's not who I am.
The same is true for you. It's just how you feel, it's not who you are. Who you are is brave, kind, loved, beautiful. As John Green has said, "Not just capable of being loved, but worthy of it too."