It’s Okay to Have Multiple Identities
You’ll be happier if you stop trying to be one person and accept your own complexity
If you’ve ever felt exhausted trying to live up to the expectations of a certain role — the good son, the sister who steps in to save the day, the guy who can be relied on at work — you know what it’s like to have an identity crisis, the feeling that the persona you’re inhabiting is different from who you really are.
It’s an understandable feeling, but it’s also a misguided one. If you’re in a crisis about who you really are, it’s likely because you haven’t accepted that you are actually multiple people. Your roles as a partner, a coworker, and a daughter or son are all very different, but trying to reconcile these characters is pointless. You can’t, and you shouldn’t try.
Having multiple role-identities gives us a sense of meaning, reduces marital stress, and helps combat feelings of social isolation.
Having a broad identity spectrum is healthy. The dilemma arises when we try to embody our multiple identities simultaneously.
“Identity negotiation,” a theory first outlined by sociologist Erving Goffman in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, is the idea that each of our relationships is built on a sort of mutually agreed-upon, identity-based code of conduct. This defining of who’s who in the relationship reduces friction, minimizes conflict, and sets expectations about how each person will behave with each other one.
It’s normal for identity negotiation to yield different outcomes in different relationships. In fact, it’s ideal. Research suggests that having multiple role-identities gives us a sense of meaning, reduces marital stress, and helps combat feelings of social isolation.
But when we try to force all those disparate roles into one cohesive identity, we create unnecessary stress. It’s an attempt to do the impossible. In order to truly be happy, we must embrace the fact that we have multiple identities and learn to manage them properly by seamlessly transitioning from one role to another.
You don’t need to play the same…