Tag Archives: identity

The MAMA swings

Last fall I took two online classes through the local community college as prerequisites for a graduate program that I eventually decided not to pursue. Along the way, I discovered James Marcia.

Marcia contributes the idea that as someone enters each stage of identity development they tend to move into four alternative statuses: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement.

These four alternatives are connected by the presence or absence of two  characteristics: crisis and commitment. The experience of crisis, to Marcia, involves an individual exploring options as their identity develops. Commitment is the moment the individual decides to invest in one option and integrate it into to their newly resolved identity.

There are four different combinations of crisis and commitment that a person may find themselves experiencing during their development. Identity diffusion is the state of a person who has not explored meaningful alternatives and also has not made an identity commitment. Perhaps, they have been made by others to feel powerless to true exploration and commitment or it may be they are simply content and comfortable. An individual who makes a commitment without exploring options is said to be in identity foreclosure. They’ve confidently ended their journey before they even started, often accepting their received culture and path. Identity moratorium is the state of an individual who has explored meaningful alternatives, but has not yet made a meaningful, lasting commitment.

At the end of a crisis, if the person is to have developed in a new way, they will examine all of the options they have explored during their crisis and commit to the one or few that most define their identity in this new context. This is called identity achievement.

It’s certainly not a passive process. Most current research suggests that major identity shifts occur during late adolescence and early adulthood when individuals are embracing their independence and exploring on their own. In early adulthood there is an emergence of identity that is more vetted and integrated. But the process is never finished.

The final truth that I learned from Marcia, for me, is the most encouraging. He believes that in order to achieve a positive identity, most individuals go through “MAMA” cycles: from moratorium (that is, exploring without a commitment) to achievement (choosing and recommitting to your identity) and then back again. “Marcia agues that the first identity is just that—it should not be viewed as the final product.”

With each relationship, job, community, major world event, or other change in life, we are given the chance to reconsider our beliefs and identity. The MAMA cycles are healthy. That was positive news to me—as a somewhat impulsive explorer—and an affirmation that searching is healthy. We can always decide to return to what we already knew to be true, but knowing that we have explored our options will provide necessary assurance along the way.

I’ve primarily learned about Marcia through the textbook Children by John Santrock (2013). All quotes and paraphrases here are from that work.

Crying Over Spilt Rilke

I’m thankful for the Adam Lauver sharing his thoughts on this Rilke letter and the rest of the collection which I own, but have still not finished. Maybe this is the encouragement I’ve been needing 🙂 I’ve reblogged his post here for anyone else who is interested in a little encouragement today. It’s not an answer to your questions, it’s a new metaphor for your life.

During my first year of college, I struggled a good bit. On the outside, I was effortless: taking upper-level seminars, making friends with the president. But on the inside, I was asking big, fundamental questions about myself and about life. And I was, for the first time, on my own. During this time (as with much of my life since then) I began to reach out for life preservers—little bits that I could cling to for hope and assurance in the “goodness” of the future.

One such bit of wisdom was “Letter 4” from Ranier Maria Rilka written to a young poet. The interim chaplain at the time emailed the piece to me and I will never forget reading it one night while “studying” in the library. I read the words “Live the questions now” and my eyes began to open to a new perspective on life and a new peace I had never previously comprehended. Rilke continues, “Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

The Narratician

“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I recently came across a used copy of Letters to a Young Poet, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. As I was leafing through it in the book store, I noticed that there was…

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Career Dressing Rooms

“Cities have become the career dressing rooms for young adults. They have become the place where people go in their twenties to try on different identities. Then, once they know who they are, they leave.”

The Social Animal, 188-189

7 – 3 – 1: My Journey Through the Enneagram

 “One of the great dangers of transformational work is that the ego attempts to sidestep deep psychological work by leaping into the transcendent too soon. This is because the ego always fancies itself much more ‘advanced’ than it actually is.”
 

The quote above has become one of the defining quotes of my year. To me, it means it’s not enough to talk about practices for healthy life, you have to be willing to submit yourself to a process. You actually have to do the work.

This idea comes from a book about a system of personality types that has, in some ways, become my current practice of self-knowledge and discovery. For those of you who may be worried, it’s more psychological work than spiritual practice. The Enneagram has in no way usurped my Christian faith, but, to the contrary, has led me to a deeper understanding of my personal brand of depravity (in other words, how I personally manifest brokenness) and given me a vocabulary for understanding myself and my behavior. Also, when I talk about the Enneagram, it is through the lens of one book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram. To my knowledge, it’s the most thorough one of its kind.

I almost can’t imagine my life before the Enneagram, the book, and the quote.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Enneagram, it is a vastly complex system for understanding different personalities. Unlike the Myers-Briggs and others, it does not prescribe static labels or obscure beaver-otter-retriever metaphors. It contains nine personality types that have somewhat recently been placed on the ancient nine-point symbol of the Enneagram.

Beyond the nine main types, each type has “wing” personality types of the immediate numbers (e.g. “9 with a 1 or 8 wing”) which does not define their dominant motivators, but is still highly influential in their way of life. Furthermore, each personality type assumes the negative or positive qualities of another personality type when the person is unhealthy or healthy respectively. Thus, a domineering eight becomes more helpful like a two when healthy and more controlling and secretive like a five when unhealthy. So there are nine types, 18 sub-types, and the ability to “catch” you at any stage of development along the way to maturity.

Now, take a deep breath.

When I first learned about the Enneagram I was surrounded by two good friends who also happen to identify as sevens. That’s me! I thought, as one friend read the description of the “busy, fun-loving” personality type I so longed to embody. This seemed to explain why I was always distracting myself by looking for cool articles about my passions, stop motion videos and infographics on the internet and sharing them with my friends. I’m just a scattered seven, afraid of my past and searching for newer, more exciting experiences to assuage my pain.

But then people were like, hold up. I sort of act like my friends that are sevens in social settings, but there are some aspects of my life that don’t match up: My car is organized and vacuumed, I have a LinkedIn, and I talk about adventures way more than I actually go on them. And then it all made sense, you’re a three! With a two wing! You’re “the charmer,” always looking for another way to help someone and improve your image. And at the time this seemed to really fit.

As I started to look at my life, I became painfully aware of the fact that I have spent countless hours crafting an image for myself whether on social network sites, through this blog and in my personal relationships with others. I hated myself because I began to perceive all my pursuits (my hobbies and jobs) as mere image maintenance for my troubled ego. I started beating myself up for caring so much about what other people thought about me and this made me care even more about what other people thought than I had before. All about image and success? I wondered to myself if all my work were just to create a name and a desirable image as the three is prone to do.

Then all the sudden I had this realization: Work? Beating myself up? Passions? None of these tendencies fit either of the two personalities that I had previously considered for myself. Sevens are way too carefree to think that what they’re doing is work (“life’s an adventure!”) and threes are too busy fitting in and receiving awards (of the traditional sort) to really beat themselves up for failing to meet personal standards. Besides, if my desire were to have a good image, I wouldn’t type blog posts longer than 1400 words!

At long last, after about eight months of wrestling with this whole Enneagram idea, I found a personality type that describes me so well it hurts: I am a one.

My girlfriend (also, almost definitely a one) and I laughed our way through the entire section on this type, its tendencies, and our own stories from the past. We would read the first sentence of a paragraph, have an entire conversation, then realize that our conversation was almost identical to the rest of the paragraph we were on. The one is the personality that is essentially trying to prove its worth, its reason for existing. One’s are also impatient, think they know the right way things should be done, and, when healthy, champion reform throughout society.

Who would have guessed it? Probably all of my friends, family, and acquaintances. It’s so obvious now looking back on my time in college. If I wasn’t ranting about the administration I was organizing to get sidewalks built or developing plans for the student composting system. Always. Always. Always looking at what could be fixed/changed rather than what was going well. I also realized that I was sometimes so perfectionistic in my work that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I would give up and do it poorly last minute. Then, I would beat myself up for not living up to my expectations of myself and fall into an emotional tailspin (ones move to fours under stress) and feel like I had lost myself entirely.

Conversely, some of the most difficult moments of growth in my life continue to be the times when I realize I am impatient with someone else’s way of doing things. I also realize now that my personality is to feel self-righteous and to orient myself away from other people in an attempt to feel personally just and good. That is, after all, what my personality is striving to be: good. But since no human can reach their personal standards of perfection, as I gradually mature I find more value in other people’s standards and processes while also transitioning from judgement to discernment. Rather than rely on a good-bad dichotomy to deceive my guilty ego, I develop more internal self-confidence and open myself up to more external disorder. I learn to embrace the grey of life.

Why have I put myself through this process? Because the Enneagram has forced me to examine my behaviors, thoughts and instincts in way that I would have never done otherwise. Furthermore, what I have learned has also been supported by other books I’m reading, most specifically Integrity by Henry Cloud and The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. One of Cloud’s quotes in particular seemed to encapsulate this realization:

“This process is called assimilation and accommodation. Which means someone has graduated past childhood levels of information processing and can adapt to reality and make external reality their own. I will repeat that for emphasis: it is the ability to make external reality one’s own reality.”
 

This sort of maturity does not come easily. We all have delusions, but it is knowing our delusions that will allow us to operate in the complex world effectively and honestly. Also, it is only “deep psychological work” that will force us to remember the parts of our lives that we desire to forget (our weakness and shortcoming) and integrate these into our more realistic and honest identity.

Thanks for making it to the end! You deserve a prize. And that prize should be a copy of the Enneagram book … and friends to share the journey.

As always, and most definitely, more to come.

Opening quote: Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 10.
Second quote: Dallas Willard. Integrity, 135.
 

Therapy and Trauma

I have recently come to the conclusion that life is a combination of therapy and trauma. There are moments in between, of course, but these are often forgotten.

I’m not really thinking of therapy in the strictly medical sense. I think of therapy more as an overcoming of the past. Two months ago I wrote a similar post from a slightly different perspective. At the time, I saw our selves as haunted houses full of fear and stigma. The ghosts, I thought, were the memories of trauma. And the therapy for trauma I described in this way:

“We need to painfully return to embrace ourselves: chaos and all.
We need to walk the halls of this haunted house, to run our hands over dusty railings, to notice what has been broken, and perhaps to even find that our fears were unfounded.”

At the time, I don’t think I really respected the difficulty of therapy. That is, I don’t think I understood how difficult it can be to work through and overcome the past. I also had a shallow understanding of the memories of trauma I carry within myself. Now, I see that embracing ourselves “chaos and all” is a much more difficult and long road, but no less worthwhile.

My next thought is also related to how we form memory and how events in retrospect can become therapeutic while others later seem traumatic. The former are the stories we tell ourselves from the past that help us to understand the kind of person that we are and want to be. The other stories, the stories of trauma, are the stories that we usually ignore or try and laugh about and forget. These are the stories that remind us of who we don’t want to be.

These are the stories we ignore … as well as the people and places with which they are associated.

But they are as intimately “us” as are the stories we enjoy hearing about ourselves. They shape the way we approach every situation. These stories affect the way we interact with other people, perceive authority figures, the opposite sex, peers, coworkers. And since each of us carries different traumatic experiences, each of us will see vastly different activities as therapeutic. For me, baseball was a sport that I was never good at. Struck out in T-ball, put away the bat, gave the pants to a friend’s little brother, and never looked back. So when I threw a baseball with one of my friends the other day, for the first time in about a decade, it was actually a strange sort of therapy.

For someone else, public speaking might be a therapy. For another, going back home is either therapy or trauma depending on how productive we think that it is vs. how much we revert to the person we are trying to forget. We all fear different things in order to protect ourselves, but these fears are usually more internal than we realize: hanging out with the old traumatic stories we love to hate.

As we interact with the past we don’t get rid of it, but, rather we grow to understand it and appreciate it. We also learn more about our negative cycles and can catch ourselves before they set in. Unfortunately, this process never ends, but I imagine it develops over time. I suppose that’s really the goal of these sorts of processes anyways: longevity. The more we’re willing to submit ourselves to life, to therapy, the more we’ll develop and mature. So here’s to long, healthy lives. Here’s to the good and the bad and the perfectly normal in between.

 @Spozbo and the semi-controversial David Deida for leading me to consider the benefits of therapy not as something to fear, but as something integral to healthy human development: life as therapy.
 

Movement and Moment

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been writing my way through a bunch of different thoughts and ideas and the result has basically become the entirety of this blog. At the same time, I’ve also been gradually trying to connect the dots with one underlying theme: that life is all about circulation and significance, the movement as well as the moment.

Since my words don’t always make a lot of sense, I’m constantly trying to find new ways to explain myself and share what I think is interesting about the world: examples of circulation and significance in our daily lives. Most of these places are either what I consider Highways (circulation) or Hallowed Halls (significance). Today, I get to write about a place that embodies both of these characteristics and the tension that exists between the two.

I recently visited the Negro Burial Ground just east of downtown Richmond in Shockoe Valley. My approach to this site was across a VCU parking lot and through a tunnel under Broad St. As you walk through the tunnel, you emerge onto a huge empty field of beautiful grass that was once yet another parking lot in downtown Richmond. In recent years, the asphalt was removed and this area was designated “A Place of Contemplation and Reflection.” I appreciate this area mostly because it’s a complicated place. There aren’t physical buildings that most people would consider “historic,” but what happened on this one piece of ground (the public execution and careless burial of enslaved and free people) is considered enough to make the place significant today. Once a place of fear and violence, it has been restored to the people of Richmond as a place of silence and careful thought.

While I think the site itself is certainly worth visiting, what I really care about is a place located just above the actual burial grounds. From this vantage, you can see that less than 50 yards away from this place of contemplation is Interstate 95 in all of its glory. The cars and tractor trailers fly by on this crazy asphalt slingshot that shoots cars straight through the heart of my city. Like all highways, it’s a totally anonymous no man’s land where you don’t walk, you don’t slow down, and you don’t typically notice the historic burial grounds nearby. When you’re on a highway like this, you don’t care much for where you are because you’re more focussed on where you’re going. That’s essentially the nature of movement.

To get the photo above, I climbed up a little hill to the foot of the Broad St. bridge I had previously walked underneath. For a while, I just sat up on the hill and watched the disinterested movement of the highway next to the contemplative stillness of the old burial ground. I realized that we need both the movement and the moment, but I think sometimes we feel like we have to make a choice: You have to be either ambitious or thoughtful, motivated or lazy. When I experience a place like this, it reminds me that we should be aware of both aspects of life. It also makes me a little more hopeful that my writing is still relevant. What I have learned through writing this blog is still teaching me and making the world a more interesting place.

While I was looking out on the scene, I realized that photos and words are limited media for describing ideas such as movement and moment. So I filmed a brief and simple video (below) that might help to further explain this relationship. It’s much more about the idea than the video itself … and I recommend muting the video sound and listening to Lisbon, OH by Bon Iver while you watch it.

As always, more to come.

P.S.  to Gwarlingo for the movement/moment pairing … it used to be found in their explanation of the meaning of the word Guarlingo which is Welsh for the sound a grandfather clock makes before it strikes on the hour, “the movement before the moment.” Of course, my blog is about the movement and the moment, but I thought it was an interesting side note.

Hayden White on Narrative

I was looking back through The Houses of History the other day and I was struck (once again) by Hayden White’s article “The Fictions of Factual Representation.”

Here are two excerpts:

“Most nineteenth-century historians did not realize that, when it is a matter of trying to deal with past facts, the crucial consideration for him who would represent them faithfully are the notions he brings to his representation of the ways parts relate to the whole which they comprise.
 
They did not realize that the facts do not speak for themselves, but that the historian speaks for them, speaks on their behalf, and fashions the fragments of the past into a whole whose integrity is—in its representation—a purely discursive one.
 
Novelists might be dealing only with imaginary events whereas historians are dealing with real ones, but the process of fusing events, whether imaginary or real, into a comprehensible totality capable of serving as the object of representation, is a poetic process.”
 
“These fragments have to be put together to make a whole of a particular, not a general kind.”