Core Identity

Lesson 43 of Recovery Nation continues explaining urge control. Lesson 44 talks about the role of core identity in making values-based choices rather than emotion-based choices. A couple of paragraphs stood out to me.

“When this structure of boundaries/values is not developed . . . Rather than filtering the behavior through a structured system of checks and balances (e.g. values and boundaries) that will either accept the behavior as healthy and appropriate, or spit it out as unhealthy and destructive…it is processed on an immediate pleasure/pain principle. If it is pleasurable, say, masturbating…then it is processed as something to repeat. And values begin to develop surrounding this pleasurable, yet destructive behavior. If it is processed as painful, it is something to be avoided…and again, the developing value system will reflect this. Honesty is a good example.

When honesty is based on emotions as opposed to values…say, when the decision to be dishonest is made in an attempt to avoid shame, anger, guilt, conflict, etc., dishonesty is then processed as an effective tool in managing your life. When a value-based decision to be honest is made…say, when the decision to be honest is made based purely on the fact that you have chosen to value honesty in your life…it is your values that are processed as an effective tool in managing your life. And, when these decisions are coupled with a positive emotional reaction (e.g. pride, confidence, strength), the desire to repeat them will develop. It’s human nature.”

“In a healthy person, their core identity involves the development of multiple values and boundaries — each of which have been reinforced and refined by experience. In an unhealthy person, such a development has also occurred, except that the values and boundaries that have been developed focus on immediate gratification, rather than long term stability and fulfillment. Their values, to put it bluntly, are immature.”

Exercise 44 says: “For a moment, imagine your life apart from your physical being…apart from your possessions…apart from your friends, your family and every other living being. What you are left with is your core identity. It is who you are. It is this identity that then allows you to relate to your physical self, your friends, your family…”

A. Describe in your recovery thread the role that your core identity will play in helping you to establish/maintain a healthy life.

The first thing that strikes me about this “core identity” concept is my suspicion that many multiethnic people, like me, may have an added complication when developing their core identity as children or adolescents: mixed signals. In my case, for example, I could have incorporated religious values into my identity. As a child I was told to follow the community’s dominant religion’s value system. But, as an adolescent I was told that the religion was bad. Also, I was raised to think I should be Japanese, when real Japanese nationals considered me to be white. Only later in life did I learn that in fact it is possible to be ethnically Japanese, non-white, totally unattached to the Japanese nation, and proudly American, simultaneously. The other big mixed signal I had was the teaching that me becoming an adult man would be a hurtful thing for my mother. This contradicted the fact that becoming an adult man was, in fact, my most important dream.

Since D-day, I have worked to create a new relationship with religion. I have realized that mixed signals about ethnicity could have played a role in my immature core identity, though I had reconciled those particular mixed signals long before D-day. Most importantly, I am working on sorting out the fact that the important point about “being a man,” is not the difference between a man and a woman or between a straight man and a gay man. Rather, the relevant opposite of “being a man” in this equation is “being a child.”

B. Describe the role that value-based experiences will play in further developing your core identity.

With those mixed signals sorted — especially the one about growing up, rather than behaving like a child — the new values fit quite nicely: gratitude, honesty, and maturity.

C. Take some time to examine the current state of your core identity. How in tune with it are you? When you engage in activity that is destructive, what role does your core identity play in that decision? How is it affected by the consequences of that decision?

I think now I can describe my core identity as: husband, father, adult man, American, Jewish, ethnically mixed, aspiring scholar and teacher, aspiring writer, and aspiring to physical health and fitness. Any destructive behavior that might tempt me would counter each one of those aspects of my identity, beginning with that of husband and father.

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