Have you seen the film Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself yet? If not, I highly encourage you to find some time to watch it.
You may be thinking, why is a psychologist recommending that I watch more TV?
You’re right, that’s sort of unusual, but this documentary/recording of a brilliant live show completely blew me away. It’s part magic show, part live theater, and part meditation on human identity. It’s unique and moving, and fills in that gaping hole we all have right now for human intimacy in a room with strangers.
Right before the show starts, each audience member was asked to select a card that has an identifier on it. The identities range from “teacher” to “single mom”, “a good time” to “mystic.” One of my favorite moments in the show was when one of these random identities in the audience was asked to come up, pick an envelope from Derek, and read the letter out loud. The letter, it turns out, was from a friend or a loved one. As you can imagine, most people who were asked up on stage broke down reading such a surprising, lovely letter. It was in their loved one’s handwriting, signed with inside jokes, and was clearly very unexpected. They were in complete awe. They were also transformed before the audience’s eyes. They went from just being one identity, ”single mom” (that we knew nothing about, except our own assumptions), to being someone with a unique story. The lesson being: When we take time to hear or learn about others, we don’t view them based on the labels they put out there or that we assign. Rather, they’re transformed into something else. Something more familiar.
This film got me thinking more about identity. And how important it is to our own happiness and the happiness of others. Derek is a magician, but in this show his magic is subtle. It isn’t flashy. It isn’t dangerous. And the way Derek carries himself, well, it’s not like the “magician” most of us picture. But that’s the point. We have so many parts to us. Sometimes we let others see it, sometimes we don’t. In Derek’s words this is all a part of “embrac[ing] the illusions of our identity.”
WHY DO WE NEED IDENTITY TO BE HAPPY?
Humans are driven by the need to have an identity. Why is that? Well, your identity acts as a compass. It guides you and indicates how you should behave. It brings you a sense of comfort and stability to know that your actions are in line with your values. Knowing yourself and being confident in your identity will therefore make you a happier being.
But if knowing your identity or even understanding who you are was that easy, you wouldn’t have people like me giving you tips on how to be happier. You’d be unequivocally satisfied with yourself, and never aim to improve, change, or transform. But like all people, you probably have parts of you that you don’t like. Maybe you even fixate on those negative parts. Maybe you’ve been fixating for so long that it has become your entire identity. This can be a problem. You have to learn to tap into different parts of yourself. To find the parts that make you happier and serve you.
Jay Noricks is a psychotherapist and author who developed “Parts Psychology” to help those who suffer from trauma. His teachings can also be used to combat negative personality fixations. The goal of a “Parts Therapist” is to help people tap into the parts of themselves they like or develop the positive parts that are hidden away and waiting to come out. The aim of parts therapy is not to completely get rid of all the negative parts. He says, “If you did not have parts, you would never doubt a course of action. Right or wrong, helpful or harmful, you would follow a narrow path. Thus parts permit you to be a complete human being. All parts, at least at the time they are formed, intend to help you.”
FORMING YOUR IDENTITY IN TODAY’S WORLD
Notice that I say “forming” not “finding”…Although your identity can be shaped by a past that you experienced or an ancestral line that you uncovered, most of your identity is shaped by the choices you make every day. You can choose who you want to be.
In fact, today, the career-driven world might even force you to choose. If you attend business seminars or follow entrepreneurial gurus on social media, you’ve probably heard the question, “What’s your personal brand?” This question may be relevant for a business, but it is not relevant for a person. It is far too limiting. You as a person, are not just one thing. In the same way that the audience members in Derek’s show do not share every aspect of their identity. Today we are told we are supposed to be known for something. But picking a niche for your business doesn’t mean you have to pick a niche for your identity. The second that you stop trying to be just one thing you become a full, complicated, and varied human. One that is capable of enhancing well-being and becoming a happier person because of it.
The less you try to fit yourself, or anyone else for that matter, into a box, the more space you leave for all the things that make you human. All the things that make you happy. Experimentation, chance, novelty, comfort, stability, loyalty, laughter…If you keep yourself in a labeled box, you’ll never get the chance to explore all that there is in yourself and in others. Don’t waste time thinking about what other people are like, take the time to get to know them. Find out what they’re like and stop setting yourself up for disappointment, pain, anger, or confusion…
At the end of the show, Derek says, “True identity exists in one’s own heart and is seen by another.“ You don’t have to show all of yourself to everyone, but you also don’t have to be afraid to be yourself, to be vulnerable. Others will see the good in you, as long as you see the good in yourself.
So every time you meet someone new, every time you get stuck in your own head thinking about yourself, your flaws, your complicated nature…Remind yourself, that you are not perfect, but you are not one dimensional. You are not one label. One brand. One anything…How amazing is it that we can be as infinite as we like?
One final, powerful quote from Derek DelGaudio: “I am not defined just by what you see. I am also defined by all the things you will never see.” Who can argue with such a statement made by a magician!