The Roles We Have Help Form Our Self Identity

The Roles We Have Help Define Our Self Image

Our self identity is what defines us

Our self identity is what defines us.  Self identity is formed in childhood, largely by our parents.  It develops over time, much of it stemming from the roles we take on.  These roles may be chosen by ourselves, or inflicted on us by chance.  The roles we identify with most strongly are what makes us who we are, and form our self identity. My roles as a nurse, mother and wife are the ones I identify with the most.

One of my roles – My 30 years as a Registered Nurse

This month marks 30 years since I graduated as a Registered Nurse.  I was one of the last hospital trained nurses to graduate from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane.  Nursing has been an incredibly rewarding career, and it forms a large part of my self identity.

On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse
On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse

My nursing career has taken me to the Northern Territory where I spent a year in a tiny 10 bed remote hospital.  We did everything there – Accident and Emergency, Theatre, and nursing paediatrics and adults.  I even assisted the midwives deliver babies which was amazing.  We had our own plane and pilot so we did retrievals to remote outback areas, and down to Alice Springs.

Most of my career has been in surgical nursing in hospitals.  I did a stint in palliative care but got really burnt out – I’m not cut out for that kind of nursing and really admire those that are.  It’s a rewarding job but incredibly taxing on your body, especially the type of nursing I do.

Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.  My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.
Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.
My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.

What happens when a role that we identify with, disappears one day?

I’ve been unable to return to work for over three months, since my bilateral mastectomies.  Because of the demanding nature of my job, I can’t return to work until I’m able to perform CPR and all the requirements of working as a nurse.  While I’m glad I’m not pushed back to work before I’m ready, I’m finding it incredibly hard to wait patiently while my body heals.

Because I haemorrhaged the day after my mastectomies, I still have residual swelling and pain on the left side.  Even a small amount of activity like light housework and shopping, causes more pain and swelling.  There’s no way to tell how long it will be like this.  

Missing my role as a nurse

I was expecting to be able to return to week six weeks after my surgery.  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know I’d be off this long as I would have seriously considered delaying the surgery.  That delay could have been detrimental to my well-being as my chances of getting breast cancer were so high.

I’m able to fill my days with other activities like writing (thank God for my blog!), and cooking, but I miss working.  Nursing is so much a part of me – a strong aspect of my identity – it feels like part of me is missing.  Nursing is such a fulfilling career.  There’s nothing better than being able to make someone more comfortable, and assist them to heal. 

I miss my colleagues too.  Nurses have a real camaraderie.  We can laugh and cry together, knowing that our job will make us feel so many emotions, usually all in one shift.  I know there are many healthcare workers working incredibly hard under stressful conditions at the moment because of all the extra precautions we have to take due to Covid-19.  To be stuck on the sidelines while my colleagues are struggling is frustrating.  I just want to help out!

Over the last few years my health has taken several blows and I’ve struggled with the workload and shiftwork.  Physically I’m struggling to cope with the demands of my job, but I still feel I have a lot left to give.  I really don’t know what the future holds but I know if I can’t return to work as a nurse in some capacity I will really miss it.

The roles we identify with may be learned from our parents

I’ve written about identity in the past, and I feel my strongest roles that I identify with are being a mother and a nurse.  This month also marks 28 years since I became a mother.  Being a mother has been incredibly rewarding.  I had a strong role model in my own mum, and I have tried to emulate her.  There is no way anyone could come up to her standard!  Our mothering styles differed somewhat – she was a stay at home mum for one thing.  I don’t know if she would have approved of me working throughout my kids’ lives (apart from 4 months’ maternity leave for each of them).  She passed away before she became a grandmother.

My husband and I will soon be empty nesters because my son is finally moving out!  I loved having them live at home but they’re well and truly old enough to spread their wings.  Because I left home for good at 19 so it’s extraordinary that my sons lived at home till they were 24 and 28.  I must have made it too easy for them!

My sons and I in 1997, Alice Springs.  Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.
My sons and I in 1997. Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.

Merging two families can cause conflict

My husband came into our lives when my sons were in their late teens.  He doesn’t have kids of his own.  He took the right approach and didn’t try to be their father, which wouldn’t have gone down well at all.  We’ve all lived together for about 6 ½ years so it’ll be nice for the two of us to finally have the house to ourselves.  We’re looking forward to it.

My husband and I on our wedding day, 2014.  Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.
My husband and I on our wedding day in 2014. Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.

Merging two families didn’t go smoothly all the time.  My parenting style was different to my in-laws’ parenting style. I was used to being independent and not having family around to help out.  My kids were very independent as well.  Phil’s family live 5 minutes from each other and spend a lot of time together.  I can go months without seeing my family (especially with the border closures at the moment) but Phil sees or speaks to his family nearly every day.

There have been rocky patches, particularly between his mother and I.  She couldn’t understand what I was going through when I was grieving my dad.  My husband was working away for days at a time, week after week and it was very hard.  I had a fall out with her that lasted a couple of years.

I sensed real concern for me this year when I was going through my surgeries, and that has helped smooth things over between us.  I’m so glad we’ve been able to patch things up because it put a strain on the whole family.  We’re having them over for Father’s Day brunch which will be the first time in a few years that they all come here.  

My relationship with the rest of his family has been much better. I gained his parents, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew when I married my husband. I’m so happy to have a close bond with them because I no longer have my parents and sister, and I don’t see my brothers and nephews much (especially since the border closed between my state and theirs).

When one of our roles disappears, our self identity suffers

Mother, daughter, nurse, wife, sister, auntie, friend – many of my roles in life, and a strong part of my identity.  These roles have shaped who I am and when one of the roles is absent, I feel lost.  I’m able to compensate by spending more time in the other roles.  It’s been lovely having more time to spend with my loved ones, and not be constantly tired from shift work. The challenge now is to accept that I am still me, even though I’m not working at the moment. I can channel my desire to help people into this blog, and still feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.

My role as a mother is changing with my sons leaving home. I’m still their mother though! That will never change. I’ve done my part – they’re fully functioning adults. Now I can enjoy my role as a wife more. We’ll have more quality time to spend together without the distraction of young people around. It’s something I look forward to, as I want to grow old together with my husband.

The roles we have help form our identity. When one of those roles disappears or changes, it can affect our self identity. We can compensate by spending more time on our other roles, and adjusting the way we think of ourselves.

My sons and I in 2001,  Auckland New Zealand.  My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.
My sons and I in 2001. My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.

What roles do you identify with?  If one role disappeared, would you feel like part of you was missing?

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shared at this link-up party
Shared at this link-up party – https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/self-care-stories-5-gratitude-34-51-lifethisweek-68-2020/

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15 Comments

  1. Hi Christina – I found this to be a big issue for me when I suddenly stopped work last year. I’ve worked consistently for 40 years, so it was a real upheaval for me and my immediate thoughts were to find a new job asap – I’m sooooo glad that didn’t happen. I needed time to heal and care for myself, and in the process I’ve found that my work persona is no longer as vital as I assumed. I think I’ll always need to have outside interests, but I can find those without wearing myself down to the bone. Maybe if you can’t return to nursing in the capacity you’d like to, you could use those skills in a different area – you’d have so many other roles open to you with your skillset.

    And congrats on the empty nest – I love that our kids moved out, found their independence and thrived – it gave us permission to start to enjoy our marriage and space on our own terms again – life is very cruisy with just two people to think about each day!

    1. Hi Leanne, this break away from my job has definitely made me reevaluate my needs and priorities. I don’t miss how much that job grinds me down – it’s such heavy work and the constant shift work is exhausting. When I do go back (which won’t be for a while) I’ll probably drop my hours significantly. I realised I can survive on much less income. I’ve been looking for a different job for a long time but was put off by the fact they’re either full-time or casual, but I think a casual role would suit me, maybe in a doctor’s office. Sometimes we need a huge wake-up call and that’s what this has been for me. Yes, I’m looking forward to the empty nest. A couple of years ago I thought I wouldn’t cope, that I’d be lonely, but now I don’t think that at all. My husband’s done so well to put up with 2 messy noisy young men that aren’t his own, and it’ll be lovely to just be the two of us. Thanks so much for your comment, regards Christina

  2. Christina – We are so defined by our roles aren’t we? You’ve made me think about what roles shaped me. I had a rocky childhood and have been writing recently (only for myself) – about my ‘other mothers’. I did not have a mother I wanted to emulate and went looking for other role models who would support and nurture me. Luckily I found some amazing women who remained a part of my life well into their 90’s. Yes, I am a mother and a wife – even though my work roles have shifted significantly – but most of all I identify myself as a resilient, independent woman living a life that meets my needs. Sometimes that makes me feel selfish – but I couldn’t be the support I am to others if I can’t be true to myself.

    I had no idea you have been living this journey. I have loved having an empty nest – even though I adore my daughters and love spending time with them. My hope for you is that this will also be a fulfilling time for you and it may put other aspects of your life into perspective.Take care. Helen

    1. Hi Helen, thank you for your comment. I am so pleased you found other women to be role models for you. Mum passed away when I was 24 and I never felt any other mother-figure could compare to her. That’s been difficult. I have had two mother-in-laws and a step mother and have had issues with all of them, possibly because they could never compare to my own mother. I love how you identify yourself as a resilient, independent woman – good on you for being true to yourself. Living up to other peoples’ expectations just leads to an unhappy life I’ve found. I’m looking forward to the next stage of my life which I’m sure will be very fulfilling. Regards, Christina

  3. Thanks for sharing so much of your story with us here, it was a great read.

    I’ve always felt comfortable moving in and out of the roles of my life, those expected of me and those I chose for myself. That said, the roles I play within my family and the expectations there were interesting to navigate. But I have to say, that choosing not to step into the role of Mother has been a defining moment of my life so far. that was challenging in so many unexpected ways. But now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    1. Hi Suger, thanks so much for your comment. Some people have no problem staying true to themselves – I envy those that can. Deciding not to have children is a big one, but I admire you for sticking to your guns on that one. One of my nieces decided at a young age not to have kids but she’s had a lot of pressure from other people. I tell her not to listen to other people because that’s definitely something you shouldn’t do just to please others. As I’ve aged I’ve found it much easier to live my life my way, and not do things just to make other people happy. Regards, Christina

  4. Gosh I really identified with so much of this. I hope you continue to transition into what is next for you…and that you and hubby thrive. We have, as a couple, now but it has taken a while to get into a rhythm of life as full time retirees and no more work or family responsibilities.

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek and next week the optional prompt is 35/51 Share Your Snaps #7 31.8.2020 and I hope to see you there too. Denyse.

    1. Hi Denyse, I’m glad it resonated with you. I’ve found it very helpful to read other peoples’ accounts of how they transitioned to retirement and empty nest. I think my husband will have a much harder time than me when he retires as he is such a work horse! I’ll be ready way before him! Regards Christina

  5. Thank you for a lovely post! I find identity fascinating and how not just the loss or change of roles but also uncertainty can impact our identities. This had a big impact for me when I suddenly ‘woke up’ one day and realised that my whole identity revolved around my job especially a job that wasn’t me anymore. I did a lot of work on myself which included understanding what my true values and priorities in life were. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least! Thank you for helping me also check in that I’m still following my values 🙂

    1. Hi Anne, thank you for your lovely comment. My previous job was like that – there was a lot about it that went against my values. I quit partly because I felt like it was making me into a different person I wanted to be. I think we can be really unhappy when we’re not living true to ourselves and I’m glad I worked that out. Regards, Christina

  6. Hi Christina, I think you’re spot on about our roles in life and how they make us who we are. I’ve been through several very diverse careers, two marriages, raising kids and a step-son (we learned to let each parent deal with their own kids!), losing a spouse, relocation…and all of these experiences form who I am as a person. Your thoughts gave me a new perspective on this, so thank you.

    1. Hi Candi, thanks so much for your feedback. Merging families definitely can be challenging but it sounds like you managed it well. Dealing with our own kids is a great way to do it and thankfully my husband never tried to discipline my sons – it wouldn’t have gone down too well! You’re right – having a life rich with experiences (whether good or bad) forms who we are. Even though my life’s had plenty of ups and downs I wouldn’t have it any other way. Regards Christina

  7. Hi Christina, your story is so interesting and I’ve enjoyed reading more about your family life and what has defined you over the years. Being a mother and now a grandmother is a great stage for me at the moment but living so far away from my daughters (within Australia and overseas) has been hard, especially when they’e become mothers themselves. We are in touch most days though. I’m glad you and your MIL have managed to come together, you would have appreciated the support while you were recovering. Being an empty nest brings new challenges but I’m sure you’ll work your way through them with the fortitude you’ve shown in other areas of your life.Shared for #mlstl

  8. Hi Debbie, thank you for your kind words. I really feel for grandparents who are cut off from their kids and grandchildren at the moment. It must be so hard. I’m glad my sons will be close. I look forward to grandkids one day but my sons aren’t in any hurry! I’ve realised that family is more important than anything, and if it means me “sucking it up” just to bring about peace, it’s worth it! Regards Christina

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