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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Midlife – Why Label it a Crisis?

Midlife - Why Label it a Crisis?

Is Midlife Crisis an Accurate Label?

Look up midlife in any search engine and the top 10 or more results say Midlife Crisis. Why is that, when all the midlifers like myself are happy, secure and leading productive, full lives? Midlife is a time when we have passed the stage of striving for self improvement and career change, and are confident and happy with ourselves. We know ourselves well and have come to terms with our life choices. To me that’s not a crisis. Definitely not a crisis of identity. We’re not comparing ourselves to the younger generation enviously because we’ve been there. We’ve lived through it, and we don’t want to relive a time of developing our character and climbing the career ladder. Midlifers are already established and are looking ahead to retirement, an empty nest and freedom from a lot of the responsibilities of our younger years.

Midlife - why label it a crisis?  Midlife crisis is an inaccurate label as most midlifers are settled in life and have a strong sense of identity.
Midlife crisis is an inaccurate label as most midlifers are settled in life and have a strong sense of identity

The Labels we Grew Up With

I do not like the term midlife crisis. Come to think of it, I don’t like to label anyone at all. It stems from my youth, when I was labelled a geek, a nerd, a shy girl – all accurate but not fully describing me. I was pigeonholed into this boring person. I brought my sons up with the message that they shouldn’t label themselves because it doesn’t allow them to fully express their identity. That didn’t stop them though, as I will explain later.

Hurtful nicknames hurled at me like gingernut (red hair) probably made me acutely aware of features that I was already insecure of. My self image plummeted in my younger years. There was too much emphasis placed on our appearance in our family. My dad was the worst – pointing out features like one crooked tooth or acne, and making us hate our bodies. He tried to lecture my sister about her outfit one day when she was over 40. He had her in tears with his cutting words. I jumped to her defense and told him he had no right to comment on our looks. No right to even comment on his wife’s looks either. I don’t think he realised how much his comments had affected my sister and I over the years.

The Labels We Identify With As Adults

I’ve never found a label to fully describe me. Star signs are way off, I never fitted into the Catholic school girl mould even though we were brought up with those views. In my nursing training we had a seminar on Myers Briggs. That was the first time I ever came close to having a label that fitted me. My personality is rare – INFJ, and it describes me as introverted. Yep, that’s me. But I’m still much more than that. My new label is Previvor – because I have BRCA2, a genetic mutation that gives me an increased risk of cancer. I can now identify with that group of people who seem to wave the label around with pride.

In the author's view, if children are raised with a strong sense of identity, they will not have a midlife crisis in later life.
Raising Children With a Strong Sense of Identity

Raising Children with a Strong Identity

Being aware of the damage it could cause their self esteem, I tried very hard to bring my sons up with a strong identity. It didn’t always work though as I’m not the only one to influence their self identity. Even though I’ve tried to bring my sons up without the limitations of a label, that approach hasn’t always had the positive outcome that I would have wished for.

I found some old school photos not long ago. The change between one year to the next showed a marked difference in my son. He went from an innocent smiling boy to a sullen sneering pre-teen with black dyed hair and an ear-ring. I was brought to tears because I know that was brought about by my sudden separation from his father. He really struggled with it, and turned his angst into writing lyrics and starting a punk band. That was the start of his writing and his ability to turn his emotions and thoughts into the written word. It eventually had a good outcome but in it’s early days was a reflection of the anger he was feeling.

Parenting a Child Struggling With His Identity

He chose some pretty sketchy friends at that time. I could only sit back and hope he would eventually come to the realisation that these kids were no good. He has always been the type of kid you can’t push in one direction because he’s likely to go the other way. I was very relieved when he decided to go Straight Edge in his teens. They follow a death metal band called Parkway Drive and vow to abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex, so I thought “great, at least he’ll stay away from drugs!”

That stage lasted a while, and his self image improved over the years. His first foray into university was a complete letdown. I was hoping that he would benefit from all that university life has to offer, including the social aspects, but he felt incredibly out of place. The Gold Coast is very “clicky” and it’s hard to fit in unless you have a buff, toned body, are into the beach, surfy lifestyle and the gym. My sons are definitely not that way inclined. They find it hard to fit in here so they both dropped out of uni in their first year. That was so disappointing for me, but I completely understand as it would be hard to enjoy it if they’re constantly alone.

Struggling with Identity as an Adult

They’ve found their own way much easier as they’ve aged, and both identify strongly with the group of friends they now find themselves part of. My urging them to not label themselves worked in some way. They’ve been able to mould themselves into confident adults. My older son is very secure in his identity. Even though he is heavily involved in the music industry, he hasn’t gone down the path of drugs and alcohol and is very staunch on that fact. He’s had a lot of pressure to conform over the years but it hasn’t swayed him at all. His music has taken him all over the world on band tours and he’s very much a part of that community. I’m very proud of the fact that he has such strong self image that he sticks to his principles and doesn’t care what people think.

My younger son still struggles with self doubt at times. He likes to express himself by his clothes and his eclectic music taste but he struggles to pick one path in life for his career. My family growing up was extremely conservative and there was often damnation if you tried to break away from the Catholic nuclear traditional mould. God help us if we turn out gay, get divorced or believe in something other than the Catholic religion.

My dad was praying for us till he died because he was genuinely worried about our chances of making it into heaven. Me, because I’m a lapsed Catholic and divorced, and my son because he’s an atheist. I don’t want to go too much into my views on that because I fully respect everyone’s right to their opinions. I feel sad for my dad that he could not see any other view from his own.

Parenting Children So They Can Express Themselves

Watching my kids grow up into adults with strongly held beliefs and ability to verbalise those beliefs and express themselves has been a wonderful gift to me. I wanted them to grow up into adults with their own beliefs. I didn’t feel it was my place to impose my beliefs on to them and condemn them if theirs’ were different to mine. Who am I to say my beliefs are right? I don’t want my sons to become mini-me’s!

I do think it’s a shame that my son felt he had to move out to be able to express his sexuality freely. I’ve been waiting for the big “coming out” talk to happen for years but it never has. I think he’s still trying to figure it all out but he couldn’t do that while living here. It’s not my opinion that made him feel like that. My husband did not vote “Yes” in the vote for gays’ rights to be married. Obviously for someone who may identify as gay or bi, that would upset them even if there’s no outward animosity towards them.

Time will tell, as my son will declare himself soon enough. We’ve talked around the issue many times but I don’t think he really knows the answer. He’s still trying to work it all out himself. My extended family is not very open-minded on this issue. It would be hard to fit into my family unless you’re straight.

Midlife is a time when we are secure about our identity

Midlife - Why label it a crisis when most midlifers are settled in life, no longer care what anyone else thinks and enjoy multiple freedoms not available to younger people.
Midlife – Why label it a crisis when most midlifers are settled in life, no longer care what anyone else thinks and enjoy multiple freedoms not available to younger people.

We are all individuals but we like to identify with others as a way of finding community. Our sense of self is increased when we find like-minded members of our group. It strengthens our sense of self worth because we’re having reflected back at us the validity of our values and beliefs. It’s character building in one way, as long as we don’t lose part of ourselves in order to conform to other peoples expectations of us. Our self esteem should be strong enough that we don’t care what other people think.

A person’s midlife “crisis” is probably brought about by them finally getting to the stage in their life when they no longer care what other people think. They’re sick of living a way that keeps other people happy. They finally want to be and do what they’ve known in their hearts is right for them. It happens in midlife because we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as our children are leaving home. We’re more financially secure and we’ve probably got as far as we can in our careers.

Hope For The Next Generation

I just think “crisis” is the wrong word to use. It’s too negative and doesn’t express the positives that can come out of midlifers finally expressing their true selves. I sincerely hope that the next generation can break out of the barriers that were built in front of our generation. Hopefully they won’t need a midlife crisis to be able to express their identity.

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