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Let Go of Unhelpful Self Identification with Mindfulness

Identification in this context is when you feel deeply interconnected with something and it can be a real problem. Here are some sentences that you may say to yourself when you’re in a state of identification:

  • I’m sad.

  • I’m happy.

  • I’m stressed.

  • I’ve been hit (for example, when you’re in a car accident).

  • I’m useless.

  • I’m brilliant.

All these statements imply that you are that thing, whether it’s a feeling, a group, a philosophy, a state of mind, a judgment and so on.

The problem with identification is that you become less flexible because your identity is fixated on one particular idea. Without flexibility, you’re less likely to be able to create a shift or change when necessary. Here are some mindful ways in which you can alter your language to let go of identification for each of the preceding thoughts:

  • I notice a feeling of sadness in my body at the moment.

  • I’m feeling happy at the moment. My body feels light.

  • My shoulders feels tense and my heart’s racing; stress is showing up — hello stress!

  • My car’s been hit . . . not me!

  • I didn’t manage to finish the project on time. I notice some negative thoughts coming up. Let me feel my breathing to help manage myself.

  • I completed that project on time and feel a sense of satisfaction. I’m grateful for the help of those who assisted me.

Identification is usually unhelpful, whether it’s positive or negative:

  • Negative identification is unhelpful because you become fixated on that thought or feeling. You act as if it’s true, thus strengthening the difficulty.

  • Positive identification can be unhelpful too. Imagine your boss thinks he’s brilliant. If you try and tell him that his team is unhappy or that he needs to change something, he probably disagrees, because he believes that whatever he does is perfect and he can’t display any flexibility.

Read the phrases and then complete the sentences as quickly as you can. By doing this written activity, you’re immediately stepping back from the identification as you’re taking the thoughts out of your head and putting them onto a piece of paper. This exercise can lead to a more flexible sense of self.

I am . . .
I am . . .
I am . . .
I am . . .
I am . . .

Now for each state, reduce the level of identification by changing the sentences to:

I feel . . .
I think . . .
My body is . . .
My brain is . . .
I’m aware of . . .

In this way you’re stepping back and letting go of the identification.

By practicing mindfulness, you begin to understand your observer self. Then you’re better able to watch yourself identifying with thoughts and feelings, and so let them go, or make space for them to be there, without clinging on to them.

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