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Monday 7 July 2014

Can I have your Identification, please?

by Stephen B.Chadwick, MA Counselling Psychology.


So I am starting this next post with a familiar quote that everyone hears when they get stopped by the cops and are speeding or run a red light or did some minor infraction. What, you may ask does this have at all to do with counselling and psychotherapy? Wait for it. We’ll get to it.

Okay, Identifications can have a couple of different meanings. Apart from your passport or your driver’s licence, How you identify... how you identify yourself... and what you identify with can have some pretty important meanings. All of us have multiple identifications in this life: father, son, daughter, mother, cousin, grandson, sibling, co-worker, employee, boss, lover, etc., etc. and that’s just for starters.

            Think about this:

When you go to a party or a social gathering, what is usually the first thing that most people ask, apart from your name? You introduce yourself and then your “interlocutor” (my fancy word for the day, meaning the person you are having a conversation with) ... Anyway your interlocutor, says:  “So... what do you do?”

And you immediately, say... “I’m a _________(fill in the blank)”, as if an individual can be reduced to a single word. You can’t. Both male and female, we fulfill multiple roles in our lives.  Shakespeare mentioned this in his monologue from As You Like It where the character of Jaques, in Act II, Scene VII who states that “All the World’s a stage and... one man in his time plays many parts”.

So, identification is important. Perhaps more so for men that for women, because, and here I overgeneralize, because for men, they identify (generally) with who they are and what they do, whereas (generally) women identify with their roles in relation to others. Hence when the average man loses his job, he becomes a blank, a nothing. Like the fill-in-the-blank above. Whereas most women, again, these are overgeneralizations, may not feel the loss nearly as keenly because their identity is not so wrapped up in their job or career. This of course is not true for all women or all men. And any job or career loss is devastating. But perhaps some women (and men) can weather it better when their identity is less dependent upon what they do but rather their relationship to whom they do it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the loss of the relationship can’t also be devastating. Take for example, the play by Tennessee Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer. Granted, there is a song by the Motels from the 80’s about this film. The original had some heavyweights: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn. There is a line in the film where Katherine Hepburn turns to Clift and says: “After all, I’ve buried a husband and a son. I’m a widow and a... Funny there’s no word. Lose your parents and you’re an orphan. Lose your only son and you are... nothing”.

This was a very powerful play but it illustrates the power of identification with what you are and  to whom you relate.


Taken to the other extreme, when you don’t identify with anything you have very little reason for existing... which I will discuss in a moment. Take for example another film, however this is Sci-Fi – Logan’s Run from the seventies. In this futuristic world, everyone is identified as a number – sound eerie already – Logan 5, Jessica 6, etc., etc. simply because real identification, interaction and meaning with other people are simply no longer possible because the world population has exploded and everyone is obliged to give up their life for “renewal” at age 30. Everyone goes around identifying themselves with a super, glow-in-the-dark chip implanted, Jesus-like,stigmata-like, in the palm of their hand. 

So, identification, how and what you identify as in this world is important. Important, so that your life has proverbial meaning and you are not just a number, like in Logan’s Run. But it is also important just how your identification is derived. And as I hinted at earlier, this can be what you do, but also what role you play in relation to others.


Now, you are probably asking why is this identification jazz so important anyway? Well, I’ll tell you. Because often the most difficult conflicts/stressors can come about psychologically AS A RESULT of the discrepancy BETWEEN what you are externally and what you are internally. In other words, what other people say or think you are and what you yourself think you are. In other words how you yourself, define yourself.


Again, you may think to yourself.... “Oh, what is all this malarkey?” “Who cares already?”

So, I will give a real, hard, concrete example. Two, in fact. I will start out with the most obvious one on the individual level and then I will go to the more abstract one on a national level.

Bear with me.

In a film by Pedro Almodovar (1999), called All About My Mother, there is a character called Agrado. Now, bear with me as Almodovar’s characters tend to be a little unusual if not bizarre. In the film, there is a play which is cancelled in a theatre as the main actress is sick. So, Agrado, who happens to be transgendered, offers to entertain the audience who would have otherwise left the theatre, by telling the audience her life story. In it she relates how she had endless amounts of plastic surgery in order to look like how she does and how much money and time it cost. She states that it was all worth it because “now the outside matches the inside” or “you are more authentic, the more you resemble what you have dreamed of”.

The clip is below with subtitles in English
Now, the character is talking about the externalities of what you look like – as a man, as a woman, etc. So, in this case, who are we to judge people who get plastic surgery? Yes, of course it is not “authentic”, but then the internal reality then matches the external reality and then the external identity matches the individual’s internal identity.  Problem solved. No more conflict.


Now, most of the population of this world are not transsexual. But stop and think for a moment. For all the women and girls out there who are looking to resemble something in a magazine. Should we begrudge them? No. They are in fact IDENTIFYING with the models in the magazine. Of course the lack of acceptance of how they actually look as opposed to how they would like to look, is what causes the conflict. You can either help them to accept they way they are or help them to become what they would like to be.

This conflict is even more profound for those who are indeed transgendered and are women inside men’s bodies or vice-versa.

But then, again, in terms of identification, for every man and for every woman, they will become their more authentic self when they either can become what they envision themselves to be and/or accept their external situation in congruence with their internal situation.

So, if you have always wanted to be an astronaut – and IDENTIFIED as one or if you have always wanted to be a ballerina – and IDENTIFIED as one and yet have not achieved the external reality to match the internal reality, then it is possible, perhaps strongly possible, that there will be some conflict or distress or disappointment.

Would it be that you could accept and love yourself as you are, where you are, then things would be okay. However, most people are not in that headspace.

In the next installment, I will talk about how this IDENTITY conflict can have national

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Take Care,

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