Identity is Key

There was a survey conducted with a very large number of respondents from all around the world, all of whom had lived long lives which they personally considered to have been happy and fulfilling. When asked their 'secret', the answer the largest number of respondents had in common most often was the importance of knowing yourself.

Knowing yourself means having a strong sense of identity and this also is considered a key indicator for mental health.

Since a sense of identity is such a valuable asset, what does knowing yourself involve?

I will offer a checklist here of ideas that you may want to consider if you wish to improve your sense of identity and reap all of the associated benefits such as;

- Increased trust in yourself -
- Better personal boundaries and relationships with others -
- An ability to make better plans which meet your needs -

First however, I will share with you a slightly embarrassing story about myself regarding identity ...

Many years ago I signed up for a life coaching course at a time when I really couldn't afford it but was at such a low point in my life that I went ahead with it anyway, scratching together the money as I went, and sometimes having to ask my coach to wait to be paid.

We came to a point in the process where he asked me in turn to stand within different circles marked on the floor with a word allocated to each and talk about this area of my life. There was a circle for career, resources, and many other areas, all of which I could speak clearly on for as long as required until I came to the circle marked identity. While standing in this circle my coach asked me to finish the sentence "I am ..." and instantly I froze. I stammered and stuttered and after nearly 5 minutes I spluttered that I was a rope. My coach looked at me and in his beautiful German accent said, "You are a rope?" I felt helpless but shrugged with my hands at my side and tried lamely to explain that I was someone who tried to be there for others (a rope to climb up?) when they needed help.

He said "I think that maybe you need some work in this area of identity?", just relieved to have the pressure off, instantly I agreed.

This was a day I will always remember - a big hole in my character had been exposed; all my life I had worked hard to convince myself and those around me of my worth, while inside I felt empty and in pain. I was working hard to please everyone and meet their expectations with no real idea of what I had to offer or what my own needs truly were.

My coach that day also gave me a question to take home and ponder ... If I lost absolutely everything in my life, what would I still have? It took nearly a week for me to figure out my answer, so I will give you some time to ponder this too and will share the answer I arrived at in my blog post next week. There are no right or wrong answers here so let's see what you arrive at. If you lost absolutely everything in your life what would you still have?

Back to identity, how to improve your sense of it and what it means.

- Do you feel embarrassed by the actions of others? If so ask yourself why? If someone else embarrasses themselves why should this reflect on you?

- Do you know when you need time to be social and when you need time alone? Do you hear your body's signals regarding this and do you know how to communicate with others in a way that you get what you need?

- Do you know how to calm yourself when you are angry and upset so that you don't take your moods and/or dissapointments out on others or 'do a number on yourself'?

- Do you know what you like and do not like and how important it is that you let your own taste be a guide in your choices through life?

This last point does not mean that you need to let any addictions that you may suffer take hold of you or that you should give in to your baser instincts. These desires are usually bio-chemically driven and your chemistry is not you. Quite the opposite. When I say let your tastes lead, maybe you should ask yourself, "Do I like this because it gives me a "high" or do I really just like it?" This can also be true with people. Sometimes we will think that we like someone who praises and flatters us, but if we were to be honest we would have to admit that we just like being praised and flattered and maybe we really don't know or like that person at all?

Also misleading are things we may decide to like because they give us a false sense of identity and belonging. Teenagers will do this with bands that are popular with their peers or sports teams who they support. They will say "I am a ---- supporter", as if this defines who they are. Liking that team may certainly say a lot about a person but I would argue it is not who they are. Our tastes help us understand ourselves better but they do not define us. We are each unique and no two people like all the same things.

Another signal with taste is if you simply follow the likes and dislikes of others or blindly follow fashion. This is a clear sign that perhaps you need to get to know yourself better and learn to feel OK about liking things that may not be to other's taste.

On the other hand if you pride yourself on always being different and this is always just a reaction against someone else's taste, again it is a sign that you may need to listen more closely to your own inner voice. Find the courage to say what it is you really like, which if you were honest will sometimes be the same and sometimes be different to those around you.

In the end it is our talents rather than our tastes that will truly define us.

On this point ...

- Do you feel jealous or envious of other people's success or scared that you will not measure up if compared closely to others? This may be a sign that you do not fully appreciate your own strengths and may not be being honest with yourself about working on your weaknesses. Perhaps you are comparing apples to oranges? There are many online personality tests that might help you get a better idea of where your true strengths and weaknesses lie.

- Are you constantly striving for perfection or the perfect completion of a project through which your worth will be established and your rewards finally materialise? Does the result you hold in your mind seem forever to be slipping further from your reach no matter how diligently you pursue it? If so this is a sign that you have issues of inadequacy that no success in the world will relieve. In reality success and perfection have little to do with each other. Taking time to get to know and like yourself better is the only way you will find the success you crave. Success in reality is much more about who we are than what we do.

- Do you live in an overly spiritualised or fantasy world and fear looking others straight in the face and seeing yourself reflected in their eyes? Do you sometimes feel this internal dream world is somehow more real than your physical existence? Avoiding being present because you fear what others think of you will never truly keep you safe. It is only when you are present and aware that you are able to react and respond in appropriate ways to keep yourself safe. If you relate to this point you may want to work on getting back into your body with some exercise and circuit work or anything that mixes physical activity with the need to be present and respond quickly. As your physical strength and agility grows so will your courage at being present with others.

- Do you complain a lot and share your problems with others and perhaps mope and sulk and make it obvious you are angry or 'not OK', yet resent it when those close to you 'interfere' by trying to help you solve whatever it is you are upset about? This is a sign that you have your identity mixed up with the people around you and need to spend some time taking stock of who you are, what you truly want for yourself and what you can and cannot offer the people you share your life with. If you start taking responsibility for solving your own problems and not taking your moods out on your loved ones, you may find that they stop feeling the need to help solve your problems for you. This in turn will give you more freedom and space to develop and grow into the person you truly want to be. Start keeping a journal and work on your own musical, artistic or creative pursuits or other projects that interest you at your own pace and when it feels right for you.

- Do you feel like a fake who is incapable of truly being loved or connecting with the people around you, who you may also judge and criticise? If so maybe you need to spend some time literally listening to your heart beat and noticing your bodies signals, are you really hungry at meal time? If not don't eat. Do you really have something to share or are you just saying what you think is required of you because of social conditioning, habit or formality? If so try staying quiet instead and only speak and act when your heart truly moves you to.

The points above are ideas of ways in which you may avoid truly meeting and getting to know yourself along with some ideas on how to overcome this. If some of the points above ring true, you may have seen that your sense of identity might not be so solid as you thought?

If so here is a list of some further practical steps you might like to start working on today toward becoming your own best friend.

1. Make a list of foods you regularly eat and think about whether they really make you feel good or not. Many foods such as coffee, wine and refined sugars have been the staple diet of very specific cultures (such as those whose ancestors live in southern Europe) and are not tolerated well by people from other cultures. Alcoholism only exists in a very small percentage of the Italian community (where it has been consumed for centuries) for instance while further north in Russia the rates are much much higher. In indigeneous cultures where alcohol has only very recently been introduced to the culture, alcoholism regularly runs at over 90% of those who drink. If your ancestors were alcoholics or even T-totalers (there may be a good reason for this) alcohol may be something very unsuitable for you to drink simply because of your genetic makeup. In a similar way coffee can cause major anxiety problems in people not historically adapted to drink it.

Therefore, don't stand on modern customs and habits. Look at your diet and be honest about the reactions you have to what you eat and drink and what this is saying about who your truly are. In a similar way people with ancestors from the British Isles may find they need to add oily fish to their diet or take fish oil supplements (or evening primrose capsules) if they want to avoid feeling depressed. This may be because their ancestors ate oily fish as a staple and this is still what their body is adapted to need, particularly if they are not getting adequate sunshine.

As you make changes be gentle on yourself. The Health Recovery Center has a great program for recovering your health if you have had a problem with alcohol or drug addiction. An addiction is a clear sign that your bodies bio-chemistry is out. Don't beat yourself up, just find out what supplements you may require to get back into balance. For myself I need to take a range of Omega 3's every day (fish oil, flax oil and Evening Primrose oil), and not touch alcohol or coffee and avoid sugar. If I do 'fall off the wagon' with any of these, L-gluatmine in water twice a day, lots of vitamin C and 2 mixed protein amino acid capsules with breakfast and lunch take all the cravings away. A chromium supplement daily also helps me with sugar cravings. My body is also not adapted very well to eat wheat and it is estimated that as many as 60% of the population in the west may have this same problem. Fish and vegetables, fresh herbs, brown rice, fresh fruit, nuts and lamb are good choices for me and are usually not that hard to find.

2. Think about what you truly enjoy doing and perhaps what absorbed your interests as a child. Now think if that activity is consuming or is it energising? Does it suck you in and take away from other pleasures in your life (like some computer games and pornography do) or does it bring you into contact with like-minded friends and enrich your life (such as playing music, dancing or swimming)? For some people reading a book will restore their inner balance and health better than a holiday and the time spent alone reading will leave them later feeling content and refreshed and ready to socialise with others. For others a hard game of competitive sport will do exactly the same thing. The important thing to ask yourself is "Do I really enjoy this or is it just something I have been taught to do?" and secondly, "Does this leave me feeling satisfied and more content than when I started or does it leave me feeling empty and wanting more"?

Obviously it is the activities you enjoy and which enrich you that you should make every effort to make a regular part of your life.

3. Do you know when your body is telling you that you need time to yourself? If you decline an invitation you will be much more likely to be invited again than if you accept when you were not in any state to be socialising.

4. Are you present when meeting with others or are you thinking about the past or rushing to the next thing or is your head simply somewhere else? If so learn how to 'ground' yourself and get into your body in present time. Stop your thoughts and try to empty your mind of all preconceived ideas or agendas before you meet with people you want to connect with. See if you can guess what the person you are talking to is feeling and why? Listen to the sounds around you. Take in the smells and be aware of your environment. Greetings such as hugging each other are ways we help each other calm our thoughts and come back into our bodies and be present. If the person you are talking with suddenly looks glazed eyed and 'out to lunch' don't get angry or feel rejected, just reach out and rub or pat them on the back a few times or give them a one or two armed hug. This will help them 'come back' and be with you. For people who are very 'spacey', regular exercise will also help tremendously.

5. Do you know your own boundaries of what is OK and not OK with you and how you defend those boundaries?

- Are you able to politely decide to leave if you become uncomfortable with another's behaviour?

- Do you know how to do this without being judgemental or accusing, or in any other way starting a fight that may only further inconvienience you?

- Do you know how to enlist the help of others and stop someone who may be harassing or abusing you?

- Do you know how to disengage from or change the subject away from conversation topics that don't interest you?

- Are you able to say what activities you will not sexually involve yourself in, without feeling guilty about saying no?

- Are you able to say no about other things that you really don't feel others have the right to ask of you or you do not feel you should be asked to do?

"A fly can't bird but a bird can fly and a fish can't whistle and neither can I" runs part of the song 'Cottleston Pie' from the original tale of Winnie the Pooh. It is one of my favourites. What is right for someone else does not have to be right for you.

Having a clear sense of who you are, what you like and dislike and what your are and are not suited to, will make it easier and more relaxed for you to make the right decisions for yourself and sometimes say "no" without needing to put down the person you are setting the boundary with.

6. Are you free to do things your own way and do you allow others this same freedom? Discussion and negotiation may be time consuming and sometimes even boring but really there is no alternative if you want a happy and productive life. Forcing your agenda or way of doing things on others without allowing time for an agreement to be reached that suits everyone or saying that you are OK with someone else taking the lead without taking the time to really listen and declare your own needs honestly, can only lead to one party being resentful of the decisions that have been made later and will always lead to conflict and relationship breakdowns.

There is always a solution where everyone's needs can be met, it may just take some time and patience to find it. Forcing through your own agenda or settling for compromises where no one is really getting their needs met will in the end actually waste a lot of time and often end up destructive.

So these are some ideas that I have arrived at from an enormous amount of stuying and reading and my own personal soul searching and experience in developing a strong sense of identity. Looking another in the face and truly being able to look to see what they are feeling without being guarded or defensive may not be what we choose to do with everyone, but is in fact what our whole body is 'wired' for. This type of intimacy is when we feel whole and complete. In many ways our brain's circuits are built for this connection and regular, relaxed socialising with people who we love and trust is very beneficial for us on many levels. I believe this is only possible however if we have a strong sense of who we are and are also comfortable with that knowledge.

I hope that you enjoy your journey of self discovery and last but not least please make every effort to be kind to yourself and the people around you. Kindness is in fact top on the list of what both men and women find most attractive in the opposite sex.

Kim Cooper


  1. Great article, Kim! I recently had to be in the same room at a dr. appt for my daughter, with my ex and his wife (who regularly emo/verb abuse and dominate us both). When accused of untruths, I felt myself spinning and then, I blew up (I have been enduring this and watching my teenage daughter suffer for over 15 years). Of course, his wife (an attorney) said I was "out of control." She was right. Even though they are abusive, they come off looking more emotionally "together." Becoming confident with who you are, your "truths," and your self worth is so difficult, especially after so many years of suffering abuse. So, these articles are a great start - but more important, your reminder of practicing these techniques is crucial. I am so full of anger, hurt and resentment that these people push a button and I explode. I cannot control my emotions. This doesn't help me or my kid in or out of the courtroom and it actually gives the abusers the "upper hand." I will continue to read and practice - practice, practice, practice. Thank you for your support and help for those of us who have felt crazy from abuse/narcissism (a sick, twisted form of "communication") feel understood and hopeful. This pattern is so sinister, misunderstood, unrecognized and so damaging. Thank God more people are "coming out" to share and heal!

  2. omg.. I have SO much work to do!

    Thank you Kim!

  3. Hang in there Lisa - you've got it in one!
    It does take practice and also learning to shut your mouth until you have completely calmed down sometimes is your only safe bet. As you get better at calming down more quickly - with our self soothing techniques - being able to use the right come back line will come in time (-:


  4. Listen, Yes, you will develop a strong self identity... to survive a person with whom you have had a child, supposedly together, who just lies and says things TO SEE WHAT REACTION THEY GET OUT OF YOU. They don't care about consequences, just reactions. They are living moment to moment and that is why they must hook up and bind, via having children, with a person of consequence. A woman who actually bears and births and nurtures the child, a woman who cares, a woman who has a feeling or a thought. And that leaves them free to stick their voo doo doll full of needles. Constant torture pricks, just to see what happens. Of course you will become a very self contained person. But why bother when life is about sharing and living and loving. We are human, after all.

  5. Hi anonymous,

    I can hear your hurt but wonder if you have really understood our message? We are not about becoming self contained while allowing the abuse to continue. Our message is about 100% zero tolerance for abusve behavior.

    For more information please subscribe to our website and please take care,

    Kim Cooper

  6. Hi Kim and Steve, for a long time I was made to belive that because some element of my life was not "perfect" it was criticisable. I was living in a world where all of my energy went to defending myself. I honestly believe that narcissists are people who develop their personalities around either defence of self, or projection of a false self. I have found that instead of joining in this bizarre mental rugby game, there must be a solution which involves peace and truth. I don't want to be a referee. So the first thing I have been doing is stating my right to be "imperfect" and then continue on with my program. I am not going to police that nonsence, I am going to live my humanity. The truth seems to work in an amazing way. It is also cleaner for me to think about what is true, rather than trying to order chaos. Because... no matter how much I figured things out, confusion always got created somehow. Master of the fog, I have become a light beam. Master of the silent stare, I have become a musical echo, Master of deceit, I will never lie to myself again. Kim, edit away, I resoect and honor you and Steve, I will manage too, Jen

  7. This blog was so important for me to read today. I have been with my boyfriend for over a year. It's been so challenging. He's so negative all the time, and I absorb his emotions. I felt confused so often when I'm with him, I never know what he is going to say or do. His behavior is much akin to that of a narcissist. I have co-dependent tendancies too. Anyway, we fight so often it's silly that we stay together, really. Neither one of us want to give up, I suppose. I love him and am always concerned about him. He's pretty self destructive, not with drugs, just not working ro taking care of his responsibilities. I really don't know what he thinks. We lived together for awhile, whithout getting to know each other very well, in fact one day he just stayed. We didn't talk about it, and as I look over our relationship, we just did what he wanted all the time. This past weekend he stood me up for 2 dates. Didn't call, didn't call me for 2 days after either. The silent treatment. I know he just wanted his space, but he's so rude about it. When I did finally talk to him, he was rude and distant. Now I know he wants time to himself, but this is beyond that. My history is a good indicator, I'm sure I have things to work on, but I have one ex husband and last ex boyfriend that I'm still on good terms with. I used to act like a child when I was in my teens and early twenties, but I stopped that nonsense when I got married at 29. I'm 44, and last night I acted like the most rediculous child after I let him push my buttons. He knows me well enough to know what is painful for me, why would someone do that on purpose? Because they are in pain, and quite frankly he needs to be "parented" as you put it, and I have the Gap work workbooks. I'm a single Mom with a 10 year old son (not this bf's child) we were not married, although I would like our relationship to work, but at the bare minimum I would like to be able not to act like a barbarian in the face of confilct that is so emotional. He's subtly abusive, emotional abuse I think it is. Then I cannot control my anger! It wasn't always like this. He has worn me down over this last year, plus I have had a number of other issues that I have had to deal with that are VERY challenging. It's embarrassing and like the first comment poster, I know exactly what she means. The only good thing is that I broke up with him and I'm sure he won't try to contact me again, so the cycle should stop here. But I've left him wounded (without a doubt), and my behavior was way less than stellar. Interestingly enough whenever I have to deal with difficult friends, I manage to take the high road, while still lettng them keep their dignity when they act badly. I'm a pretty good difuser without compromising myself. I've worked hard at it, I like to keep my friends. This one person can do a number on me like no one else. I like to solve problems and grow rather than fight over things that don't really matter or talk about it and figure out how to make it better or compromise. I understand that people act badly because they feel badly for some reason, so being understanding helps keep my integrity intact. I love this blog. You guys are amazing. I wish I could have worked more on my relationship, but I can't. I wish I would have been more graceful, but I can only forgive myself and move forward.

  8. Kim, I love your gift of understanding and positivity, and the fact that you give it so freely. I hope the business side is going well - as bills do need to be paid. All the best to you and to Steve. Thank you.

  9. Kim, I am very self aware and have been on my journey of self discovery for some time. However, that hasn't stopped me from allowing an incredible amount of abuse to occur and, honestly, becoming a formidable opponent in my effort to 'defend' myself.

    I do truly know there is nothing to defend. Without you, I don't know if I would have ever learned to accept myself enough to truly not tolerate the abuse rather than continuing to hone my war skills in an effort to simply....survive.

    I am not there yet. But I am so glad I found you.


  10. Kim & Steve, Your hearts and your work has brought immense comfort to a very lost & lonely aussie girl in the uk. You bring Sense & Senses to the secret hope that Love does matter. My NPD partner nearly seduced me into thinking life was material, that turning blind eyes would make life ok. My instincts knew that the intense anxiety was crying out to remember that Love is REAL and kind and does not destroy souls. I hope your work can help parliaments and lead to a Nobel Peace Prize for both of you. You beautiful people. xxxxx

  11. Hi to Everyone and sorry I haven't been back here for awhile. Your encouragement means more than you will ever know and I have some surprizes in store soon - lot's of writing going on here - lots!!!

    Kim Cooper


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