The Story of Bill
Bill came into my session room, looking and obviously feeling depressed. Making an appointment with me was not his idea, it was his wife’s. His wife had recently declared in her session with me that she had had enough. “I am at my wits end with Bill’s rage and anger. He never talks, he never discusses anything, all he does is snap at me or go off the deep end if ever I confront him. It is like walking on egg shells.” His wife had given him an ultimatum: either he makes an appointment with me or he makes an appointment with a lawyer. He chose me.
I anticipated Bill would be in a vulnerable emotional state in his first session. This turned out to be true as his opening statement showed:
“People have been telling me I am angry for years, and I am coming to realize that I am an angry person,” Bill said to me.
After a short pause, I said to Bill, “So there is a part of you who is angry, Bill.”
This was an unexpected response for Bill. I could see this from the way he paused and looked down at the floor as he took this in. There was a big breath. Then he looked up at me with a noticeable lack of tension in his eyes.
“I guess that means there are other parts of me who are not angry,” he said
“Tell me about those other parts of you, Bill,” I replied…
When people over-identify with an emotion in describing themselves, they talk in absolute emotional terms. Like Bill, they may declare they are angry, or may say, “I am always afraid,” or “I am far too busy.” From their own self-perspective this is just about all of who they are. They forget that there are a myriad of other emotions, feelings and experiences taking place for them not only during their day, but in this very moment of time. If someone over-identifies with a specific part of them, it is highly likely that those close to him will be following suit and will see them as being always angry, always afraid or far too busy. To stand back and declare to yourself there is a part of me who is always afraid, automatically tells you and your world there are other aspects of you who are just as important and who are playing other roles in your life too.
Over-identifying with one specific part, in the way Bill over-identified with his angry part, may have over time become a habit, something ingrained. The part you over-identify with may have formed your identity. It did with Bill. His family identified him solely as an angry man. Likely Bill deserved the identification being the most prominent emotional reaction he displayed around his home. But it could also work in reverse. If Bill believes he is that angry man and this self-perspective dominates over other aspects of his self-image, he may forget that he is also a loving man who cares deeply for those he loves, a hard-working man for whom it is important to provide for his family, a highly creative man who enjoys nothing better than to work on his house to make it more attractive and comfortable. But because Bill over-identifies with the part of him who is angry, and that perspective of himself clouds over these other caring, compassionate, and creative sides of him, he may act out the angry part of him most of the time, because that is the part of himself he identifies with the most.
It may also serve you to over-identify with a part. For example, constantly telling everyone around you that you work too much may be an unconscious way to gain sympathy from others – a subtle way to have people become concerned about you. It may be difficult for you to tell people directly that you are in need, or that you require support, or to be vulnerable enough to tell someone that you need to be cared for. Instead to elicit care and concern you tell everyone you work too hard and that you are exhausted all of the time.
If someone were to point this out you may justifiably deny it. Because you have done it for so long, you are not even aware of doing it.
Do you over-identify with a part of yourself?
Do other people in your life over-identify with this part of yourself too?
Does over-identifying with this part of you influence other people’s perceptions of you?
Does it serve you in any way to over-identify with this part?