Day 477: Identity

In my work as a psychotherapist, I talk to people about their senses of identity and self-worth. Often, those things are intertwined.

People’s identity can include:

  • Family Roles (Parent, Sibling, Son/Daughter)
  • Functional Roles (Caretaker, Breadwinner, etc.)
  • Work-related Roles (Job title, retiree, pre-worker/student)
  • Social Roles (“Life of the party,” “Rebel,” Peacemaker”)

… and more.

I woke up thinking about Identity today because:

  1. For many years, a large part of my identity has been the work I do (notice that I referenced that in my very first sentence in this post).
  2. I am dealing with pneumonia right now, which is necessitating my staying out of work. Therefore,  I have a new and unfamiliar role, which I hesitate to name because of stigmatized words like … “Invalid.”  (I mean, look at THAT word — “invalid”! Isn’t that the very opposite of “valid” or “worthy”?)
  3. Another important part of my identity at work — supervisor/teacher — is about to end, because my wonderful Social Work intern is leaving next week.
  4. Today is my late mother’s birthday, so I am aware of a role that I used to fill — Daughter — that no longer exists.
  5. I’ve been writing blog posts (see here, here , and here) about a new identity — a Super Hero, no less, called “Super Recovery Woman.”

When I talk to people, in my treasured role as psychotherapist, I suggest that they look at the roles and labels they apply to themselves about who they are, as a way of understanding what affects their sense of self-worth.

Often these conversations turn to this very general role:

Human being

Here’s a saying that many people have found helpful:


(I found that image here)

In other words,  basing our sense of worth on what we do can be a problem, since that can fluctuate and change so much, from day to day.

Wouldn’t it be great to feel a sense of self worth just for being?  In other words, wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up in the morning, knowing you are worthy, no matter what you can or cannot do that day?

I would like to ask my readers some questions, at this point in the post: Do people think I am intrinsically less worthy, because I am not working right now?

Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that I am struggling NOT to judge myself and my self-worth, because of this latest role change?

And here’s my last question: If you do NOT judge ME right now, might you still judge yourself, if your roles (or other aspects of your self-identity) were to change?

Here’s another part of my identity that I would like to own, at this point in this post:


As with any other role, there are certain norms and assumptions associated with my role of Blogger.  For the most part, these are norms and assumptions that I have had the luxury to choose and shape myself, since I started filling this role 476 days ago.

For example, Ann the Blogger:

  1. Blogs once a day.
  2. Tries to inform and amuse (if possible).
  3. Writes in the morning, soon after she awakes and before she goes to work (on weekdays).
  4. Includes photos, whenever possible, including those she has taken herself.

I don’t know how many norms of that role I am going to fulfill today. As always, I shall do the best I can, without trying to be perfect, and accepting where I am.

In order to fulfill  Blogging Norm #4, listed above, let’s see if I have any photos to show you that relate to today’s topic.

Hmmm, I believe I do.

These are all photos that relate to my Identity/Role as Observer.  (I hope they fit in with my role as Super Recovery Woman, too.*)

Shall we begin?


I observed this when I went for my dental appointment, last week. That window display is near the Boston Marathon route, and includes appropriate footwear.



This photo also relates to my role as  …. Mother.  Here’s what I want to point out, right now, about that shot:  (1) the thermostat on the wall has starred in a post of its own (see here) and (2) as usual, I did not ask anybody to pose; I merely observed and captured what was within my sight.

The final two images in this post relate to my role as Lover of Creatures (outside and inside):



Okay! I believe I have fulfilled enough roles, well enough, here today.

Thanks to imagination soup. net, to all those who do their best balancing many roles while maintaining a sense of self-worth, and — especially! — to those filling a much-appreciated role, right now: Reader of This Blog.

* I don’t believe that being totally bed- (or sofa-) ridden is good for me and my doctors agree. However, I find it difficult, in each moment, to judge a good-enough balance of rest and fresh air.


Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , | 69 Comments

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69 thoughts on “Day 477: Identity

  1. Excellent post!! I hope you get to feeling better soon.

  2. Having my work life change drastically by somebody else putting me on a layoff list, Ann, had me questioning my worth for quite a lot of days, weeks, months, Ann. During that time of self-evaluation, other important elements stepped up with increased sunshine in my life. New talents emerged.

    I guess to me, today, I have an increased awareness about the peril of pinning your esteem to only one portion of your life, even the most time- and energy-consuming segment.

    And, finally, I want to offer this humble opinion. You will always be your mother’s daughter, Ann. I do not think you will ever lose that important role.

  3. No, I don’t find you less worthy because you aren’t working right now – you are sick and it’s impossible for you to apparently. Am I surprised that you are judging yourself over it? Not at all, I’ve noticed that you seem to have issues with that. Am I judging that you have issues over that? Nope. 🙂

  4. I think often that it is easier not to judge others in roles such as ‘not working’, invalid etc. than ourselves.

    when I left working at the homeless shelter, I struggled with the ‘who am I when I am not actively making a difference in the world’ questions. A lot.

    Who am I became the inspiration for my Year of Making a Difference.

    I like that you recognize how your inner voice is competing with your peace of mind!

    Hugs — recover my friend. You cannot take care of others without giving yourself medicine first.

  5. You have so many posts that I can’t wait to read! Isn’t it amazing learning the stories and lives of other people? This post is so interesting. I tend to always gravitate to the role of caregiver. I’m assuming it’s because I grew up with a mother who was ill so much of my young life. I tend to so easily fall into that role now with friends and family, that I often forget that I need time to care for myself. Oddly, when I try to back away from that role, I miss it!

    I hope you’ll be feeling well soon! Pneumonia is certainly zero fun. Take care of yourself! I’ll be back to read more after I run the litany of errands on my agenda for today! 🙂

  6. “Wouldn’t it be great to feel a sense of self worth just for being? In other words, wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up in the morning, knowing you are worthy, no matter what you can or cannot do that day?” – This is what I need to strive for. I know it, and I’m working on it, but I think this is the goal that needs to be on my wall…to remind myself that I am worthy no matter what.

    As for your questions:
    1. Not working does not make you less worthy. In fact, though you may not be doing your normal I’m-paid-for-this work…every day involves work of some nature. You are still “doing” things. Work is a fluid term.

    2. I wouldn’t be surprised. We are all our own worst critics.

    3. I would. I shouldn’t, but it’s hard not to feel “less” when I lose a role in life.

    Fantastic post to make me think today!

    • Thank you, Laura, for this very fantastic comment. I am so glad you visited and expressed your thoughts today.

      • It was a great post. Really got me thinking. I think this sense of worth is something we all struggle with. I became a stay at home mom this past year and felt like a complete failure for awhile. It is still taking some adjusting.

      • I think any role change takes adjustment (as does anything new, really). And it’s really challenging when the change is something connected to self-worth. I hope you let go of that concept of “failure” because (1) it’s not helpful and (2) it’s a made-up construct (really!). I like to ask people, “What if the concept of failure did not exist?”

        Thanks again for your comments, which are getting me thinking, too!

  7. I like this quote!!!

  8. may you be well
    no need to do more 🙂

  9. Willy Nilly

    Thank you, Ann. Thank you for visiting Willy Nilly and your uplifting comment. I think it fate that I ponder my identity and self worth and then you invite me to put it in perspective with such a nice post. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stay a while and learn more. 🙂

  10. Ann you are singing to the choir!! Very insightful. It seems that from having a very hmmm….disheveled adult life in terms of multiple marriages and moves about the country, 3 children, economic struggles, having lost loved ones as we all do, you would think adjusting and redefining myself would be old hat. As a registered nurse who has worked in nearly all of the specialties over the years, you would believe it would not be a big deal to redefine myself again. And given this process has been a work years in the making I would have thought to be further along. The fact is somewhere in our early lives we are taught that this is a process that is then complete. You reach and point and settle in. In looking over my life I see it is more of a lifelong process. I have had the fortune (or misfortune depending on how a person perceives it) of watching my health issues ebb and wane and snowball…and I changed the areas of type of work that I did. Being an RN had that advantage. But on May 5,2007 the beast within stirred in such a manner that it would no longer be denied. It felt like a stroke (or how I believe a stroke would seem.) I was feeling this coming on for a couple of weeks but previous doctors visits and tests told me that I was not going to get anywhere feeling as I had at that point- until that day in May when it seemed it all crashed around me (multiple sclerosis and was neurological alright). Long story short it was multiple sclerosis. It didn’t take more than a couple of visits for the neuros (yes more than one) to tell me things were quite along in their way. It seemed I was in the cusp of a progressive form ,dancing that line between relapsing remitting. kind. Aggressive therapy and years later, I am doing better than was feared, but of course have declined. In the same year I had given up my nursing license and my driver’s license. This was the pits. SO much independence wrapped up in that. And of course I had seen this happen with patients and had worked with them to see who they ARE regardless of any such limitations. Having gone from proudly physically active (loved pushing myself full on physically in work outs and outdoor adventures) to someone who needed a cane or forearm crutches or walker or wheelchair (manual then power) was really a blow. My body appearance changed more rapidly than I anticipated. I have gone through feeling that I function and look rather hideous now- which I realize is vain and highly harsh on myself- something I never would have labeled anyone else going through this. My eyesight is affected and a dual problem is also dimming my visionto varying degrees- also progressive. My kids grown and gone now. , I have struggled long term to try to find MY purpose- which has always been closely tied to my self identity. My 4 rescued greyhounds wonder why the walks once loved have downscaled so drastically- thankfully my husband is able and willing to pick up that slack when he is home from work.
    It’s been way too much time to think. My mental processing gets short-circuited so there are times things take a while to process. Somedays I think that I could go back to work- hours later I am reminded physically why that cannot be. I review too much of my past- on all of the failures- people I have hurt over the years. I have addressed those who I am able. I see so much so differently now. It is funny how as the physical gets foggier, the clarity on my actions, choices, words all seem quite clear now..I guess it’s that 20/20 hindsight,right?
    So what I would say to you- although you being who you are, you already probably know this, is to relax into it. I think we get so caught up in wanting to be able to label ourselves in terms of roles and abilities and usefulness that what we miss is that we already ARE whatever we are having difficulty defining. We already function in whatever our new roles are. If anything I would say to keep your eyes open as to how to expand these abilities, pushing the envelope in terms of limitations. Many would disagree. My family worries for the number of falls I experience in trying to be upright more than they and the doctors are comfortable with. And I do not take safety lightly. But I also need to find my balance which with this (as in so many chronic illnesses) is a sliding scale depending on what is physically possible throughout the day- minute by minute at times. We tend to want to have life(especially ours) all figured out and clearly defined, appropriately labeled and functioning at the level we are comfortable living . But in truth our lives are not given os we may be comfortable. Life is energy and energy in not static. Nor are we. God bless and remember the balance need not be perfect. And when you exceed your limits, smile knowing what YOU did- what you accomplished, saw and were a part of in reaching that point. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You aren’t expected to live a life of perfection. You are a human being, right? Cut yourself the consideration you would give to others. You are your most important ally in this adventure called life. Be there for yourself. Let yourself express your anger, frustration, impatience (My favorite place is in the shower for this- always has been.). Fix an amount of time to grieve, to be angry, to let out your frustrations and fears….and at the end of that time, put on those big girl panties, wipe your face and move yourself forward. It’s helped me not to freeze or malinger in the negative and yet to recognize it and deal with it. In time the need to let it all out has decreased- but I know I can do it whenever needed. God bless you and happy healing. Bette Mae Sorry so long winded

    • Oh, Bette Mae, I would NOT call this comment “long winded.” I would call it helpful, insightful, wise, vulnerable, moving, and so much more. I am so grateful that you chose to share your wisdom here, today. I feel better, having read this, and I will re-read this comment several more times, as I continue to learn from you.

      • I wholeheartedly agree with you Ann, on Bette Mae’s sharing. I also found it helpful, insightful, wise and moving. I can’t imagine how it must be having MS, I admire everyone that battles with it, it can’t be easy. I’m still taking away a lot from both your post Ann and Bette Mae’s, since I’m finding myself battling with finding my role and worth these days. I’ve been struggling with 24/7 migraine/headache since August 4th 2010 (result from a car accident we believe) and I’m currently trying to come to terms with this looking to be a permanent chronic thing I might have to live with for quite some time…, There hadn’t been much improvement on the level of “pain” the last 1,5 year. I’m getting to the point where I need to start to make some decitions regarding work (wich I love) and how much I can actually work (currently working 60%) in the future, I’m trying to come to grips with me possibly having to apply for part disability within the next year. Right now I have to admit it feels like failure! As well as you, a lot of my identity have been tied to my work, and I have to admit, it’s hard to have to reevaluate 😉 and understand that work is – not – WHO I am! But I’m getting there, slowly but surely 😉 and you and Bette Mae help, a lot! Thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

        Sorry for venting this on your blog, I think your writings just hit me square in the heart! I haven’t really have wanted to bother anyone around me with this, and for some reason I feel like you guys wouldn’t mind to much!

        Thank you again, your post reminded me not to judge ourself so darn hard (I should really remember this, I mean, it’s not long ago I wrote about judging others and ourselves

        It’s easy to say not to, it’s harder to do though!

      • No need to apologize, Anne, especially for a comment that includes so many gifts for me and for my readers. Thank you so much for your visit and for all your helpful thoughts.

      • You are so gracious, thank you.

    • Bette Mae, I hope that you don’t mind that I read your response to Ann. I just wanted to say that I have MS, too, and really, really get a lot of the things that you briefly mention here – cognitive, mobility, vision & identity things. I’m glad that you shared.

      • I appreciate that you shared, too, Maureen. Thank you.

      • thank you for sharing that about yourself, Maureen. It certainly does make life into an adventure you never dreamt for yourself,right? I will keep sending thoughts, prayers, and positive energies your way!!

  11. A few things came to mind as I read this. One is that you are still a psychotherapist. You don’t cease to be that at the end of workday, or on the weekends. Rest and rejuvenation are an important part of doing your job effectively and fulfilling that role well. One could argue that neglecting your children, your finances, your own health and well-being would all have far more of a detrimental impact on maintaining the identity that is important to you.

    Another thing I thought of and I think this is related to my last point that all this is perhaps sort of related to perhaps how we perceive time in our society. As you were talking you used the word “now” a lot. As if what we are doing now was important to our identity. As we are a fairly time conscious society it is not too surprising that we place a lot of value on this immediacy for our identity, but I think that it is a false no. Living in the moment is important in terms of truly experiencing what you are doing, but it is not who you are. I think identity is a larger concept. Much like the difference between happiness (the larger concept) and happy (perhaps how you are feeling now). You may feel happy in this moment, but that does not mean you feel you have happiness in your life. So you may not be doing your job now, but that does not mean you are not a psychotherapist. Who we are should be defined by the sum our lives perhaps and not the moment.

    Finally I think that for identity, perhaps the criteria we use to define ourselves may often be too narrow. Now psychotherapist has a very specific definition, but is that who you are. At the heart of that role is someone who is intelligent, caring, compassionate and wants to actively help others. This is clear by your role as “blogger”, as your role as “mother”. Psychotherapist is one of the ways that you thought as perhaps the best way to do what you are driven to do. They are all just vehicles to get you where you want to go. But it’s always the same person in the vehicle. 🙂

    • I found this a very helpful comment, in the Now of reading it, and also as it lingered for me in my mind. I truly appreciate your insights and the way your mind works. Thank you, very much, for all the different gifts contained in this comment.

  12. I surely do not think less of you to answer one of your questions. Oddly, I do think less of myself when I’m not doing something… hmmmmm (scratches her head) Reminds of when I once went to therapy after a devastating life event. I was embarrassed about crying and not getting over it. The therapist asked me if I would judge another for doing the same. I said no. She told me, “Well that’s kind of arrogant, don’t you think? It’s ok for someone else to grieve, but you’re to good for that – you should do better?” Point taken!
    Diana xo

  13. Another Insightful post . I can definitely relate to the discussion of self worth in this post. The first thing that came into my mind after reading this post was Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly ” . It is truly an awesome book . According to her ” I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish ” is a dangerous belief system .I too struggle not to judge myself and my self-worth .Sometimes it becomes too frustrating.

    Answer 1: No , I don’t think you are less worthy because of your absence from work . This post clearly shows that you LOVE what you do and clearly miss it. But my friend , you are human . Humans get sick , they need time to recover . You should not be burdening your self with these negative thought . Take your time to recover and everything will be alright .

    Answer 2 : No , I am not surprised at all in fact I can relate to it . Don’t judge yourself for judging yourself and your self worth. It is a vicious cycle i.e. judging for judging . When we are going through this phase of questioning our self worth we need two things: 1)relaxation 2) Friend/Family or someone/ anyone to remind us of all the good things .
    So Ann take a deep breath ,your value is not questioned can never be questioned because of your illness . It’s a natural phenomenon people get sick you are not alone . There is not a single person on this earth who can claim to be 100% fit all his/her life. Everyone has faced or will face some sort of illness/sickness in his/her life . Obviously the degree of illness could be different but the point is nobody is perfect . Since nobody is perfect nobody will judge you or not allowed to judge you not even you.
    Still questioning your self-worth ? Please don’t.
    You are a remarkable person . (Since you are judging your self-worth too strongly you would be thinking )How?
    Let’s see . You are highly committed to yourself and your work . How? O Ann ,you ask too many questions 😉 .I ll do the explaining you just relax . Your blog is an example of your commitment . “Blog once a day ” was your resolve when you started and see you have reached day 477 . 477 days ,477 insightful ,humorous and great posts .Still not sure ? Just read the comments of your readers on your blog now you see how much you mean to them .We are lucky to have a blogger friend like you .

    Answer 3 : I am sure I will be judging my self in a similar scenario and at that time I would want someone to remind me why I shouldn’t :).

    • When you judge yourself, I hope you can remember this wonderful, beautiful, complete and much-appreciated comment. It helped me so very much, today.

  14. Interestingly enough, my wife and I were listening to the old classic song, “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” on Pandora this morning (we like listening to our Ella Fitzgerald/ Louis Armstrong” channel!) and talking about how popular music can mess with your self-worth. It’s very subtle how our culture can create these identity issues. Blessings. Enjoy being “you” while you recover. 🙂

    • Thank you, Mel! By the way, I love Ella Fitzgerald and Louise Armstrong. And I agree with you that there are a lot of messages out there, in the culture, that affect our precious sense of self-worth. I appreciate you and this comment more than I can say.

  15. I have thought a lot about my ‘being’ versus ‘doing’ status. I think I have come a full circle. I used to ‘do’ quite a lot in my ‘role’ identities of mother / wife / business manager. Then I went through a phase of thinking it was more important to ‘be’ kind / caring / compassionate / courageous etc. Now I am trying to focus on what I can ‘do’ in order to ‘be’ that person I want to be.
    And that be applied even when sick in bed. Get well soon 🙂

    (Loved this post and it made me think).

  16. As it is your mother’s birthday, Ann, and as I am a mother, I would like to say that she would be SO proud of you. And she would be so very happy that you were taking some time off work to recover.

    • Thank you, Maureen, for this doubly kind and thoughtful comment. I’m always so glad to see you here.

      • Of course, some of us here at The Year(s) of Living (or posting) Non-Judgmentally do see your blog articles and your quick responses as work. It may not be paid work at this point but it’s valuable. I for one am very touched that you haven’t taken a vacation from us but hope that you will consider doing so if it will help.

      • Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Believe me, as always, I am being selfish and “looking out for number one.” That is, I post and engage here because it is good for ME.

  17. weight2lose2013

    Hi Ann, please do not feel obligated to participate, but….

    • I have not been participating in awards, but I am honored and flattered that you would think of me. Thanks so much!

  18. You are a human being and not a human doing is something I am going to spend some time thinking about. As I am a human being and a human thinking but sometimes not as much of a human doing as I wish I were.

    • You are a Human Sitting On My Own Sofa, a Human Writing, a Human Sharing, and so much more … all of which I am very grateful for. Maybe you can also be a Human Helping, like so: Any advice on how I can avoid ending sentences with prepositions?

      • Ah! Ending a sentence with a preposition is something that I feel you should always do if you want to. Like wearing shoes that feel good instead of shoes that fashion rules tell you to.

        As Churchill famously said (or may not have said) about ending sentences with prepositions: ““This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”

        Grammar rules change and situating a preposition at the end of the sentence can make you look youthful now, rather than unflatteringly unschooled. But do you know what I’m really having a hard time letting go of? The Oxford comma.

      • Why should you have to let go of The Oxford comma? I enjoy using it, I do use it, and I’d like to see anybody try to stop me from using it.

  19. Okay, how did that period get in there? Maybe I am a human being, a human thinking, and a human pausing to think.

    By the way, I love the photo of your lamp. That lamp has real personality.

  20. “I am a human being, not a human doing.”
    –I love this. Such an awesome statement. And I agree 100%.

  21. Mags Corner

    I like your inside and outside creatures Ann and you have a very special lamp. I was a human doing for a whole lot of years and I struggled to find myself as a human being when my days of caregiver came to an end. Now days I just relax, do what I want when I want and just enjoy being me. I sure hope the pneumonia goes away and leaves you feeling much, much better very soon. This was a very interesting post. It helped me realize that I am doing just fine as a human being and no longer a human doing. Thank you for that. Be well soon! Hugs

  22. Pingback: Day 478: Personal Medicine, Revisited | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  23. Thank you for my new identity as a blog reader.

  24. The Dancing Rider

    Well I’m certainly no picture of mental health. I got what you were saying. Must relate though, that I felt there was “something wrong with me” the day I walked out of an organization where I’d worked for over 22 years, and felt only the slightest, slightest bit of emotion. I got up the next day, and never looked back. I felt I should have somehow been tied to that place more. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to not identify with one’s work!

    I say to you: you are enough just being here. Doing whatever you do. Or whatever you don’t. Whichever interpretation works. Just not being a “human doing”. 😉

    That said, of course I hope you keep doing blogging! I love to read your entries. Very thought-provoking and insightful.

    • One thing I’ve learned is this: to let go of judgment about my emotional reactions to things, to accept that there are no “shoulds” about feelings, including less of an emotional response than expected. Sounds like you were ready to leave that place of work, probably for lots of reasons.

      Thank you so much for all you wrote in this comment. And I plan to continue blogging daily, for selfish reasons: it’s a huge help to me. I’m so glad you enjoy my posts!

  25. Pingback: Day 484: The near future | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  26. Pingback: Day 490: Out with the bad air, in with the good | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

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  28. Pingback: Day 2921: Identity | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

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