How Role-Identity Plays a Part in Self-Sabotage

Wow, it is December already, despite it sometimes feeling like the longest year ever! As Covid restrictions are being eased in Ireland we can now finally begin to plan our Christmas season, and consider who we will be spending those special days over Christmas with. For many of us, we will be visiting with our family of origin – and this can either lead to feelings of excitement or dread. There is something about spending time with our parents and/or siblings that can sometimes push us back into childhood and the roles we played then. But this can happen even with our friendships or work colleagues too. Perhaps this season we might continue the self-examination practice started for many of us during Covid, and consider how our role-identity may sometimes contribute to self-sabotage behaviours that we engage in subconsciously. Here is a helpful guide from therapist Teyhou Smyth on how to step away from the roles that are no longer serving a positive purpose in our lives. It helps to talk about these things and to be honest with ourselves and others, so that we can live our best lives.

role identity and self sabotageWho Are You?
Are you the funny, irreverent clown in your family? Or the person in your friend group who is organised and plans the gatherings? Are you the serious one at work? The person who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions?

It is accurate to say that all of us take on a wide range of roles in our lives. We are multifaceted and complex, and that is what makes us so interesting. You probably present to your grandparent in a much different way than you do your best friend or your colleague at work.

We are behavioural chameleons, by necessity, but sometimes our roles can keep us firmly stuck in a rut. Sometimes the role-identity we take on in a certain area of our lives is a form of self-sabotage.

How Roles Can Sabotage Us

When actors play a certain type of character for a long time, they often struggle getting other types of roles that deviate from that character. This phenomenon is known as type-casting, and it can put unwanted limitations on actors’ careers.

As we become stuck in a certain role within our family, friendships, intimate relationships or work life, in a sense we type-cast ourselves. While this may not seem like a big problem on the surface, it can quickly turn into a dissatisfactory lifestyle in which we are moulding ourselves into a set of behaviours that no longer serve us.

For example, a person who has always been known for their sense of humour and irreverence may feel they cannot talk about serious topics. That person may feel that others wouldn’t take them seriously if they attempted to be vulnerable or show other emotions outside of the role of comedian. In this way, our roles can become a burden, and this can leave us feeling trapped and lonely.

When we allow our chosen roles to limit our ability to communicate and be the most authentic version of ourselves, we are participating in self-sabotage.

What Are Some Ways Role Self-Sabotage Can Impact Wellness

Getting stuck in a certain role in our relationships can negatively impact our wellbeing and even contribute to emotional health challenges. A role is only as good as it feels, and if we type-cast ourselves and get stuck in a certain role, it can bring a lot of dissatisfaction our way.

Depression: Unexpressed feelings often exacerbate depression, particularly if those feelings are being thwarted as a result of not being true to oneself. Behaving in a certain way for the benefit of others or trying to maintain a version of ourselves that isn’t fully accurate, can challenge our sense of self.

Anxiety: Having unmet needs and trying to adhere to a role is a type of behavioural secret-keeping, which feels disingenuous and can increase distress and anxiety.

Imposter syndrome: Playing a certain familiar role may feel comfortable, on some level, but if it doesn’t line up with how a person is feeling internally, it can create a sense of falseness in relation to others.

Loneliness and emotional isolation: If you find yourself stuck in a role-rut, you may end up experiencing loneliness and a sense that others do not truly know you. The isolation that can stem from being stuck in a role can limit relationship connections.

Digging out of Role-Rut Sabotage

Even if we are experiencing all these negative emotional side effects from being stuck in a self-sabotaging role in life, we can make behavioural changes and shift our mindset to feel better.

Let your guard down:
Freedom from type-casting requires vulnerability and bravery. Like the actor trying to break out of a particular character role, we must show the world something different in order to expect something different in return.

Name it:
In a sense, you are showing people this other part of yourself that they’ve never seen. It’s not new to you, but it may be new to them. If you name it for them ahead of time, this transition to a different version of you might be better understood and accepted.

Try out some different wording, such as “I know I’m often serious in these meetings, but I just wanted to share a funny story that happened to me over the weekend,” or “you usually only see the funny, comedian side of my personality, but I’m struggling with something today and just want to be real with you about how I’m feeling.”

Feel good about it:
It may feel intimidating to share other parts of yourself when you are type-cast with certain people in your life, but try to shift your mindset and embrace the positive aspects of this role-breakout.

You are modelling authenticity and that can be a rare commodity in certain situations. Honour your desire to be a real, whole person in this world that too often demands that we fit into a neat category.

By bravely expressing your authentic self, you encourage others to do the same, and the result can be a much more satisfying relationship with others and a greater sense of self-worth.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK/Irish context.]

Phone: +353 1 2100 600
297 Beechwood Court
Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, A94 N726