Why do I keep my identity fixed if the reality is that I change from instant to instant?
Contribution by Isabel Hernández Negrín, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.
We tend to have a fixed idea of what we are, despite the fact that any stimulus has an impact on us that may produce big or small changes without us even realising it. However, we maintain a fixed image of what we are or what we are like that we identify with throughout our lives. What we perceive as our identity is a combination of automatic behaviours, routines, memories, ways of feeling, repetitive thoughts, opinions, interpretations of reality, etc. Curiously, although some of these factors are not pleasant for us (e.g. being shy, aggressive or fearful, etc.) we identify ourselves with them and we feel that is what we are and that this is definitive and immovable. So, why do we maintain this fixed image that we have of ourselves?
Possibly because our brain automatically prepares images that help to guide us through life, whether they are of ourselves, or of something else. It is convenient and useful for us to have an idea or image of everything and everyone even if it does not fit the reality. Think how quickly you form an idea of people you meet in the street or about colleagues at work when you move to a new job or about patients in a doctor’s waiting room. We immediately start to make up a story about each of them. That is how the brain works and it is useful to know quickly if what we face is a threat or is friendly.
But often, we are mistaken and even when that is the case, we tend to stick firmly to our first impression.
On what are the images we create based? Well on all the things we mentioned in the paragraphs above and our personal perception of threat. It may be that for me the image of travelling to a foreign country causes me apprehension (threatening, frightening) and that for someone else it might be inspiring (not threatening). A few days ago a friend told me that she does not like liver, but she ate it at the house of an aunt who prepared it in such a way that she did not realise that it was liver and she loved it. Then when they told her what it was, she pulled a face of disgust.
So, what was the problem at that moment? In the idea that she has of liver, perhaps an unpleasant memory from the past. That idea always pops up warning her not to eat it. If she does not make a conscious change to transform her automatic reaction, nothing will change despite having eaten liver and liked it. It is hard for us to let go of images we have formed. Images always interfere with facts, by judging them through the filters of the past. This limits us, but at the same time provides us with a certain feeling of security, of knowing what we must do, what suits us, what people and life are like. We do not minimise, we do not question ourselves and we do not learn consciously. We prefer to continue thinking that we do not like liver!