Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Or imagined that you were your favorite TV/book/movie character? Many people do - and have a lot of fun re-enacting or writing about their favorite characters. If you've ever read a book or watched a show and have nearly fallen in love with one of the characters, or have imagined yourself doing what they do, then you'll know what I mean.
As part of getting to know clients, I often ask who their heroes are and what they like about them. I've found that many of them admire certain personality traits or roles that these characters take on. Knowing this, I was able to work with them on consciously integrating aspects of those characters into their every day identities. This is something we all can do, and it doesn't need to be part of therapy!
What is "identity"?
The characters we admire, and why they're important
My favorite role-playing game character is a rogue/sorcerer named Danira. Danira is assertive, goes after what she wants, tends to do what it takes to achieve goals and help others (not always lawfully, though.) She doesn't take crap from anyone, and kicks butt. She can fight, she can talk a mean bargain, and she can charm nearly anyone. While there are things about Danira that I don't like (she's greedy and somewhat overly seductive), there are things about her that I wish I had. I wish I was more assertive and clever at times. Playing Danira allows me a chance to practice these personality characteristics in a safe environment where everyone knows she's a character. However, there is an element of Danira in my professional work, too. I am known to be fairly straightforward and good with boundaries - something I get from my "inner Danira."
So How Can This Help Therapy?
I began to realize how powerful characters could be when working with a middle-aged software developer named "Greg." Greg was experiencing anxiety and depression, and one way of coping he'd developed was to create a gaming character about a spy/assassin named "Misty." Misty encountered some similar problems that Greg did, but she handled them differently. Misty was allowed to be whoever she wanted, and she was feminine and strong; she handled situations with grace and expertise. Greg also struggled with his current identity and early in our work, said he had considered transitioning to live as a woman. Misty was very feminine as well as self-assured, and allowed Greg to access these aspects of his identity in a way that was acceptable to him, his family, and to his group of friends, without danger of being targeted or outed. As we talked, it became clear that parts of Misty's personality were really aspects of Greg's personality that he was not able to express. I began to ask Greg what Misty would do, or what Misty would think in certain situations, and if her reactions were comfortable to him. Greg began to explore Misty and the things he liked about her, and realized that many of those things were things he wanted to be. Greg is still transitioning, but he did not "become" Misty; rather, Misty's attributes were incorporated into not Greg, but Colleen. Colleen was like Misty in some ways, and took on some of Misty's more feminine characteristics but the core of who she was originated in Greg. Colleen is a beautiful, smart, and graceful woman and Misty's qualities are part of who she is. Colleen carries Misty with her, but she is NOT Misty.
Another story has to do with an accountant I worked with, "Tina." Tina was abused as a child, and was working on healing herself and learning to develop healthy relationships. Tina also LOVED the Power Rangers, especially the Pink Ranger (Kimberly.) Tina would have vivid dreams where she would fight monsters and those in her life who caused her pain, as Kimberly. Kimberly had power. Kimberly could kick, punch, and fight back and was able to do all the things that Tina couldn't, especially as a little kid. We explored Kimberly's power in sessions, and talked about aspects of Kimberly that she carried with her. We identified a strong sense of right and wrong, as well as willingness to defend others who couldn't fight or were helpless. Tina was helpless at one point, and we talked about how carrying Kimberly with her helped her feel strong. She was not helpless anymore. I encouraged Tina to use her "inner Kimberly" when she felt helpless or triggered; over time, she did so in a very effective way, learning to combine assertiveness and self-respect skills with staying true to her values. Some of the questions I asked her included:
- What would "Ranger Tina" be like? What would be different if she was a ranger?
- How did she respond in dream when Kimberly was there? Remembering that, how could her own "inner Kimberly" help her when "everyday Tina" felt inadequate? What would Ranger Tina tell her?
- We would occasionally role-play in session; Tina ended up reporting she had integrated aspects of the Ranger persona into who she was and felt more confident and better able to stand up for herself as a result of recognizing that "inner Kimberly" was a part of her.
Neither of these individuals changed overnight - that usually does not happen. However, over time, and with encouragement and the safety of therapy, they were able to identify and integrate the characteristics of these characters that they admired. Colleen and Tina are both amazing, strong, and very capable people, and I'm honored to have worked with them.
In my next post, I'll give you a guide to work on this yourself. Feel free to bring it to a therapist, a journal group, or do it on your own. As always, feel free to contact me if you're interested in more information or in working with me.
Please understand that this discussion is not meant to imply absolutes - sometimes liking a character is simply liking a character and does not necessarily have to mean something deeper.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to set up an appointment.