We all have to take on certain roles at times in our lives. Job roles are the primary example, and we usually end up having to contort ourselves to fit the expectations of the job description. But you should never lose sight of the distinction between your authentic self and the role you are playing. If you overly identify with the roles you play in life, you can lose touch with your own individual needs. You can get stuck in a box.
Some roles don’t have a job manual. Yet, we can end up conforming to socially expected standards. For example, the role of a father, a mother, a wife, a husband, a best friend — all of these roles come packaged with certain expectations. Even the role of being a child comes with certain expectations.
As a child, you will have changed around the age of two to three years old. You became a toddler and broke free of the baby label. You rebelled and pushed against the expectations of your parents, who may have been a bit surprised and were still treating you like a baby.
Breaking free of labels and other people’s expectations is natural. And we have to exercise some caution when holding expectations of people. Role definitions, social standards, labels, diagnoses and stereotypes can all have profound effects on people.
In the field of psychology, it has been found that if people are labelled as having dyslexia, depression, attention deficit disorder or any other psychological label, they will often end up conforming to the characteristics associated with these labels. That isn’t to say these people don’t fit certain quotas used to distinguish psychological conditions, but the act of labelling them, can limit their expectations of themselves and restrict them from making changes.
The more we conform to labels, the harder it can be to break free of them, and we can end up internalising these labels as self-beliefs. And people often conform to labels because they think they have to live up to other people’s expectations in order to be approved and accepted by them. But we should try to break free of these expectations, especially if they are constricting.
Were you labelled and stereotyped at school? Are you labelled and stereotyped by your family? By your work colleagues? The quiet one, the weird one, the funny one, the clever one, the troublesome one? Do you end up conforming to your labels?
People’s expectations of us can confine us into a box.
And if you are around people who label you, you may become regressive and slip back into conforming to their role expectations — so you can end up sliding back into acting like your past self. Maybe you don’t mind in some circumstances. But this can lead to inner conflict if the pressure to perform to the expectations of others makes you feel uncomfortable.
If you feel under any sort of duress to perform to a role, then you have to question why that is. Usually, it is due to insecurities about what might happen if you stepped out of the socially accepted parameters of the role. You may fear, if you deviate from your expected role, you could be rejected.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you have to rationally assess your need to conform to these roles, and then look for ways to instigate a balance.
For example, maybe you’re a housewife, but you’re fed up with doing the housework and want to break free of this role and do something else. But you may be under pressure from other people’s expectations of your role, and so, you need to communicate your needs to these people.
But what tends to happen, is people let the friction build up, and then they get to a breaking point and suddenly change without communicating beforehand. So, they reach their limit, and decide they no longer want to live within the confines of their labels and roles, and they make changes. However, this can be a shock to people in their life who were not expecting them to change so abruptly.
It is best to be delicate and to communicate to the relevant people in your life. To calmly express your feelings and request what you want. Often you will find that simply by authentically expressing your feelings and stating your needs, people will accommodate you.
You do have to compromise to a certain extent in life, especially with those you have commitments and responsibilities with. But you can choose to negotiate with people. By redefining your roles, you can still ensure that everyone is happy.
Don’t be afraid of appearing weak if you simply need a break. And don’t expect people to know what you need if you don’t tell them.
And it also helps to respect other people for what they truly want in life.
Allow people to change and be open to them changing. Don’t label people and place rigid definitions on them. Help other people to change by holding a space of non-judgement open for them. Even if this makes you feel a little uncomfortable — allow people to break free from role expectations and follow their authenticity.