The Roles We Play That Play Us

yoga-michelle-ploog“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.”-Jim Morrison

Today I found the notes for an exercise I had created to use at a yoga teacher training about a year ago. We did not use this particular activity, but creating this exercise changed my life.

I meditated on the roles we play in our lives: sister, daughter, father, friend, wife, husband, boss, employee, manager, and furthermore the personality roles we play, such as out-going, shy, fun, uptight, quiet, loud, and anything else that can be labeled. What slowly came up for me was that these roles come with expectations for ourselves and for others. These roles weren’t just a one-word label, but the title of an entire story that creates the way we live our lives. If I am a “Daughter” then I must not confront my father because it is disrespectful. If I am “Fun” then I must always be the life of the party, no matter how I feel inside. If I am “shy” than I can’t speak up even when I need to because it will shock people. If I am a “Yoga Teacher,” I shouldn’t swear or drink wine, because we are so spiritual and pure. These are just a few examples of the thought processes we might have. For each of us the labels are different and the stories we have built around them are perhaps more developed.

We create expectations for ourselves to fit into these roles. We make rules for our roles and continue to develop the same situations for our lives so that we can continue to fit into the roles we have created. It’s like a pressure cooker that we place ourselves in. “We have to do this, behave like that, and only say this in front of them, and if we don’t play into this role completely the whole world will fall apart.” When the universe jumps in to shake things up, our roles get thrown out of control and we freak out because we don’t know how to fit into the box we have created for ourselves. It’s insane what we will do to keep this fake persona together. These roles are something we are playing and are not the real essence of who we are. These roles are limiting, not expansive. When I think of who I really am and what I really want, it is never in that self-made prison.

As I saw this self-created pressure arise in myself, I realized that if I put myself in these roles than I must be doing this to everyone else in my life! How unfair of me to put these limitations on the people around me. Even if they are not living in the roles I have placed on them, it is still limiting what I can see about them. The truth of each person in my life is skewed depending on the roles and labels I have placed upon them. They may be able to do back flips, but I don’t think so because I have labeled them as scared or incapable.

This limited way of thinking does not empower the people around us and does not connect us to each other. It is time to free ourselves of the shackles and bonds. The truth is when we get our roles and expectations out of the way we can create a life far beyond what we expected. In the same way, we can empower our loved ones to rise to the occasion and live a life beyond limits with us!

I am so glad that I found the notes for this exercise because it reminded me of how important getting out of my own way is. Being gifted another day of life is such a blessing. The question is: how will we live it? Will we continue to limit ourselves with roles and self-imposed expectations or will we reveal the truth of who we are and how we feel to everyone? It is exciting to know how free we can be!

After reading this article it can be extremely beneficial to take out a paper and pen to journal. Putting these words into action can change your life! The great thing about a journal is that you can write down everything that comes to you without filtering the information to make it look a certain way and then read it back to yourself later to see yourself more objectively. Here are journal questions to answer:

What roles do you put yourself in? (make a list of at least 10)

What expectations have you created for each role?

How does each role have a hold on you? OR How does each role dis-empower you?

What roles do you put other people in? (make a list of at least 10)

What expectations have you created for each role?

How do these roles hold back each person in your eyes? OR How does each role dis-empower each person?

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  1. I love this post – so very true!

  2. It is true and can be disabling, but there is another side to it, as well; in some cases, we put put on these roles as self-protective armor. Pirandello, an Italian playwrite wrote about this entire enigma of human behavior; he questions ‘which is the true mask?, or are these masks a necessary component of how we should act at any given moment in time?

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