In his book, The Mask Behind the Mask, Peter Evans states that actor Peter Sellers played so many different roles in his career that he became confused about his true identity.
It is an observation that I’m sure many of us can relate to.
The struggle to discover who we are has dominated countless of conversations with psychiatrists, counsellors, spiritual directors and best friends alike.
I believe that one of the greatest obstacles to discovering our true identity is what United States Christian evangelist Joyce Meyer refers to as Approval Addiction.
In her teaching, Meyer states that for some individuals the need to receive the approval of others can be just as powerful as addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling.
Meyer is specifically addressing those whose lives are blatantly controlled by their compulsion to please others, but I would suggest that it is an influence that affects most of us to some extent.
Human beings are physically and emotionally dependent on their primary carers for longer than any other living creature.
We soon learn what behaviours make life more comfortable and what ones lead to suffering and we adapt accordingly.
It is a formula that, if delivered in a context of perfect love, would mean that discipline or consequences for behaviour did not affect our spirit and psyche.
However, as our flawed human condition ensures that such perfection is not possible, I believe that many of us have developed, to varying degrees, a perception that acceptance is determined by what we do.
These are perceptions that are later confirmed in the playground and then in the teenage social scene when criteria such as behaviour, opinions, mannerisms and dress often decide whether we are accepted or rejected.
Again, many of us made choices based on our desire to belong.
We become more independent as we move into adulthood but do we ever completely shake off our desire for approval? How many times have we made a decision based on what others will think, not on what we know in our hearts to be right?
How often have we not spoken the truth because we have feared the reaction of others?
Have we ever told others what they want to hear instead of honestly sharing our opinion? These are all signs of a need for approval and are often rooted in the fear of not belonging that infiltrated our subconscious childhood mind.
The person that God created us to be is continuously buried under the masks of insecurity that we assume.
English playwright, William Somerset Maugham, once said that some people carry these masks to such perfection that “they actually become the person they seem”.
In other words, we adapt to our fears to such an extent that even we can fail to recognise who we truly are.
But how do we overcome what, for some, has been a lifetime of false identity?
Those who, underneath the façade they have adopted, believe they are insignificant or that their opinion is of no value or that they are not worthy of love.
There is only one way and that is to come to know our true identity in Christ.
Joyce Meyer, who came from a background of abuse, did this by not only meditating on Scriptures, but by choosing to believe them. She was able to recognise the lies that she had embraced and was then able to strip off the masks that she had been wearing.
She found that she did not have to rely on the approval or acceptance of others to feel worthy. She discovered that her true identity was that of a child of a Heavenly Father who loved her unconditionally.
It is the identity of us all.