How do you over-identify?

How do you over-identify?

As you probably know, I started my yoga teacher training a couple of weeks ago. What I love about this training is that is goes way beyond the physical practice and digs into the philosophy of yoga. During my first week of class, our teacher talked to us about over-identification.


This concept is described in many ways within the philosophy of yoga, such as non-attachment or non-grasping. To put it plain, over-identification is understanding yourself and existence in this world through an external thing, idea, or person. Psychology defines it as the perception of another as an extension of one’s self, especially to the detriment of one’s individuality or objectivity. Here’s an example of two different ways people over-identify:

Lisa and Maria are best friends. Lisa gets into a relationship and begins to let it consume her life. She spends every waking moment with her partner, letting her other relationships and even her own ambitions fall to the wayside. Maria becomes frustrated with Lisa. They used to do everything together. They would talk on the phone for hours every day, even if they had nothing to talk about. They even made a pact that they would spend this whole year single together.

While this example may not be the case for you, everyone over-identifies with something at some point or another in their life. For some of us it’s our appearance or our gender. For others, it’s the idea of “making it” or money. The list can go on and on. No matter what you over-identify with, change is inescapable in this life. Therefore, latching our emotions on to these external things is a dangerous game.

My Opportunities for Growth

I started thinking about the concept and how I might have and still do over-identify and what things could I benefit from letting go. I’ve certainly over-identified with relationships in the past. I over-identified with achievements at one point in my life. I got so used to succeeding, I thought it was a part of who I was.

At this stage in my life though, I over-identify with (and have started to let go of) the idea of being a tough woman. I’m from Philly and I grew up around tough women. Honestly, I’ve always looked at myself as very mild compared to them. But being in this relationship has shown me how what I have come to know as toughness or even moodiness, can come off as being flat out mean. What was even more surprising was how attached I was to that meanness. I remember yelling, “This is just who I am!” during an argument with Terry one day. I really had to take a step back and think is this really the hill I want to die on? Do I want to be the angry woman who can’t control her temper? The answer is no. So it’s up to me to find a way to still be my full self, without being mean or quick to anger.

Questions to consider

I would love for you to use this post to do some self-study. This is not about beating yourself up or feeling like a horrible person. This is about getting to know yourself better, analyzing yourself in a different way, and finding new ways to liberate yourself and grow.

  1. What do you over-identify with?
    • It may be counter-intuitive. It doesn’t have to be something that “sounds bad.” It could be that you over-identify with being nice, being liked, or people pleasing so much so that you don’t know how to stand up for yourself or create boundaries when necessary. It could be being a mother or father. It may be your past. It may be being the fixer in everyone else’s lives. Who knows? Just take some time to reflect on the ideas, objects, or people that you over-identify with.
  2. How can we learn to surrender our attachments to better know our authentic selves?
  3. How unforgiving are we of others’ over-identification?
    • It’s interesting how hard it is sometimes for us to be compassionate and patient towards someone else who struggles with over-identification. Often our first instinct is to be judgmental. “She’s so obsessed with her kids. She doesn’t have any identity outside of them.” But when it comes to ourselves, we expect people to understand.
  4. How can we learn to be more compassionate for the over-identification of others?
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