Some clients are working so hard, or worried about their careers, they present not knowing who they are any longer. There is little doubt that working too hard can cause a lot of stress, bad sleep patterns, anxiety and feelings of being disconnected emotionally to others or themselves. They have lost the sense of identity as a broad-spectrum knowledge of who they are.

Let me explain. Who you are is a combination of your inherited genes, passed on family and cultural values and a knowing your own identity. Your identity is what you have comfortably digested about yourself, what you accept.

There are things also that we cannot digest. Imagine a Boa constrictor trying to swallow an elephant. Very visual picture is it not? There was an attempt by the snake to swallow the elephant but it cannot digest it. There are things we cannot digest. It might be the work we do for a living. It might be our own bad behaviour, habits or addictions that contravene our core values. It might be the way we relate to others. It might be how others relate to us.

Identity is about you as a; son or daughter, brother, sister, lover, a husband/wife, partner, gym attendee, golfer, fisher, musician, music lover, artist, cook, friend, uncle, auntie, tennis player, bike rider, motorcyclist, religious person, spiritual seeker, etc, etc. These are the things you are, the things you have digested as acceptable by you. This identity is you. You started to gather these identities as a teenager, rejecting things you gave a go when not confident until you became more mature. Your identity is continually being assessed as you age. You will find things you can’t digest any more and find things you want as part of you.

Some clients need to me reminded to review all these parts of their identities to see they are just not only a worker identity. In doing so they can see the parts of themselves they have ignored. So, I ask clients to write all their identities down in a therapy diary to revisit all the things they are and have digested. Afterwards clients say they feel more surefooted in the world.

There are also other identities to come as we grow. There are passions not yet realised (passions need to be found and don’t just show up) new ideas to explore, new dreams to be had about making life changes.

Have a go writing down all your identities that you have digested. If you pay balanced attention to them you will gain a healthy work/life balance. Maybe you could be a better friend, lover, husband, wife – dog owner. What we desire in the end is mind, body and spirit in unison and we feel this when we know thyself.

Gerry North is a couple counsellor and treats anxiety, depression, panic attacks, addictions and grief and loss. Email: