Identity foreclosure is a psychological term for the phenomenon in which a person makes premature conclusions about his or her personal identity without a time of exploration and discovery. Identity foreclosure happens when a person adopts the identity of others around them or is forced to accept the identity expectations assumed or given to them.
Identity foreclosure occurs for many reasons. But for me personally, patriarchy and complementarianism drove me to prematurely define myself. Early in my life, pastors, teachers, theologians, Christian books and movies, Bible studies, friends, and Western church culture in general painted a strong, confusing, and often conflicting image of “ideal” biblical womanhood.
As a woman, I learned through spoken and unspoken rules that I am to “naturally” be: nurturing, submissive, responsive, gentle, openly emotional, a lover of shoes, shopping, and craft projects, good with children, naive, easily deceived, meek, weaker, insecure, dependent, innately romantic, a verbal processor, vulnerable, indecisive, thin, long haired, sexually uninterested, domestically inclined, and of course, moderately dangerous.
I also learned what I was not to be: overly assertive, initiative-taking, a leader or teacher of men, a preacher, a boat rocker, loud, self-confident, self-sufficient, sexually excitable, bold, strong, fat, short haired, career focused, or too opinionated.
So, when I first left patriarchy and embraced egalitarianism, I lost myself to an identity crisis.
I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and realized I had no idea who I was. I knew who I had been, who I had wanted to be, and who I had thought I was supposed to be. When I finally shed that old theology of gender, I realized that my former self was just a carefully constructed facade designed to appease the “biblical womanhood” crowd. It was not the real me.
Who am I? The question pounded in my mind.
I had come to a point in my life where I truly didn’t know who I was and that mystery became a shining opportunity to find out who I was actually created to be.
I began getting to know myself—like one might get to know a new friend. I started asking myself questions. What do you like to do? What are you good at? What are your dreams? What makes you tick? What are some things you have always secretly wanted to try? If there was nothing holding you back, who would you choose to be?
I took this chance to discover and recreate myself very seriously. I realized very quickly that to do this task well, I would need to dig down deep into what God really says about himself and what he says about women. To uncover my true identity, I would need to counteract the default ruts of patriarchal thinking still deeply embedded in my brain.
I started paying closer attention to my internal strengths, weaknesses, and desires. Instead of suppressing “unfeminine” traits, I allowed my true talents, gifts, and personality to rise to the surface. Instead of assuming that I was bound to a narrow gender box, I learned to capitalize on the authentic nuances of my inner being through personal study, counseling, and life coaching.
I started going to a new church that celebrates women. I am also taking an intense class on finding and tapping into my spiritual gifts.
I talk to and read about women who are free in Christ and breaking stereotypes in incredible ways—Christine Caine and Sarah Bessey have become heroes of mine.
For the first time in my life, I am listening to women preach and teach. I even discovered my own long hidden gift for preaching.
I am still exploring and trying and succeeding and failing and beating down the limitations that invade my mind. But a new, truer identity is rising.