The Walls We Build Around Ourselves

Steven Aitchison
Written by Steven Aitchison

I was speaking with Sharon, my wife, and a few friends,a few weeks ago, and we got around to talking about favourite colours, favourite flowers, favourite foods etc.  When one of my friends asked Sharon what was her favourite flower, Sharon replied ‘Well this week my favourite flower is the Orchid.’  When my friend questioned her use of the phrase ‘this week.’  Sharon replied that it changes all the time.  It is the same with her favourite colour, her favourite food and other favourites.  I think this is a great fluid way of thinking and it got me thinking about the phrases we use that keep us static in life.

If I ask you the question: Who are you? What would you say?

You will probably answer: I am (insert your name here)

Then if I ask you who is (your name)

You might answer with the roles you have in life, I am a construction worker, I am an admin assistant, I am a chef etc

Then you might go on to say I am a wife, a mother, a father, a son, a brother, a sister etc

You might then go on to speak about the you that identifies with your particular beliefs in life: I am a Catholic, I am a Muslim, I am a Christian, I am Buddhist etc

If I then ask you what attributes make up (your name)

You might go on to say I am kind, I am loving, I am a good listener, I am a good friend, I am a bad enemy, I am shy, and go on to list all your personable attributes relating to your personality, which is great.  We usually define the attributes of our personality in a positive light.

When I go on to the aspects that you don’t like about yourself you might say things like: I am no good at organising, I am lousy with technology,  I can’t cook, I can’t cope with change, I am no good at maths, I can’t write very well

What do you notice about all of the things above?

All the statements are static!


A fascinating part of our psychological makeup is that we identify with our roles in life, with our beliefs and with our values, and we can’t really tell the difference between our roles and ourselves.  It’s called ‘identification

That’s all great, that we identify with these roles, beliefs and values in life, however they become static, and when something becomes static it is difficult to move.

Think of this statement below

I am an alcoholic

There are millions of people around the world who utter this statement every day, but when you look at the statement, it has nowhere to go, the person uttering this is stating a fact ‘I am an alcoholic’ – it’s like saying ‘I am human.’ That fact will never, ever change and that’s how your brain interprets statements that begin with ‘I am.’ – a fact that will not change.

So when the person saying ‘I am an alcoholic.’ They are really telling themselves that they will never not be an alcoholic.  This, I believe is a flaw in the AA, which is an amazing organisation.  The AA believes that once an alcoholic always an alcoholic, but that very label of being an alcoholic can hinder the recovery process of someone who currently drinks too much to cope with their issues in life, or who likes alcohol too much at that particular point in their life.

Just like any other ‘I Am’ statement, you are leaving yourself nowhere to go and change becomes almost impossible.  All the statements we utter that begin with ‘I am’ ‘I Can’t’ are all walls we build around ourselves, and the more we say these statements the thicker the walls become and the harder it is to tear them down

Tearing the walls down

To tear down the walls we have built around us it’s important to understand the concept of ‘Identification’ which you can check out at Wikipedia to give you a start.  Once you understand the concept you can then begin to break them down and realise the statements we tell ourselves day in day out stick, and are acted upon in our unconscious minds.

When you say a statement beginning with ‘I am’ or ‘I can’t’ your brain interprets this information as fact, and there is nothing that can be done about it, and it does not try to look for new, fluid, solutions

The kind of things we tell ourselves and those around us should be fluid.  We are evolving beings, forever changing, forever in motion and using static statements can keep us stuck in life.


If someone asks you a question which you would normally answer with ‘I Am’ or ‘I can’t’  you can replace this with:

I currently work as (your occupation)

I currently follow the beliefs of Catholicism but am looking at different belief systems

I have not really tried to learn the art of cooking but am willing to learn

Just now I have not taken the time to be good with computers but am open to the idea of learning more

Obviously there are some things that are facts such as I am a father, I am a son, I am a wife etc, but on the whole the statements we make about ourselves are static and should be fluid..

Have a think about this and let me know what you think.

Some Amazing Comments


About the author


  • Things can also be quite seasonal over here. Although I’m a motivational and diversity speaker, during the Canadian winter here, I’m teaching snow skiing at least four days per week, sometimes even five. During the Christmas holidays, I was on the snow 12 straight days teaching two 5-day intensive ski camps back to back. So during the winter, I can say that I’m currently a ski instructor although this would mean much less during the summer. So you are most certainly right that things can and should change.

  • I love the “Identification” if we know what we are and what is our purpose then we can change our life dramatically, a life without direction is like a ship sailing in a dead ocean, this is a nice article, I am one of your biggest fan.

    Zero Dramas

  • Steven, you are a genius! I have honestly never stopped to think about my ‘usual’ responses to the general question ‘Who are you?’. My responses were in fact quite static in the past.. I hope all of us on this blog sure lean towards formulating much more energetic and dynamic responses to the above mentioned question.

    Cheers again!

  • I’ve always thought it was a bit counterproductive for people to declare themselves as alcoholics for a lifetime. I mean, always walking around and stating I AM powerless over alcohol seems backwards to me. The same is true with anything else.

    It’s not just the words, however, it is the feelings behind those words. Personally, I can’t say that I am something I dislike while feeling good about it. And it’s pretty hard to feel capable of moving forward when you don’t feel good about yourself. For me, it’s great to say that I am a blogger, a mother, a friend, a life coach, an animal lover…because those things are wonderful aspects of me. However, I do watch out for identification and attachment. The ultimate I am, for me, is just that. I AM.

  • Hi Steven,

    Thank you for your post. Identification has been a nagging issue in my mind for a while. It may seem hilarious but it’s hard for me to even label my notebooks. I feel unsettled when I label myself “consultant” or “analyst” as I know that for long, I will not just stay there.

    Mai Anh Nguyen

  • There are a lot of very important messages in this post. Thanks for writing Steve!

    The labels we use to call ourselves, really do have the ability to send messages to our mind-body, which can then cause us to become highly restricted.

    I use something similar to your statement: ‘I currently work as (your occupation)’

    When someone asks me what do I work as, I rarely say “I am…”. I usually say “I work as a…”

    I’ve had direct experience of how labels can really ‘lock us in’ and adamantly refuse to live life like this these days.

  • Hi Steven,

    I really appreciate this…)
    Thank you so much for sharing such a great article with us.
    I completely agree with you…=) Actually, I’ve never come to that kind of things in my mind. And now, I’m looking forward and ready to challenge with my future!
    Thanks again for improving my point of views.

  • Yes, labels can be limiting and harmful and can keep us from evolving into what we really can be. They can also make us safe so we don’t have to move from our comfort zone. I went for a run the other day and really enjoyed it. I had nearly convinced myself that “I am not fit enough” but proved myself wrong. Food for thought. Plenty of time to ponder whilst looking at the snow thawing and my mindset transforming.thanks for this. Rachel.

  • Hi,reading this made me finally understand why it’s so hard for me to answer questions like the ones you mentioned here – because my preferences change from time to time – and I’m a little scared people will confine me to that particular answer I will give at that moment so I really tried to shy away from conversations like that. Good thing you incorporated the concept of time and fluidity here.

  • Hi Steve,

    Interesting, “i’m a great wall-builder around myself, who is also a thought and knowledge gatherer.
    Your article resonates with me after I just read an old (Nov 8/1211) Business-week article “Three Types of people to fire Immediately .
    1.Know it alls, 2. Non believers and 3rd “Victims.
    The awareness on how or who we perceive our selves to be is a great fist step.”To embracing the possible impossibilities.

  • Thank you so much for changing my viewpoint! Very thought-provoking. I will be changing the way I think and speak of myself from here on out. Perhaps I’ll become the person that I want to be!

  • Hey Steven,

    Great stuff. It makes me think back about Eckart Tolle’s teachings about the ego. You verbalize very well how to make your life and your identification more fluid!

    I think it can be a very powerful thing to identify with what you aspire to be, or be more of – I am a leader, a teacher, an innovator, the #1 visual thinker/facilitator, etc.

    Thanks for posting this!



  • Hi Steve,

    I totally agree – that’s one of the things that has always bothered me about AA and some other groups. To keep claiming to be an alcoholic forever seems to only reinforce that. I like the idea of saying I currently…

    Thanks for sharing. Val

  • Hi Steve,
    People love to (it seems)put themselves & others into boxes/categories. At a social gathering, often the very first question asked of you is “what do you do…(for a living)” & then you are labelled from then on in. I like to respond with…”I am enjoying Life”…..and I will do that in various ways/capacities throughout my Life. Thankyou.
    be good to yourself

  • You just shined some light on a very important part of making change!

    So many people continue with habits that hurt them (smoking, drinking, gambling for example) because they identify themselves that way, and they subconsciously want to stay consistent with that identity.

    (“I am a smoker, so I must smoke. Otherwise I’m not the person I think to be”)

    I personally don’t like static statements, but I’ve found that’s the most convenient way to explain to someone (who I don’t know) what exactly I do.

  • Some of the most exciting work i’ve ever done, both personally and with others, is the tearing down (or busting through) of the wall. There is nothing quite like understanding that your human potential is infinite and proving the identifiers wrong is always the icing on the cake.

    There are so many techniques to doing this, but we have to remember that some identifications are stronger than others. Some are more a part of us than others, and some are just pain old stupid.

    Mindfulness and Fluidity = Creativity!

    Thanks for the post


    p.s I am still trying to figure out commentluv. Anyone know how to get it to recognize a feed?

  • Interesting! Using ‘I am’ is a habit that we often repeat but neglected the effects to us. The words we say indirectly influence how we think and act. O..That’s why when setting a goal, we’re always advised not to use the word ‘I hope’ or ‘I wish’, instead use ‘I will’. Thanks Steve for such an inspiring article!

  • The other way to look at the “I am” statements is to say I am strong, I am powerful. I do believe these are important positive “labels”.

  • Great article and I totally agree with you. Life changes so often, circumstances throw you in a completely different direction that absolute statements about yourself don’t hold true for long.
    At the same time it is important to give yourself the allowance to change every single day in order to evolve as a human being.
    I used to be an anorexic, now I am a recovering anorexic and soon, I will just be me. Anne-Sophie, a complex person who cannot be defined by one single word.

  • I am alive, thinking and feeling, evolving all the time. I am feeling alone tonight. I am coping. I am looking forward. I am ready to embrace the future in the context of today.
    Who are you?

  • Great article, Steve. We often become so conditioned in our state, that we find it hard to move beyond that state – – especially our states of mind. I am glad to know that I am and that you are too. Thank you for being. Peace, Light and Love to you and yours, CordieB.

  • So well said, Steven. “I am” is a really unfair way to speak of one’s self, yet we all say it all of the time. I think it is permissable, however, to say such as, “I am growing” or “I am becoming”. I can live with that.

    Just as advertised, you’ve changed my thinking with this one. Never thought of it that way.

  • This is so true for me. We get stuck in our comfortably uncomfortable labels and wonder why we suffer, why we can’t change.

    Children are especially vulnerable to labels. Once labeled, they limit their view of their own potential. I make a very conscious effort to avoid the words “you are” with my kids and replace them with “you are acting like” so they have the ability to change things if they choose.

    Everything is constantly changing and we should allow ourselves that flexibilty as well. Great post Steve!

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