When you identify yourself as a particular thing – a man, a woman, an athlete, a Republican, a Caucasian, a Christian, an American – you create a prison for yourself. You are stuck in a box labeled “man”, “Christian”, etc. You then feel obligated to uphold that label. If this mental idea is challenged, e.g., someone says that you are not manly, or that Christianity is completely wrong, your ego feels attacked, which is painful. You might feel compelled to fight back with arguments or violence.
This is slavery. You chain yourself to an idea, then defend that idea as though your very life depends on it. Rather than realize that you are way beyond any worldly definition of gender, political party, race, religion, or nationality, you imprison yourself with a very limiting set of labels.
Your self-created prison prevents you from seeing truth. You filter all experiences through your belief system so as make them appear to support this belief system. This is the cause of the confirmation bias, in which people discount any information that contradicts what they already believe while grasping onto the flimsiest of evidence that seems to make their belief seem true.
Your identification also causes insecurity. No object is secure, so when you see yourself as a particular object, you must ipso facto be in jeopardy. For example, if you view yourself as a great athlete, then if you fail to achieve a particular athletic feat, the image is crushed, and since you believe yourself to be that image, you feel as though you are crushed. Or you might simply worry that you won’t be able to perform, even if you haven’t failed yet.
Rather than claim that you “are” something, it would be more truthful to say that you are in a particular life situation, for example, one in which your skin is white, you were born in the U.S., your body is male, you exercise, or you have chosen to accept a particular political or religious belief system. In this way your worldly attributes do not define you because they are things that you have, not are.
When you make yourself an object you become a fraction instead of a whole. You are limited to a set of parameters, and because you are limited, so is your life: what you allow yourself to do, how you view things, who you associate with, what you wear, what you believe, and so on. As a fraction you can see only a fraction of reality. You cannot act from the wholeness of being; you can only react from a very limited set of beliefs.
You are an expansive being. Your ego is the exact opposite: a contraction. This is because it is based on fear, which is a contracting emotion. When there is fear, notice how you tense up, i.e., contract. When you let go and relax, you open up, i.e., expand.
The bottom line is that identifying with anything other than your true self is the source of all fear and conflict.