Identity is an anchor in most of our lives.
It is usually derived from a combination of our own experiences, our family and school feedback and our culture.
Identities can feel wonderful if we have positive feedback or it can feel like a ball and chain if we do not.
The more important question is, “Is it real?”
What Is Identity Anyway?
I have always thought that identity was a little bit strange. OK, a lot strange.
Why do I even need one?
Here are some ways that Merriam-Webster defines identity as
: who someone is : the name of a person
: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others
: sameness of essential or generic character in different instances
: sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing : oneness
Of course, identity – and we mean social identity – is largely based on what we can see. If someone spends time by themselves we call them antisocial. If someone is lively, we often call them fun. This means that we define the identities of others in terms of what we experience, want and need. So we often define others in relation to ourselves which invalidates them as someone unique and on their own journey. Therefore, identity can be an exploitive construct. Ask any disenfranchised person and group!
How Identity Gets Us In Trouble
Identity gets us in trouble with others in a number of ways:
- it causes us to think we know something when we do not. Being able to identity a koala in a picture does not mean that I know anything about koalas.
- it causes us to think that we have the lay of the land, the map of reality. When we define others and groups even nations as “good “and “bad” we may think we are dealing with reality but actually we are not. We are working from an interpretation.
- when we put someone into a box of identity and they object we may feel justified in our negative reaction but we are not. Everyone has a right to be who they are and everyone is more than their social identity.
- when we treat someone as if they are there to serve our agenda and they object, who has the problem?
- when we ascribe negative attributes to those who disagree are we right? Sometimes, but sometimes we are also missing something and need to be open to that possibility.
Identity also gets us in trouble with ourselves:
- we may believe that our social identity, whether it is family, peer based or national is really us.
- we may compare our inner nature to our social feedback and think that there is something wrong with us.
- we may start to believe that we have an obligation to be what others want us to be.
- we may start to shrink ourselves so that others will be comfortable with us and then stop liking ourselves.
- we may stop believing in ourselves.
- we may receive feedback as a report card on ourselves that has nothing to do really with who we are.
- we may stop listening to our intuitive, whole self and deny it the voice it needs.
Taking Back Your Identity
Our real identity is nothing more than the inner part of us that does not change throughout our lives. It is the part of us that is universal and yet also seems particular and specific to us at the same time. It is the part of us that people often love even though we are usually taught to keep it hidden.
Although we have to live in the human world we nonetheless need to be true to ourselves. Taking the messages we have received and examining them, discarding the one’s that are wrong or do not fit us is the first step to reclaiming our best selves. It is a step worth taking.