In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal all the things that come together to form your identity – who you are.
First a quick update:
Are You Emotionally Overwhelmed?
Extreme stress can result in a nervous breakdown – anxiety & depression – not being able to function. This begins with being emotionally overwhelmed.
7 Different Ways To Handle Rejection
Rejection is one of the hardest things we all have to face. The fear of rejection can paralyze us or drive us to do things we don’t really want to do in order to get someone’s approval. Watch the video where I reveal 7 different ways to handle rejection.
Now, let’s talk about all the things that come together to form your identity – who you are.
Pauline is a married mother of 3 children. She and her husband are divorcing. Her husband told her that he is gay. Pauline says amongst the various causes of pain, confusion and loss is the impact the divorce is having on her identity: she says she doesn’t know any longer who she is, and now even questions who she was prior to the divorce.
Any major change or disruption to our lives can make us question our identity – whom we are – a job loss, a breakup, an illness that leaves us incapacitated or disabled, moving house, or losing someone close to us.
Personal identity is defined by what makes you unique and distinct from other people. It is the concept you have of yourself – your self-image as well as your individuality. Some aspects of your identity are personal choice and other aspects are beyond your control such as race, ethnicity, sex, color of your skin, where you were born and any other behaviors, abilities or disabilities with which you were born. I concede that some people will attempt to change aspects of their identity with which they were born: King of Pop, Michael Jackson lightened his skin and had surgery to look like Elizabeth Taylor; former Olympian Bruce Jenner had surgery and other enhancements to change his sex, to look & dress like a woman, and later to become a woman, naming himself Caitlyn Jenner.
Let’s come back to Pauline.
Now that she is divorced, Pauline is confused about her identity because for 8 years she was a married mother, housewife and worked part-time selling life insurance. Now she is no longer a housewife, she is divorced (she is no longer Roberto’s wife); she is still working in life insurance. Further, her routine – behaviors, hobbies and recreational interests – have changed. She has stopped going to their local church (partly due to her fear of shame and embarrassment) and this has affected her religious group identity. Pauline also no longer goes to dinners with her husband or fishing with him on their boat. Now she questions if she really was interested in fishing or if she did it just to please him. Pauline’s view of the world has also changed because of what she has experienced, and that, too, directly affects her identity (her self-image and beliefs.)
For Pauline to regain a sense of clarity about her self-image, her beliefs, behaviors and what makes her unique or distinct from others, she will have to redefine herself – create a new identity.
Being a former wife, a former housewife and a former attendee of her church will still make up part of her identity. In other words, the way you see yourself in the past and in the future – who you were, who you are, and whom you believe you will be – all form part of your overall identity. When we speak about who we are now, we still reference the past as part of our autobiographical memories i.e. I used to live in London; I attended Stanford college; I owned an apartment in Los Angeles; I was married to an older man; I had breast cancer; I was a cross-country athlete; I was Catholic, etc. Our identity also includes as much reference to whom we are not as it does to whom we are. Beliefs define who we are and who we are not. As in Pauline’s case, our identity changes sometimes out of forced circumstances and other times out of conscious choice.
Here are a few components of collective identity or global self-concept (the combination of our individual identity and our cultural identity):
Achievements – I climbed Mt. Everest; I have three children, etc.
Age – I am an adolescent, teenager, senior, etc.
Appearance – I am clean cut & fashionable; I don’t wear makeup, etc.
Beliefs – I believe in human rights and equality; I believe in peace; I believe life is hard and serious; I believe you have to fight for what you want, etc.
Choices – I am a vegan, vegetarian, morning/night person, etc.
Ethnicity – I am Anglo, Dutch, African-American, Cuban, French, Jewish, Lakota, Navajo, Irish, Puerto Rican, etc.
Friends and Family – I am very popular with a wide range of friends; I am the youngest sibling; I am a mother, etc.
Gender – I am a Man, Woman, Transgender
Hobbies – I rock climb, surf, do yoga, build model ships, etc.
Interests – I enjoy reading, writing, studying philosophy and parenting, etc.
Language – My mother tongue is English, French, Spanish, etc.
Location – I live in Beverly Hills, New York, a small rural farm, etc.
National Origin – I am originally from United States, Australia, Puerto Rico, Japan, Ireland, Barbados, Dominican Republic, etc.
Objects and Possessions – I own a BMW; I own a house on the beach; I own a Rolex watch; I own a collection of coins, etc.
Personality type – I am Talker, Doer, Thinker, Watcher; DISC Style –
Dominant, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness
Physical/Psychological/Mental/Learning Ability – I am able bodied, living with a disability, living with chronic disease (some people state ‘I am ADD, Bipolar, etc.’)
Political Affiliation – I am a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Right Wing, Left Wing, Communist, etc.
Practices and Habits – I am a smoker, non-drinker, procrastinator, etc.
Race – I am White, Black, Latin, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, Biracial, Multiracial
Relationship Status & Role – I am single, divorced, father/mother, married, etc.
Religion or Spiritual Affiliation – I am Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, non-denominational, Agnostic, Atheist, etc.
Sex – I am Male, Female, Intersex
Sexual Orientation – I am gay, straight, bisexual, pan sexual
Socio-economic Class – I am upper class, middle class, working class, poor
Values – I value relationships, truth, beauty, power, freedom, independence, love, travel, etc.
Work/Occupation – I am a consultant, secretary, writer, actor, athlete, retired, etc.
“We are not born with beliefs. Beliefs are learned and become so embedded that we cease to be conscious of them. They become habits of thought, feeling and behavior. We are not born with identities. We are what we come to believe ourselves to be. To change our beliefs is to change our identities. To have our beliefs challenged is to have our identities threatened. That’s why it’s difficult to change our beliefs. It’s also why competing beliefs cause so much conflict – identity is at stake.”
– Geoff Heath, Lecturer in Counseling and Human Relations, University of Derby
From the above list, it becomes obvious that identity is complex, comprising of many aspects, some more important than others. The danger occurs when we over identify with certain aspects and things in our life: ‘Am I the car, the house, the job or the money I own? Is there a difference in who I am versus what I have, and what I do?’
When we overly identify with things that we have or things we do by allowing them to have the greatest value in our life, we allow those things to control us. Review the above list and determine which aspects really form your identity. Remember, too, that our identity evolves, sometimes out of major life changes, sometimes out of small personal choices and other times out of small increments (aging, evolving values, and circumstantial changes.)
You can add to the conversation below.
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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist