Identity exists on many levels: who we are; who we think we are; who others think we are; who we think others think we are. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “We often speak of one’s ‘personal identity’ as what makes one the person one is.”
Our identity is formed, in large part, during our early years, a product of the influence of our first families, schools, religious organizations, social and civic communities. Then we grow up, pursue an education, get married, find a career, live in the community of our choosing, determine a political persuasion, perhaps change religious affiliations. All of these things go into determining who we are.
But what happens when our life circumstances change? Or our start in life was nontraditional in some way? Some people struggle with discovering or rediscovering their identities.
Adopted persons, for example. They become members of new families, after being removed from their families of origin through no fault of their own. Some find their way and assimilate easily into their adoptive families; others feel always at least a little on the outside. According to Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound, one characteristic shared by many adopted persons is an inability or difficulty in making decisions, because they’re constantly seeking the approval of others in an effort to fit in. Their identity is confused, at best. While this situation is improving with the advent and acceptance of open adoption as standard practice, many adopted persons still struggle with questions of identity.
Widows and divorcees are another group of people who may struggle with rediscovering their identities. Having spent many years as one-half of a couple, to suddenly – or even not-so-suddenly – find oneself single again can be incredibly challenging. From finances to meals to simple companionship, learning to shift from living with a partner to living on one’s own likey requires some significant adjustments.
Folks who spent much of their adult lives in a single career or industry and now, in the new economy, find themselves either out of work, in a radically different industry, or working beneath their skill level may be struggling with a new identity.
Often we identify ourselves with our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. So what happens when financial calamity forces us to move suddenly or downsize against our will?
People in recovery are among those learning to find new identities. New friends, new hangouts, new habits and hobbies are all part of the brand new life that comes with leaving addiction behind. The past identity as a user or addict is transformed into something new, but understandably, the shift can be challenging.
Similarly, people newly released after incarceration may find themselves searching for a path to a new identity.
Mentally ill people often find themselves living with labels imposed on them by doctors, families, social workers, and society at large. But what if they want to shift those labels and discover a new self-identity?
Each of these groups – and anyone who wants to change their label or identity – could benefit from a self-inventory tool to assist them in discerning their tastes, values, desires, goals, and preferences. It might be as simple as a willingness to ask some probing questions and answer them honestly, and then the desire to act on the discoveries.
For a further commentary on personal identity, you may want to read this article by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Please mark your calendar for next Tuesday, November 16, when Therese Skelly and I will be hosting In All Honesty – a teleconference with two experts speaking on the topics of question-asking and journaling as powerful tools for self-development. Don’t worry if you can’t make the scheduled call time – we will make a recording available to all who register.