Defining our own personal identity can take a lifetime and to complicate matters or issues, our identity changes throughout that period whether or not we consciously undertake a process of personal development. So what do we mean by personal identity? How can
we answer the question “Who am I?”
The answer is more than just our given name of course – it is much deeper than that – it is a question about our personality and more. There are some obvious factors that we know from the outset just by looking at our circumstances. That we are male or female, whether we are young middle aged or old.
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Identity from groups and community
We know our tribes and nationality – or at least most of us do, although some people who have migrated or have dual citizenship may even find this difficult to be certain of! In this world there is a wonderful opportunity for migration and travel, with the results that we can cease to feel part of our local community, or even our nationality and instead feel part of the global village. We cease to be surprised by the Shoprite super market in a developing country such as Nigeria, SouthAfrica and so on – it feels like home. Identity even on this seemingly simple level quickly gets complicated as previously strong local identities get transformed.
In Nigeria, Many people see themselves as a different unique being ,We have the Northerner, Easterner, South west ,South South and Middle belt, seeing themselves as superior over the other, But one thing is certain, they have their unique identity.
In the UK, there is increasing emphasis on local, regional and devolved (national) government. The UK – the United Kingdom – is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Living here means that our identity can change depending upon the circumstances. An Englishman overseas may say he is British, if in Scotland he might say he is English, whilst a Scotsman may only feel that he is Scottish and never British. Within England, there are definite regions, North and South being the obvious ones and yet those in Cornwall may view themselves as a separate nation.
On a yet more local level we may view ourselves as a member of a local community, a housing estate, a school, an office, a company, a church or a town, village meeting.
Each time we say we belong to one of those groups we identify with them and adopt some of the behaviours and beliefs of the wider group. Some of these groups that we are a part of are in conflict with each other, so even on the level of these most basic external circumstances; it can be difficult to come up with a definitive identity of who we are.
What groups are you a part of and how does that influence your identity?
Identity through roles
In our day-to-day lives we may define ourselves through the roles that we play. These roles may include being a mother or father, husband or wife, brother or sister, son or daughter, colleague, friend or even enemy! Again some of these roles may be in tension – consider a priest or doctor serving in the front line alongside soldiers, a certain level of internal processing needs to take place for someone who is committed to saving and preserving life to also be involved in taking life.
What roles do you have that form part of your identity?
Identity through our work or profession
We may define ourselves through our profession or our work. I am a teacher, I am an accountant, I am a lawyer, I am a plumber, I am an electrician, I am a chef ,I am a journalist,I am a doctor … and so it goes on.
However if we define ourselves by what we do, our profession or work, then does this not oversimplify our complexity? Of course it does. There are many individuals, who become doctors, but they are not all the same, however they may describe themselves as a doctors and this may be the main way in which they establish their own identity. But something is lost by doing this.
The problem therefore with all of these ways is the reduction in our identity to generalized groupings. There are two problems with this: the definitions are external to us and they are generalized.
Our identity surely is more than the generalized identity of the groups we are part of and more than what we do, how we behave and the roles that we adopt.
Our identity is who we ARE not what we DO.
So how do you define yourself?
Take a blank piece of paper and a pen and write down as many words, roles, groups and thoughts about your identity that you can think of. Take about 10 minutes over it.
Then sit back and consider whether these are really the things that define you – are you more than this? Looking at that list, who is defining who you are – is it you or those around you via these groups and roles? And is that how you want to define your identity?