Health > Mental Health >Identity
Our identity is our essential self, the part of us that makes us different from all other people. A strong sense of identity enables us to live full lives; to surmount periods of crisis and to communicate well with others.
Identity is the sum total of who and what we believe ourselves to be. It includes not only physical and factual aspects such as our appearance and sex, and attributes such as our job and position in life, but also our views on these matters. Identity is also what makes us unique: the difference between ourselves and every other person who exists.
Our identity is vital to us under conditions of stress, isolation or deprivation we cling to our sense of identity in order to survive. Without a strong sense of identity we easily lose our self-confidence and even some of the will to live.
WHY WE NEED AN IDENTITY ?
Our sense of identity serves two main purposes. First, it enables us to inform others of who and what we are, how we feel about various aspects of our life and the areas in which we are certain of ourselves. And it may also indicate to them the areas where we may be less sure of ourselves, too.
The second purpose which our identity serves is even more important, for it reassures us that we are people of at least some value to society, whether as leader or follower, good guy or bad guy.
Identity also influences our behaviour a man who regards himself as important does everything with an important air, even when his actions are in fact quite unimportant.
Similarly, what we own proclaims our identity: books, clothes even our friends and our pets provide others with clues to our identity while reinforcing that identity for ourselves.
WHAT CONSTITUTES AN IDENTITY ?
Identity has a number of components. Once one has accepted one’s own existence, identity starts with body shape and size, age, sex, colour and other physical characteristics. Along with physical attributes go physical possessions and the other signs by which the world sees what we want it to know of us -our job, our marital status, our role as parent or grandparent.
Another contributing factor is the value judgement we make about ourselves-whether we see ourselves as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, competent or these judgements is that they often bear very little relation to the ‘real’ state of affairs as the outside world sees it. A woman may be a very kind person, always helping others and of real value to the community, yet she may be convinced she is useless and incompetent.
Coupled with our opinions of ourselves is what we think is good for us: for example, one person may regard education as good for him and making money as unimportant, while another might hold a completely opposite opinion.
Closely allied to all this is the ‘ideal self’ that each person carries about with them. This affects the strength of a person’s identity considerably, for if the ideal is pitched too high-either by the person concerned or bye other-the identity becomes weakened in a desperate attempt to reach what is in all probability an impossible target.
From the moment that a baby discovers that he is not the entire universe, he begins trying to establish his own identity. His parents both contribute to this, giving him first a sense of being loved and even of giving love in return.
This sense of being loved must be very strongly instilled in the young child for he has tolerate many occasions when his parents deny him his wishes or may become angry with him.
As the child grows, his identity is strengthened and moulded by the reaction of others towards it and the events in his life. Learning (or failing to learn) to get on with others at school; learning not only the facts taught him but also the moral precepts given by teachers, parents and other adults all contribute to the nature of his growing identity. If these values form a largely consistent unit, the identity will be strong. If not the self-esteem of the child will often be low and the ideal self will be confused.
The adolescent makes new friends whose opinions vary in an extreme fashion, shaking and testing the strength of the identity. The adolescent’s opinions about what is good for him may undergo a drastic revision, focusing less on pleasing his parents yet secretly hoping to retain identity is under attack, pulled by childhood influences in one direction and emergent adulthood in the other.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG ?
Research shows that parents who themselves have a high self-esteem, are emotionally stable who are not coercive towards their children but provide constant encouragement and support, sense of self-identity that no subsequent situation is likely to damage it much.
In other circumstances, however things can go wrong. The dominant reserved father can produce in a child a poor sense of sexual identity because of the parents own approach to their roles. Over-protective parents can prevent the child from ever establishing the strong social contacts needed to develop a good social identity.
The adolescent identity crisis is to some extent inevitable in today’s western world. This is because our society encourages young people to make their own way rather than, as in other times and cultures imposing pre-formed images of adulthood upon them.
The lacks or loss of one’s job, children leaving home and the possible loss of a partner through death or divorce can also lead to identity problems.
But, happily. These periods of identity crisis are survived by most of us and we make the adjustments necessary to meet the next phase of our lives.