Self–identity or personal identity can be a difficult concept to define. Are we talking philosophically? Because that can get eye-crossingly difficult to follow, unless you’re into those kinds of philosophical discussions. Or are we talking about those deep core values that we use to define ourselves and that guide our daily lives?
Oxford dictionary defines “self-identity” as: “The recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual, especially in relation to social context.”
I would agree with most of that definition, except for the part about social context. Our true and authentic identity is not defined by race, color, nationality, language, or place of birth. True identity is not defined by our families, whether it be the family that we grew up in, or the one we currently have (husband, wife, children). It is not defined by a person’s occupation, vehicles, home and property, bank account, or any other such superficial items.
Our true identity is not defined by our bodies, athletic ability, our personal style, or overall appearance. It’s not defined by our thoughts, feelings, or dreams.
If you make the mistake of thinking your self-identity is the same as your nationality, what you do for a career, your family status, your financial status, your social status, or perhaps your health status (healthy or sick), then you are just setting yourself for up failure. When your self-identity is made up of things, and not your deep core beliefs, you are on your way to an identity crisis. “Things” can disappear for whatever reason, but your true, authentic, deep core values will always be there to provide a stable foundation from which to live from.
So far I have shot down the constructs that most of us use to define our identity, including the ones I have used in the past. I remember being a bit afraid of having to ditch my carefully constructed “identity” that was doing me absolutely no good (because it wasn’t my true identity), and having to do the ugly work of really finding out who I am. If that’s how you’re feeling at the moment, don’t despair, you are more normal than you think.
The self-identity I am talking about has to do with our deep core beliefs and values. Those things we know about ourselves (or maybe not, yet) at a core level. Those things that truly make us who we are when we are stripped of the outward trappings of the world.
Our self-identity is also not limited to the present. Most of us change a bit throughout our lifetimes, and just as our values and beliefs at the present may not be what they were in the past; our self-identity can also include our future self. That doesn’t mean that our past values and beliefs (our self-identity) were false, but as we grow older we have more experiences to draw on that shape our views. The great thing is, if we didn’t like our old self very much we can always change it. That’s where our future self comes in to play. Who do you see yourself as, or what values and beliefs have you not been acting on, yet know they belong to you? You can incorporate your future self into your present self-identity and become the person you truly see yourself to be.
You can see then that your self-identity is only relatively permanent; it flows and changes with you through life as you gain experience, and wisdom. That doesn’t mean what you were in the past was false (providing you know what your true identity was at the time), that was who you were at that particular time.
Our sense of self-identity then must then be filled with what I call the “I am’s.” The definitions of ourselves that are our deep core values and beliefs, self-assessments that are based on what we know to be true about ourselves at the core level, not what we do.
Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about. The types of “I am’s” that we aren’t looking for are things like “I am a pilot,” or “I am a doctor.” These are titles of things we do, not our deep core beliefs. The statements of self-concept like “I am confident,” or “I am intelligent,” or “I am courageous” are what we are looking for when we talk about our self-identity.
Here is another example that will help you visualize what I am talking about. A statement like “I am mentally tough” is a self-assessment that adds to our values and beliefs about ourselves. Statements like “I am tired,” or using our title like the examples in the preceding paragraph (I am a doctor) shouldn’t be considered part of our self-identity since these can be temporary states. You may have to give up your career tomorrow for some reason, and getting a good night’s sleep will take care of being tired. Therefore just because your statement has an “I am” in it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is part of your self-identity.
Is there some “wiggle room” when it comes to figuring out your “I am’s?” Sure there is. For instance the statement “I am athletic” is not only something that you do, it can also be part of your deep core values and beliefs. It isn’t just about the outward, but the inward as well. Being a top athlete is just as much about what goes on internally in a person as it is about the external actions. You could argue that being a pilot or doctor takes a lot of study, but the deep core beliefs and values are not internalized to the extent that being a top athlete takes. It’s a tricky thing, and you don’t have to get it 100% right all of the time. As you continue on your quest to really know your true authentic identity you will begin to understand what belongs in your list of identity items and what doesn’t.
The last thing I want to touch on is uniqueness. Your true and authentic identity should really point to your own uniqueness as an individual. No one out of the billions of people on the planet is going to have the same unique combinations of items that make up your identity. That’s why pretending to be someone you are not, or going along with the crowd can be so devastating to our inner selves. I’ll give you a freebie right here and now. Add Bold to your list of identity items. In order to act out on our true and authentic identities we have to be bold, otherwise we’ll just take the path of least resistance, and just follow the crowd.
I hope this gives you all a better understanding of what your self-identity is. In the next article I am going to share with you the reasons why knowing your self-identity is so important to our living a true authentic life so it is important that you have a decent grasp of what your self-identity is.
Congratulations! You are on your way to knowing who you really are!