I’ve been fascinated by identity for many years, ever since I realised the biggest issues in my own life had been caused by identity, and the biggest positive changes had always come about right after I changed how I saw myself and how I made others see me.
There’s already a lot of research on identity. What does it contain, and how does it form? Is it individual, relational or collective? Do we have one identity, or many? Is it fixed by the time we reach adulthood, or can it be altered? These are just a few of the questions that psychology has been looking at for decades. The answer, in my opinion, is it’s all of these things – they’re just answers to different questions. And fascinating as the theory is, I’m more interested in the practical application.
What can working on your identity do for you? And why are identity problems at the root of so many of the problems in our lives?
You don’t always grow up to be who you want or were meant to be. Life events, crises and traumas can place you into identity positions that cause you distress. Family, society or cultural norms can force you into subject positions that are uncomfortable for you. Bad choices or lack of opportunity can leave you stuck in identities that don’t fit, and lacking opportunity for change. You may not be able to present yourself in a way that lets others see what you’re capable of, or even that lets you believe in that. And sometimes society has negative ways of looking at things that make up your persona.
All of these things are challenges. But not unbeatable ones.
I didn’t want to just philosophise over the nature of identity. I wanted to understand how it affected the human lived experienced, how it contributed to results and emotions, and how can we build and reshape identity purposefully to improve our lives.