“If you’re given the freedom to be anything or be anyone, what do you do with it?”
How our identity shapes us
Our identity is who we believe we are. It’s influenced by our genes, culture, and the things people said about us as we were growing up. At the most basic level, our identity is crucial to our survival and the tribe we choose to identify with. It provides us with a sense of belonging. Our needs for social bonding, loyalty, security, and acceptance are timeless. In new situations, we tend to gravitate to what’s familiar and what aligns with who we believe we are.
The changing landscape
When we first meet someone, we ask them their names. And, in most contexts, the second thing we ask is, “what do you do?” Yes, as a culture, we are tightly defined by what we do.
Or what about job loss due to an economic downturn? How do you define yourself then?
But we know identity is not what we do. If you define yourself by your job and you lose your job, or you retire, you will feel a loss of your identity.
The dangers of identity
There are benefits to identifying with a particular community. But heaven forbid you if you go against any of their beliefs!
What happens when your truth no longer aligns with the premises of the group you’ve identified with? Christians have rejected family members who came out as gay.
Many Christians still believe you cannot be gay and Christian at the same time.
Our sense of identity is so deeply entrenched that any threat to it can elicit fear and anger and sometimes even violence. Clinging on to our identity can be divisive if we project our biases onto others.
The problem with the need to define people within an “identity” is when we extend our assumptions to dangerous conclusions. Unquestioningly. We do it all the time with the individuals we meet. It inhibits healthy intimacy when we look at people through the lens of our subconscious biases.
As Eckhart Tolle said, “A group needs enemies because without enemies, it’s identity cannot continue to be defined.”
What are you identifying with?
As I mentioned at the very start of this article, our identity is who we believe we are. And that’s what it is – our identity comes from our beliefs. It’s what we think is right. Many of us rarely even question these beliefs. Many of these beliefs. These beliefs are society’s expectations of us and not based on our personal needs.
Who am I?
Aristotle said, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Our skin color, gender, sexual preferences, and ethnicity is part of our identity. Identity also includes how we define ourselves. I am competitive, forgetful, or kind.
Defining ourselves by other people’s views of us prevents us from reaching our potential. No one knows how far you can fly except you. Are you aware of how you define yourself? Smart, poor, spiritual, attractive. Bad at sports?
Identity as a powerful tool towards lasting change
Be mindful of your inner dialogue around your identity. How often do you defend that identity? Saying things like, “I’ve been smoking for 40 years, it’s going to be hard to quit.” Your beliefs about who you are can imprison you.
Changing how you perceive yourself is very difficult. It’s an attempt to change your identity. Your brain looks for evidence outside yourself to continuously confirm this identity. This could be one of the reasons most therapy is ineffective in helping people make long term changes.
“Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.”
– Doug Cooper –
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure here.
Jennifer helps people discover how to live life on their terms. She coaches women in achieving their personal and business goals. She has written numerous books on money: Women and Money: 7 Principles Every Woman Needs to Know to Be Financially Prepared in Any Economy and Growing Up With Money: Raising Financially Resilient Kids in an Age of Uncertainty.
You can reach her at email@example.com