Many individuals struggle with who they are within their families, work, society, themselves and their sense of identity. Some people find it difficult to consider their qualities, traits, and characteristics that make up who they are the factors that make up their identity.
Who are you?
Whilst considering the importance of your identity, can you imagine for a moment if three key parts of who you are, were taken away. This is a topic that has arisen many times in my therapy practice. Clients have been impacted when considering if their name, gender, ethnicity, culture, race, marital status, class, social status, occupation, religion, family role and others were taken away. It is normal to have an adverse reaction to thinking about yourself without parts of your identity. There can be a reaction of resistance, confusion, and even fear. This can occur because we know who we are, in part, because of our identity.
For example, can you think about all the times when you may have rejected parts of your identity to fit in. Perhaps you may have engaged in self-judgment or failed to accept who you really are. Similarly, let’s think about the times when others have rejected parts of your identity and have failed to accept you for who are. For example, shortening your name without checking its ok. Many of us play down our identity for survival and opportunities. When individuals are undermined they may develop consciously or unconsciously unhealthy ways of being. These ways of being may help them to overcome any suffering and anguish in order to be seen and accepted by others. However, they maybe denying parts of their identity.
For instance, as clients become aware of their identity in therapy, some have said “I don’t recognise myself or who am I?” which can signal an awareness. The word identity is often attached to other words in order to gain a sense of clarity and certainty for example, racial, cultural, political, sexual and many more. Having the ability to reserve your identity can be a delicate matter in some environments. When clients are working through some of their past and present narratives about their sense of self, it can be a challenge. The blending of cultures can be among several factors that can shed new light, along with any doubts on their ideas around their identity.
Reflecting about our identity and the possibility of losing a part of it can help us to assign greater value to who we are and appreciate the different parts of our self. If you find that you tend to be self-critical or hard on yourself, it may be useful to think about your identity and who you would be without parts of it, both good and bad. The distinct features of who we are, whether it is faults or attributes, deserve to be valued and loved. It is by showing compassion for the parts of our self that we can build upon our strengths and grow in greater self-awareness.
Given the above, it is our likes and dislikes; our strengths and abilities, as well as our weaknesses and flaws; our beliefs and values; and the activities and things we enjoy, that bring meaning and purpose to our lives. As a therapist I often witness the impact of physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological changes to my clients’ sense of identity.
To summarise, identity is a psychological construct, so if we lose sight of our memories, our experiences, our stories, our voices, we may lose a sense of who we are. We are made up of multiple identities and nobody wants to be pigeonholed, so it’s important to find our own sense of purpose and what defines our identity. Our desires, intentions, wishes and personality traits are central and fundamental to our wellbeing and existence. I encourage my clients to build a capacity for compassion towards themselves and to be sensitive to what their needs are when reflecting on their identity.
Psychotherapist - MSc Psych, PTSTA (P), CTA (P), UKCP, MBACP