Self-Identity: Who are You, Really?

Do you hesitate when someone asks, “How would you describe yourself?” or “Where are you going with your life?” What’s going on in your head when you hear those questions? 

The answers to these life questions are strongly related to self-identity. Due to various choices and pathways in life, individuals might find it difficult to form an identity; therefore, answering these questions might not be easy. 

However, committing to an identity is a crucial part of life since it helps individuals to make choices in life, creating a sense of belonging and even developing firm boundaries. If you’re still in the process of finding your self-identity, don’t worry. In this article, you will learn more about self-identity and how to navigate an identity crisis. 

What is self-identity?

Self-identity can be defined as a stable and important aspect of one’s perception of themselves. It is developed in childhood when individuals start to show evidence of self-recognition — being aware that your name refers to the body and mirror image of your body. In addition, it is also displayed when a person first uses the term “I” or “me” as well as “you” which implies an awareness of self from a different point of view. 

In adult individuals, self-identity covers more than the recognition of one’s own physical body but also attitudes and values towards oneself, such as, “I think of myself as a green consumer” or “I think of myself as a health-conscious consumer.” 

Over a lifespan, an individual’s self-identity is constantly shaped and reshaped according to circumstances and critical life experiences such as marriage, parenthood, illness, and aging. 

However, it is usually a central concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational adversities have to be faced. 

Stages of identity development

James Marcia is a Canadian clinical and developmental psychologist known for his work in the theory of Identity Status. The theory of identity status proposed that two parts contribute to the achievement of self-identity: crisis and commitment. These two produce four different processes which late adolescents or young adults go about in the way of shaping their identity.

Identity diffusion 

This process is characterized when a person has no opinions and has made no effort to learn about or experience various options. It also occurs when a person hasn’t chosen an identity and isn’t working to develop one. 

Identity diffusion is the least complex and mature of the other identity statuses. One example of identity diffusion is when a person decides not to commit to a particular career choice since they don’t know what they want to be.

Identity foreclosure 

This process is when an individual decides on an identity without looking into alternatives. Often, these beliefs about oneself are based on parental ideas that are accepted without question. 

Identity foreclosure is different from identity diffusion, where in the former, a person has chosen an identity. For instance, a woman who grew up in a family of doctors commits to being a doctor without hesitation and never looks for another career option.

Identity moratorium 

This is a stage when an individual is trying out roles or activities to find the most suitable identity for them. It is when the individual strives to understand their capabilities, society’s wishes, and demands. 

An example of an identity moratorium is when college students shift their college major after realizing what they are learning is not what they want to do in the future. Or when individuals explore various career options via volunteering, internship, and online search before identifying the most suitable. 

Read more: Raising Teen Volunteers: Organizations You Can Look Into 

Identity achievement 

This state happens when the commitment is high and the person has gone through a period of exploring many options. Individuals may reach this stage when choosing occupations, values, or lifestyles. 

Being in this stage gives a person a sense of uniqueness, awareness of their weaknesses and strengths, and take a stand on sociopolitical issues. An example of identity achievement is when individuals are able to figure out what their own values are and be confident about them. 

How to be authentic to yourself

While it is normal to question who you are, especially in times when we need to make serious decisions about our life. It is important to understand who you really are and get used to changes so that you may grow as a person. Here are some of the things you may do to be authentic to yourself: 

Exploring available options

Learning from the theory of identity status, being authentic requires individuals to explore the available options for identity issues. You may start by identifying your identity dilemmas, such as confusion about which lifestyle to adopt, which job to accept, or which life values to implement. 

These explorations may come in daily interactions with people around you. Whenever you receive discrepant feedback from people around that contradicted your current self-views, take that as a cue for exploration. In addition, you may also start to engage in several activities with the guidance of experts that are able to provide a safe space and support. 

Documenting each option 

After engaging in some activities, you may write down your feelings and thoughts about each activity. Critically evaluate each of them, and choose an alternative supported by the strongest reasoning. To understand yourself, you also may identify your unique traits and set short- and long-term goals. Then find which activities align with your personal goals. This way, you will be more organized in achieving your goals while getting to do what you desire to do. 

Read more: Three Ways to Keep Motivated in Achieving Goals 

Understanding the psychological and social context

While forming an individual’s identity, it is important to understand the psychological and social context as well. Psychological context refers to how individuals connect to the past, and present experiences as well as envisioned future. Whereas social context refers to how an individual relates to others and the context of their lives. 

By understanding psychological and social context, a person will not be stuck in a closed view of themselves. To understand the psychological and social context, individuals should be mindful of their choices, explore their history, or seek guidance from mental health professionals. 

In conclusion

Since self-identity is crucial for navigating your life and relationships with others, ensuring the maturity of your self-identity is essential. Welcoming an identity crisis is one of the steps that need to be taken to arrive at the identity achievement stage. Some tips you may use include exploring various options, taking note of your strengths and weaknesses, and understanding your past experiences and how they shape your current self.

If you would like to see more resources on self-identity, check out the Personal Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Personal Science Labs today.

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