Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go”Doug Cooper
One of the most important aspect of human beings is to have a stable sense of self. Having a well-developed sense of self is what helps us make wise choices in life. However, formation of self-image or identity is what has become an important conflict today. Since people and the environment around us strongly impact our sense of identity, our likes and dislikes are constantly influenced by changing trends, consumer cultures and need to be accepted. In other words, identifying with our true self has become really challenging competitive and ever changing world.
How can we really identify who we truly are when we have a constant desire to fit in with our peers, to earn appreciation or to live by other people’s standards. As a result, we switch between different identities, live confused, instead of holding on to our true sense of identity. We are influenced by what others do or want us to be, like what we ought to eat, how we should feel, what to achieve or even how to dress so we can be fit ins.
In a way, we’ve become attached to a fake sense of self more than ever. Our lives are so comfortably filtered that it is easy to experience a loss of identity from time to time. A lost sense of self can often lead to mistaken beliefs, values and inaccurate measure of one’s worth.
Our identity or true sense of self is not something inherent, but is developed overtime and is determined by number of factors. And is based on perception of the characteristics that define us, our abilities, what we like and dislike, our belief systems and our values. Even the things that motivate us contribute to our identity as a person. It is further shaped by our experiences during the course of our life, particularly during childhood and during our growing up years.
Understanding your own identity
The process through which you develop your own identity begins in childhood. As a child, if you grew up in a supportive environment, and you were given freedom for self-expression, you may develop a healthy sense of self. On the other, if you were raised in non-supportive environments or for some reason if you were subjected to neglect or experienced unfriendly or unpleasant circumstances, you may often struggle to develop a healthy sense of self.
If your self expression in your growing up years only earned you criticism or punishment, you might respond to it by ignoring your true self. You might have reshaped yourself into someone more widely accepted in order to feel more secure. However, as we transition from childhood to adulthood, each one experiences a sense of confusion and may experiment with different roles, attitudes and behaviours.
Our level of social interactions and relationships too affect our sense of identity. Feelings of constant comparisons and insecurity or over identification with ego too play a role in shaping it. Since we consciously live by the rules we have been taught by our care givers, parents or teachers, they unconsciously play a role in shaping our subjective sense of self. This creates a continuous self that remains more or less constant even as new aspects of life are developed and strengthened overtime.
Factors that lead to Identity crisis
When you are grounded, comfortable and secure in your true identity, you take responsibility of your own opinions and feelings. It helps you make wise choices as you recognise the value of your own worth. On the other, when there is a loss of identity, you end up clutching to whatever identity labels other people throw your way. Be this your family members, friends, co-workers or social groups and social trends.
Loss of identity also occurs when you don’t really understand your true self or lack self awareness. This might lead to shifting between your different selves and often makes it difficult to know what exactly you want. Adopting an identity without self exploration or self-knowledge and giving into conformity, peer or parental pressure and cultural expectations contributes to loss sense of self.
Sometimes the busyness of daily stresses or routines tend to put pressure on your available time. Such increased demands in your time and responsibilities make it even more challenging to be in touch with your true identity.
It is common to experience a loss of identity when you juggle many tasks or responsibilities in order to please others. This further reduces your sense of worth and increases your discontent. When you live your life trying to fit into someone else’s definition of success, you might simply drift through your life , feeling uncertain and indecisive. As a result, you might always try to adjust your sense of self or might find yourself changing in response to other people’s likes and dislikes and seek external validation to reassure yourself.
This urge to model yourself to fit into expectations of others might even extend to your personal or work relationships as a way to gain approval. For instance, faking a certain persona at work, another one with your family, or an other one with your friends. Shifting between these different selves often can be emotionally and mentally draining.
Spending too much time focused on one thing you feel you have to also leads to you losing sight of what you truly want. Being a parent or prioritising your work over everything else can be some such instances. But the thing is that we each get to decide the right understanding of what we want to be. It comes with self knowledge, self acceptance and how you respond to your experiences, behaviour, thoughts, and feelings.
Your sense of identity depends on recognising your strengths and values
Our moral code is what makes our lives meaningful and motivates us to make wise decisions. But in today’s busy world, most of us fail to make choices that really reflect our true self identity. Our important life choices often get lost in unnecessary trivialities. Everyone’s personal values and strengths are central to their true being. And everyone’s interpretation of their own life experiences may be one of the major driving factors in determining the values they choose to live by.
In other words, Our values are inherent to who we are and since they represent our unique and individual essence, being unclear of what’s important in your life can lead to loss of identity. Understanding our personal core values and strengths on the other hand helps us gain clarity on our life’s purpose and so on our authentic sense of self.
Our identity and social comparisons
As social beings, we are always comparing ourselves to one another and we do so either consciously or unconsciously each time we interact or relate with other people. We rely on our comparisons so as to gauge our own skills, abilities, beliefs and attitudes.
However, comparing can only inspire us to change for better as long as you have a strong sense of self. At other times, it in fact leads to a weak sense of self if one is constantly measuring their success by what someone else does or doesn’t. Fear of missing out and peer pressure makes us compare with others. Also, such frequent social comparisons play out on other areas of our life negatively. We feel burdened by feelings of inadequacy, insecurity or not being good enough.
Rediscovering our identity through self-acceptance and self-compassion.
We live in a highly competitive world that makes us rely excessively on neediness to being accepted by others. As a result, we tend to be hard on ourselves and live live constantly self-evaluating. This leads to self-criticism in areas like our intelligence, abilities, skill or worthiness. Because the relative significance of these areas changes at different stages of our life, so does our sense of identity. This constant striving to feel good about ourselves in a way, leads to undermining our true self.
The toxic idea that we have to strive for more at all times can also bring forth our egotistical self that threatens our true identity when faced with failure or rejection. But we can always regain a realistic perception of our true identity through self-compassion.
Being understanding and practising self-kindness, and being self-compassionate to our imperfect self can help us achieve the connectedness with our inner true self. Recognising that personal inadequacy is part of human experience and is something we all go through, rather than something that happens to you alone makes you less judgmental.
Mindful self-awareness helps in reconnecting with your ideal self
At some point in our life, we all experience a lost sense of identity in some situations. When you experience loss of identity at times, choosing to overcome it is not difficult, but needs patience to raise your awareness of patterns of your mind. With a little bit of practice and reflection, you can reconnect to your true identity. Letting go of adopted sense of self however requires careful self-reflection, just like the way you train your concentration or focus.
Relating your personal experiences to those of others and putting your own situation or experiences into a larger perspective makes you more accepting of both your perfect and imperfect selves. By practicing flexibility and openness, you develop a deeper sense of your identity. Bringing your attention to understanding the conditions that led to lost sense of identity, you begin to see how you are holding yourself back from being your true self. Instead of identifying with the past conditions, you learn to release them and reset yourself in your true nature.
Treat yourself with kindness and without judgment. This alleviates fears about social disapproval where you can approach difficult experiences without losing touch with your true identity. Self kindness helps shift your perspective of how you relate to failure, mistakes and difficulty and helps you see it as part of larger human experience.
Notice the presence of judgment by becoming mindful of your inner critical voice and feelings of inadequacy. This creates space to make wiser choices. Each time you recognise a negative emotion, practice unconditional positive self regard to decondition yourself from the old self-criticising ways. This paves way for self-compassion more naturally.
Take some time out to destress and reconnect with your passions or people who can help improve your sense of self. Maintain a balanced perspective of self and avoid comparison triggers that don’t really add any value to your life. Do things that not only interest you, but can also help nurture your inner self.
Practice a daily ritual of mindful self reflection to look inward and to get in touch with your feelings, thoughts and emotions. When you observe your faults, weaknesses and failures, non judgmentally, you can take responsibility and accept your imperfections.
Avoid measuring your self-worth and personal values with others socially. Don’t rely on peoples’ opinions of your abilities when it comes to assessing your own self. Instead develop self-awareness of your own strengths and values to gain a precise self assessment of your true self.
Practicing unconditional acceptance of self, prioritising your values and assuming responsibility creates a strong identity of self. This also lets you overcome moments of lost sense of self and does not allow external circumstances or people to lower your actual sense of self.