Identity Defined….

(((In my hallway closet is a plastic storage bin, piles of notes for a blog I had intended to create for quite some time.  Every week or so, I’m digging out a few ideas from it and throwing it up on this website.)))

Something interesting piqued my curiosity from all these blog post ideas.  Clipped together were aa bunch of printed copies of various definitions and comments on “identity” as a construct.  What is identity anyway?  The first thought that comes to mind, would be my own verbal response to the answer “who are you?” Interestingly, the answer you get varies directly upon my mood at that time.  To some extent, reflects the fact that I’m not so much a concrete constant, but ever-changing entity that exists in response to the needs of my environment.   Anyway, here are a few random definitions in no particular order of importance…..

First a Definition…

IDENTITY: “experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823).

According to this definition, identity is an internal frame of reference in relation to the world us. This understanding of who we are is woven throughout our life experience as an understanding of those characteristics that are definitive of our nature.

Identity From the Inside…

The self is “nothing but a bundle or collection of perceptions which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement.” (Jones, 1975, p305)
“The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness. Closer examination reveals that the self-sense is continuously and selectively constructed from a flux of thoughts, images and emotions. This is similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a move screen give the illusion of continuity, vitality and movement….this bears a crucial contemplative claim: that we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).

16137500596_0aed6b99e4_zThese quotes force one to consider the imprecise nature of identity.  It doesn’t always reflect facts as much as it does ego-driven emotions, beliefs, insecurities.  As it states above “who we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013).  So when is it okay for others to question our asserted identity?  How does one discern between truth and bullshit? — Or is this a politically incorrect question to ask??

Identity From the Outside…

“Psychology has nothing to do with the other person’s experience, but with his behavior. I see you, and you see me. I experience you and you experience me. I see your behavior. You see my behavior. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot “see” my experience of you. My experience of you is not “inside” me. It is simply you as I experience you. ….Your experience of me is not inside you and my experience of you is not inside me, but your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you. I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man’s invisibility to man. Experience used to be called the soul.” (Laing, 1990, p18).

This comment on identity focuses on the fact that others’ are “guessing at” what lies within.  In this respect, while we can often be mistaken about “what we are”, others are comparatively clueless to the power of ten.  They see behavior, and make assumptions on it.  In light of this fact, why do we allow others to tell us who we are, if they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

And Yet, an External Frame of Reference is Essential….

“what is important is knowledge of the meaning of these identities. Depending on one’s reference point, there may be more than one meaning for the same identity. That is, a particular identity may have one meaning in the dominant culture, another in a minority culture, and still another person-specific meaning for the individual” (Hays, 2008, p76).
“The sense of identity, requires the existence of another by whom one is known; a conjunction of this other person’s recognition of one’s self with self-recognition.” (Laing, 1960, p149).”

While our knowledge of self is imprecise at best, others are often left to “guess at” our internal workings. Where does the grain of truth, lie?  The quotes above, describe others as an essential frame of reference in the construction of our identity.  Cultures provide systems of meaning as a reference point. Interactions provide a sense of self-recognition.

So what Purpose does Identity Then?

“A firm sense of one’s own autonomous identity is required in order that one may be related as one human being to another. Otherwise, any and every relationship threatens the individual with loss of identity….instead of the polarities of separateness and relatedness based on individual autonomy, there is the antithesis between complete loss of being by absorption into the other person (engulfment), and complete aloneness (isolation).” (Laing, 1960, p46).

We are social creatures at heart and grow in relation to those around us.   A delicate balance is required somewhere between isolation and engulfment.  Identity appears to lie as a byproduct of our interaction with the outside world.  Would it be more accurate to characterize identity as a verb than a noun???

What are Our Solutions???

“Whereas Western therapies teach us that we can modify our self-image, contemplative therapies teach us that we can also do something far more transformative and profound: We can recognize that our self-image is only a fabrication, and can thereby dis-identify from it and become free of it.” (Wedding and Corsini, 2013, p467).

4980301826_da48d42a84_zI’m not sure if this blog post was useful at all in answering any of my questions.  The more information I find, the more questions I have.  With this in mind, I’m stopping here.  The above quote can allow me to “finish off” this post on a positive note.  Self-responsibility is the key to empowerment.  By understanding where bullshit lies, we can see beyond our socially fabricated selves.

Images: 1, 2, 3


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Hayes, P. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association.
Jones, W. (1975). A history of western philosophy. (Vols. 1-5, 2nd ed.). New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.
Jung, C. G. (1957). The undiscovered self: The dilemma of the individual in modern society. New American Library, New York, New York, USA.
Laing, R. D. (1960). The divided self. New York: Random House
Laing, R. D. (1990). The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise (Vol. 2572). Penguin UK.
Wedding, D., & Corsini, R. (2013). Current Psychotherapies. (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.


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