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.


Share This:

On Being Contrarian…

As a mother, therapy student, and healthcare worker, it seems the majority of my time is spent in the care of others.  As a Healer INFP personality type this endeavor suits me for the most part. However, as time has progressed, I’ve come to the realization that I’m becoming an adaptive reaction to others’ needs.  I have so little say in who I am becoming.  Everybody’s “baggage” tends to pile up after a long week.  When I review the endless needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires of those I provide care for, an “F’d” up hall of mirrors presents itself.  Within each individual’s worldview are a set of perceptual distortions That I become lost in.  I am unseen behind what is projected upon me….

EmperorCumulatively, these experiences are much like “The Emperor Has No Clothes”  fable.  What I like about this story is it represents effectively the notion of pluralistic ignorance: “a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain societal contexts” (Bjerring, et al, 2014, p. 2445).  This aggravates me to no end.  As I see it, pluralistic ignorance is the perpetuation of bullshit.  It requires us to pretend the king is not naked.  Effectively, in the context of the social situation, truth becomes bullshit and bullshit becomes truth.  A part of me feels compelled mention that the king is naked.  However, memories of ostracism  hold me back.   I stay quiet while my thoughts scream at me from inside.  Underlying a plastered smile, is a mind filled with aggravation.

I have to admit, by doing this I’m denying my true nature.  As a contrarian individual, I tend to see things in a manner which is counter to the norm.  Part of this has to do with my own temperament-based preferences, which I will discuss at another time.   Here,  I would like to examine a few interrelated concepts from psychology that can explain pluralistic ignorance.  Why is it we tend to collude with one another in order to perpetuate bullshit in this manner?

Piaget’s Schemas

Developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget studied cognitive development and believed it emerged in stages (i.e. sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, formal operational).   In his theory, is the concept of schemas, defined as building block of knowledge that allow children to interact with their environment  (Piaget, 1952). Schemas provide mental representations of the world and help us make sense of what we encounter.  Through a process of assimilation and accommodation, we incorporate new information in order to refine our understanding of the world. (Piaget, 1952).  Žvelc, (2009), also notes that since they provide a representation of ourselves and others, they have a profound affect on our interpersonal relationships.

What I find interesting about this concept, is it mirrors insights from Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (Kuhn, 2012).   According to Kuhn, academic fields tend to operate on an implicit set of beliefs and assumptions or “paradigm”.  Paradigms are explanatory models of belief systems that guide the progression of knowledge within a scientific field.  New insights are utilized to expand the prevailing paradigmatic explanatory model – until something unique is encountered.  This anomaly produces a crisis – and eventually a new paradigm, (much in the same manner as Piaget describes with schemas).  These views of cognitive development and scientific discovery both provide a Hegelian dialectical perspective of progress.

Goffman’s Frames

In his book, “Frame Analysis”, Erving Goffman seems to describe social frames as constructed schemas of interpretation (Goffman, 1974).  They provide a socially constructed agenda-setting framework, that give us a background for understanding social interactions.  This allows us to engage in impression management.   Much of this occurs outside of our awareness, at a subconscious level.  For example, personal experiences are imbued with social meaning in ways we are often do not realize.  Goffman’s theory is very dramaturgical in nature and provides a convenient way of examining our daily interactions as “performances”.  Essentially, as his theory asserts, our experiences are organized on the basis of social constructs which provide us meaning.   In order to function in the social world, we must frame our experiences within this meaning system.

Berne’s Scripts

In his book “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy”, Eric Berne, (1961), provides a theory which is useful in analyzing social interactions.  His theory uses the concept of life scripts to describe a set of “unconscious relational patterns” (Erskine, 2010, p. 24).  Developed in childhood, they are relational patterns that reflect our attachment history and are repeated throughout life.  Scripts exist within limbic memory and influence our thoughts, perceptions and behaviors.  Finally, they provide “a generalization of specific experiences and an unconscious anticipation…that will be repeated throughout life” (Erskine, 2010, p. 22).  Berne uses the term “transference phenomena” (Ereskine, 2010, p. 15) to describe this repetitive nature reflected through our relationship history.

Concluding Thoughts…

Schemas are building blocks we utilize to understand our world in early childhood.  Goffman’s frames exist as an adult corollary, providing a means of impression management.  Finally, Berne’s scripts tie these two concepts together by allowing us to understand how our interactions are influenced by early childhood experiences.  Much of what we understand about the world, are assumed to be matters of fact. We expect others to see as we do with socially relevant meaning systems that can act as a guide for our interactions with one another. We expect others to comply behaviorally with this system of meaning regardless of whether it contradicts that individual’s true nature or lived experience.  We are disappointed when they do not comply for failing to validate this perceptual construct.  Kuhn calls contradictory evidence an anomaly (Kuhn, 2012).  Piaget (1952), asserts it is either assimilated or accommodated.  Berne (1961) uses script analysis to understand how social constructs influence our understanding of these relational anomalies. Overall, these concepts describe effectively how pluralistic ignorance is self-perpetuating.

As a contrarian, I feel it is important to note that “objective fact” and “common sense” are terms that often do not mean what we think they do.  They also happen to be highly overrated.  What is often perceived as “common sense” is instead a requisite deference to a schema-oriented social framework.  Objective facts frequently constitute lying by omission, when you consider their presentation edits out the fact that our experience of reality is Inherently subjective.  As a biracial individual, I have a lifetime of experiences with cultural relativism to back up this idea.  Things are never what they appear to be and we need to dig deeper…

What about the radical notion of thinking for myself and to hell with what others think?  There is something to be said for honoring my unique experience rather than bowing down to the bullshit perpetuated by “conventional wisdom”.


Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry.
Bjerring, J. C., Hansen, J. U., Pedersen, Nikolaj Jang Lee (2014). On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance. Synthese, 191(11), 2445-2470. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0434-1
Erskine, R. G. (2010).Life scripts: A transactional analysis of unconscious relational patterns. London: Karnac.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press.
Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 18-1952). New York: International Universities Press.
Žvelc, G. (2009). Between self and others: Relational schemas as an integrating construct in psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 39(1), 22-38.

Share This:

Ego vs. Shadow

I found this strange table in an old journal titled “ego vs. shadow”. It described the consequences of denying certain parts of myself while presenting other parts to the world.  I’m sure its a byproduct of the Jungian and Transactional Analysis stuff I’ve been reviewing.  Since I thought you might find it entertaining, I’ve reproduced it here.  This divisiveness of self starts out with a description of my hidden self and lived self.  Keep in mind,  I wouldn’t describe it as an iteration of theory but instead application of insights.  

EGO – lived self
SHADOW – denied self.

Area of active thought and conscious awareness
Subconscious blind spot, area of repressed memory.

Conscious memories and thoughts created within the prefrontal cortex.
Emotion, imagination and bodily responses from limbic system.

A perceptive object of my own conscious self – it is what I present to the world
What I deny and fear about myself out of shame – a concealed truth I try to avoid.

My Ego-based presentation to world perpetuates lies, illusion and bullshit.
Reflects back consequences of this denial while insisting on wholeness of self. 

EGO – defines who I am being and acting in life.  
SHADOW – presents the hidden reality of my “concealed-self”.

So what are the consequences for my lived daily experience?  If there are certain elements of myself I deny, what happens to those avoided components?  “Emotions tend to be present on two levels. They are ‘out there’ in relation to our goals, the environment and others. They are also ‘in here’ in response to the inner life of the self” (Wiley, 2003, p510)

My emotions are outward responses to people, and events in life.
My emotions are limbic responses to thought content and belief systems.

The outer world causes me to feel as I do – emotions are reactionary.
My brain provides limbic memory whereby  – emotions define experience.

My emotions are adaptive responses to goal-seeking behavior.
My emotions are self-fulfilling prophecies reflecting unresolved hurt.

If emotions are indeed bilevel how can we be certain about them as a guidepost for what we desire and want most in life? How can I know if what I want is really what I want?

Outwardly, the object of my desire is sought for enjoyment through attainment.
Inwardly this desire is understood as a product of affective forecasting (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005).

When I see my value as extrinsic, I create a “missing piece”.  Desire is about me.
My shadow recognizes this faulty thinking & reflects this thru disappointment upon attainment.

If I see my value as intrinsic, I want from a place of wholeness, desire is about the object itself – nothing more.
When my shadow recognizes this wanting from place of wholeness I can relax into the fulfillment of desire by giving into it – fully.


Wiley, N. (2003). The Self as Self‐Fulfilling Prophecy. Symbolic Interaction26(4), 501-513.
Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Affective forecasting knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), 131-134.


Share This:

Personal Identity – on being full of hot air…

“From a symbolic interactionist perspective, the self’s Achilles’ heel is the constant possibility of losing trust and self-confidence.   We are blown-up balloons and it is always possible for the air to come out….It’s [an] emperor-has-no-clothes problem.  Culture in general, selves in particular, are based on ‘hot air’ – shared belief.” (Wiley, 2003, p507).

EmperorOne night after my family went to bed, I began my homework. While sifting through journal articles, the above quote jumped out at me.  In light of recent affairs, it forced me to stop and think. At this point in life, I’m working hard to overcome old patterns and “get unstuck”.  In addition to working on a Master’s degree, I’m trying to pay off some debt, and lose weight.   As I work on accomplishing these goals, (and overcome a few old vices), I hope to maximize my efforts with a bit of radical self-responsibility.   The idea that my hard work could yield another hamster-wheel experience frightens me.   For this reason, I’ve worked hard to understand the underlying patterns in my life.  What I’ve discovered is the solution (and its problem), aren’t so much about what I’m looking at but how I’m choosing to looking at it…

….You see, underlying these goals is a desire to understand the full breadth of possibility for who “I am”.  I find my personal development thus far has been fraught with poor decision-making and happenstance, as I’ve struggled to balance the responsibilities of work and family.  The person I am now is a byproduct of a needs-based reaction to the pragmatic details of daily life.   I’ve become the embodiment of adaptive responses to others self-perceived opinions and needs.

Entering the “Hall of Mirrors”….

Wiley’s (2003) description of identity as a self-fulfilling prophecy in the above quote, summarizes a personal life lesson.  It is for this reason I feel this insight is worth examining more closely.  According to the DSM-5 manual, identity can be thought of as an “experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823).  Psychiatrist Ronald Laing, makes a point of noting that identity has both subjective and objective components (Laing, 1960).  From a subjective vantage point identity is a collectivity of beliefs and perceptions about oneself.  At the same time, in order to form an identity, an objective reality is required that can act as a contextual mirror within which we can view ourselves (Wiley, 2003). As I stop and consider this conceptualization of identity from a personal perspective, a vivid hall-of mirrors presents itself.  On the one hand, as I review my experiences with critical “others”, I am forced to face divergent, (and often conflicting), distorted images of myself.  For example, the “me” I am known as to my kids and husband varies substantially from how my childhood bullies or coworkers might perceive me.  A view of this hall-of-mirrors becomes a confusing “flustercuck” when I try to sift through my role in things.  It is at this point that Wiley’s (2003) hot-air notion comes to play.  I’ve become what I believe I am and often confuse the byproducts of my identity construction, as evidence of it.  Allow me to explain…

The Achilles Heel of Identity….

“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….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).

Since identity construction is based on a system of belief, it exists as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In an effort to define this concept Robert Merton, (1948) quotes Thomas Theorem which states: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” (p193).  He then notes that self-fulfilling prophecies are based on “a false definition of the situation” (Merton, 1948, p145).  It is only by acting upon this erroneous definition that it becomes true. In other words, beliefs exist as cause.  In contrast, what we understand as evidence of who we are is often best conceived as a byproduct of our beliefs.  With this in mind, Wiley (2003) notes: “If people define themselves as real, they are real in their consequences” (p506-507).  This causes me to question the reality within which I’ve come to understand myself.  Am I as I am, because this is me?  Or is this me, only because it has been believed into being? What if I had chosen otherwise?

It is with these questions in mind, that it is possible to insert a “ray of hope” into the conversation.  If identity is a belief system that acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy why not choose otherwise?  After all, if we are full of hot air, why not fill up our balloons with more of what we desire to experience?

Concluding Remarks

I caught the video below on one late sleepless night. In this video, a young man discusses insights gained in the aftermath of a life-changing injury. Having cared for individuals like him in my life, I can recall intimate conversations on this very subject matter. A person can’t help but leave an experience like this with a renewed perspective of life…


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, D.C: Author.
Laing, R.D. (1960). The divided self.  New York: Random House
Merton, R. K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review, 193-210.
Wedding, D. & Corsini, R. (2013). Current Psychotherapies. (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning
Wiley, N. (2003). The Self as Self‐Fulfilling Prophecy. Symbolic Interaction26(4), 501-513.

Share This: