A Question or several questions have formed our identity since we were a child and they have evolved through our adolescence years.
If in earlier years for many of us it was difficult to develop an identity and many times we were lost in a sea of possibilities, dilemmas and surrounded by many kinds of people.
Picking up most of our traits from our parents and caregivers was the foundation, however we always look up for that superhero or that role-model we admired for the achievements he or she had in any area that was our passion or that we wanted to become someone in.
We’ve been traveling these deep sea with the tools that we were also discovering through experiences, challenges, plenty of failures and of course disappointments in every day life.
The struggle to have a defined identity has been and will always be our biggest challenge, Why is it such a big event in our lives?
Why does it produces as well so much pain in many stages of our lives, even as “full developed adults”?
Those questions can be answered with some of history in studying identity development and psychological tools that many of us have heard before.
Freud (1930/1965) was one of the first psychological theorists to address the fundamental question of self-definition. Freud believed that one’s sense of self was derived from parental introjects during the genesis of the superego, at the end of the Oedipal conflict. Furthermore, not only did Freud believe that these introjects formed the foundation of one’s self-definition during childhood, but he also held that these parental identifications were not significantly revised or updated during adolescence or adulthood. More or less, then, one’s self-concept was believed to be a function of the basic identificatory processes occurring during the preschool years.
Although Freud (1923/1961) wrote extensively on identification and other identity-like processes, the first psychodynamic writings to move identity formation beyond childhood identifications and parental introjects were those of Erikson (1950) in his classic work Childhood and Society. Erikson believed that it is the presence of self-selected identity elements that separates children from adolescents and adults. Simply put, “the consolidation of identity marks the end of childhood”.
Erikson proposed that Individuals can move between two opposite poles:
Identity Synthesis (they combine and integrate relevant earlier identifications in a unique and personal way)
Identity Confusion (they do not hold yet meaningful identifications that could provide them with a sense of direction)
For Erikson, identity is best represented by a single bipolar dimension, ranging from the ego syntonic pole of identity synthesis to the ego dystonic pole of identity confusion. Identity synthesis represents a reworking of childhood and contemporaneous identification into a larger self-determined set of self-identified ideals, whereas identity confusion represents an inability to develop a workable set of ideals on which to base an adult identity. Ego identity, then, represents a coherent picture that one shows both to oneself and to the outside world. Career, romantic preferences, religious ideology, and political preferences, among other facets, come together to form the mosaic that represents who one is. The more complete and consistent that mosaic is, the closer to ego identity synthesis one is, whereas the more disjointed and incomplete the picture is, the more ego identity confusion one will manifest (2)
Marcia proposed to consider four identity statuses, each of them representing an individual’s style of coping with the identity crisis described by Erikson (4).
The statuses are based on the presence/absence of:
Exploration (i.e., the active questioning and weighing of various identity options before assuming decisions about the values, beliefs, and goals that one will pursue)
Commitment (i.e., making a relatively firm choice about an identity domain and engaging in significant activities aimed at implementing that choice)
Three-factor identity model, Crocetti’s (5).
Commitment: Choices made in identity relevant areas and self-confidence derived from these choices
In-Depth Exploration: Represents the extent to which individuals deal with current commitment actively, reflecting on their choices, looking for information, and talking with others about them
Reconsideration of Commitment: Refers to comparisons between current commitments and other possible alternatives and to efforts to change present commitments
Leonardo Polo’s anthropology acknowledges the relevance of the self and integrates it in a wider understanding of the human beings as possessing three different complementary dimensions, which are called ‘radicals’: ‘a received nature’ (the ‘classic radical’, which recognizes that actions affect the self), ‘subjectivity’ or interiority (the ‘modern radical’, that stress the importance of freedom and is the locus of self), and ‘relation’ or ‘co-existence’ (the ‘Christian radical’, which underlines the person’s uniqueness and her transcendence to her actions) (1, 3).
Pretty much throughout time, we can see that Psychologists, Philosophers, Anthropologists have made an effort to explain from their own perspective what and how our identity is formed and has evolved.
If we think deeper into these perspectives we can characterize these theories and reflections into a new model which allows us to have a dynamic concept of identity and which will be evolving through all our stages even if we have a “background identity” set.
This model “Dynamic Identity” proposed in my own particular view will be able to set us free from the rigid concept that our identities are set in stone and cannot be modified.
It is clear that the first stage of everyone’s identity is:
Seeking or Exploration. This has to be the initial mark for everyone as we need to be able to question ourselves constantly just like when were children:
What do we want?,
What are our passion’s?,
What make us feel alive?,
What are we willing to give to get somewhere or to become a certain kind of person?
The more detail we put into these descriptions and in the answers to these questions, the clearer the picture will be and the more satisfaction we’ll have.
Going Deep. This stage is the second layer of seeking and this means get a really deep knowledge, experiences and start applying action into the reflections and answers obtained in the seeking stage. We will only achieve a truly profound deepening experience through challenging ourselves to:
Invest the time to know the field, the person, the experience that we have decided to learn, to know, to live and it will of course be tinted with challenges, failures and disappointments;
Be aware that this process is where will encounter more pain, more suffering (maybe), more tests that will be there to give us direction, to set our course clearer, but also to give us more satisfaction and resilience;
Construct an armor of patience, consciousness, and responsibility to allow ourselves to navigate through this wild sea of questions and answers that will be thrown to us like stones throughout the journey; Maintain a positive but grounded mindset that will allow us to enjoy the whole process and honor every bit of the struggle we have embarked to;
This is the stage that will solidify the ground where we are going to be standing for a good while of our lives as long as we maintain the satisfaction of enjoying what we decided to do.
Remodeling your Identity. This a new proposed perspective that will allow us to re-evaluate or projects, goals, new endeavors, and revisiting a shorter or might be longer seeking phase but with a heavier arsenal of tools, maturity and perspective than our younger versions lacked. For this stage you gotta be willing to:
Engage in the game of questioning yourself again What do you want in this stage?, How long do you plan the stage to last?, What is your destination?, Do you have the tools to embark on the journey?, Are you willing to endure pain, failures and disappointments?, What will be the impact for others, your family, your society?, What kind of contribution do you pretend to generate and to whom?
Construct a landscape greater than just the benefits for you, start thinking about the people around you, start becoming that role model that you once admired;
Consider the impact on your family and closer people, as well as the economic setting that you will need to thrive, the return of investment that you will need to maintain this stage;
Visualize the scenario you want to build and setting up a milestone pathway where you have a clearer picture of each of the stops you will need to make, because this is supposed to be a longer journey than the once you had when you first developed your identity;
This stage is supposed to be fully enjoyable but of course maybe the most challenging, here is where the real growth begins and sustains through your life. Additionally in this stage you have the freedom to question yourself everything and to follow your own inner knowledge, perspective, and insights developed in the deepening phase. Luckily if you invest the amount of time and effort in this stage the following years of your life will be your “wonder years”.
The distinction between personality traits, character and self helps to grasp the moral nature of self. “Personality traits involve our temperaments, moods, habits, skills and dispositions, not all of which are reason-responsive or identity conferring…character traits penetrate deeper to the core of a person’s self”, and they distinguish themselves from other personality traits in “being potentially reason-responsive and having to do with a person’s moral worth... (The self) encompasses those and only those character traits that are literally speaking self-shaping... (core commitments, traits, aspirations and ideals)”. In this understanding, the self cannot be separated from morality: “the way we think morally about other people is predominantly in terms of what kind of person they are, and only secondarily about their actions in abstract”. The ‘moral self’ is “the self as the subject of moral agency and the object of moral evaluation”. However, it should be noted that, for Aristotle, moral virtue is a superior superordinate aspect of personhood, not a reduced or collateral aspect of it (7).
Some emotions are particularly relevant for the self. Among them, ‘self-constituting emotions’ (which define who we are, and flow from deep commitments and aspirations) are particularly important in the perspective of the theory of the self-of-virtue: the desire of growing in virtue is a self-constituting emotion, a constitutive part of the fundamental disposition to grow in virtue that characterizes a self- of-virtue. Another kind of self-relevant emotions, namely, self-conscious emotions, are closely related to self-concept and will be discussed in the third section.
Based on this realist understanding of a “unified moral self of rationally grounded emotion”, we will unfold in the next section the concept of ‘self-of-virtue’ (7).
We ought to be able to aspire to transcend, to inspire virtue because we are made as a self-reflection of divinity whatever your religious beliefs are, our true nature is goodness and virtuosity. Social, Political and Marketing media tell us other stories because in the end the objective of many of these platforms is confuse people, gain followers or sell you something but if you have a clear identity of what you are, what you want and what is your destination then any of these distractions will have an impact in the way you think, in the way you are and in the way you want your life to unfold.
We are living times of massive information but this is also a challenge where we have a huge amount of access to information, to go deeper, to make a higher commitment with ourselves first to improve our version and to step into a long lasting journey that will bring us more satisfaction than the pain or suffering that other’s want you to think there is.
Questioning yourself is probably the most basic of our nature, is probably the only constant that we will have in our lives and of course this doesn’t mean that you will unsatisfied with who you are right now ..on the contrary this just means that you will accept who you are, you will embrace all its flaws, advantages, and character traits that you have developed over the years. Furthermore this means that you will be completely committed with yourself, with your growth, with your constant evolution of who you were and who you want to be.
Therefore I challenge you to embark on your own journey of questioning, of growth, of compassion with yourself, of knowing in your deepest layers who you are and what do you want for the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years of your life ….
Fernández-González, M.J. "At the Heart of Virtue Growth: 'Self-of-virtue' and 'Virtue identity'". Estudios sobre Educación. 36, 2019, 9 - 29;
Schwartz, S. J. (2001). The evolution of Eriksonian and, neo-Eriksonian identity theory and research: A review and integration. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 1, 7-58.
Polo, L. and Corazón, R. (2005). Lo radical y la libertad. Cuadernos de Anuario Filosófico, no 179. Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra.
Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego–identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551-558.
Crocetti, E., Rubini, M., & Meeus, W. (2008). Capturing the dynamics of identity formation in various ethnic groups: Development and validation of a three- dimensional model. Journal of Adolescence, 31, 207-222
Crocetti, E., Prati, F., & Rubini, M. (2018). The interplay of personal and social identity. European Psychologist, 23, 300-310.
Kristjánsson, K. (2010). The self and its emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.