Identity is something we all seek as a way to understand ourselves. It is natural to want to know as much as possible about ourselves. It is essential to develop an understanding of our gifts and abilities. So why are so many people hurting from issues about identity? Let’s see if we can shed some light on this important topic.
Do We Need Identity?
There is more than one way to look at human identities.
According to dictionary.com, identity is
- the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another: He began to doubt his own identity.
- condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing: a case of mistaken identity;
- immigrants with strong ethnic identities.
- the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time and sometimes disturbed in mental illnesses, as schizophrenia.
Identity, then, is being oneself. Let me ask you: how often do you feel like you can be yourself? Most of us do not. So that begs the question, where does identity come from, why do we need it, and can we change it, get rid of it or at least change our relationship with identity?
Different Kinds Of Identity
Not all identity is equal. One of the dictionary definitions is the condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.
You may have noticed in the definition one example of immigrants with strong ethnic identities. So identities can come from place. I am from New England, meaning my experience there is a part of who I am because it has influenced me. I have lived in the DC area since then, so the Mid-Atlantic is also a part of my experience. I am female, which can be part of my identity, and of course, many different sexual orientations become identities. I grew up as a Baby Boomer, which means that generation is part of my experience. My mother was from Germany, so multiculturalism is a part of my experience also. Then there are all of the experiences we all have around work, family structure, interests, etc. Experience is one part of our lives that contributes to who we become.
All of these experiences influence us, but the question remains are they really our identity? This is not a spiritual discussion it is a practical one.
Culture And Identity
A lot of what we call identity is created through culture and not experience. In fact, there can be a lot of inner conflict between the reality of our experience and how we are perceived in culture, and this is where many of our problems begin.
What many people do not know for good reason is that each culture has a specific purpose. They are created to solve a particular set of problems and have a lifecycle like all of us. So capitalism, our current system, was created to advance material well-being through science and progress. It has succeeded admirably. It was not created to handle social and environmental issues, and I am not saying that as an excuse. Because we think culture is supposed to take care of us and support us, we do not recognize its limitations. And cultures, because they want to live forever, too often refuse to accept the changes they do not want to deal with, especially if it means a change to the cultural structure, like with the environment.
This may seem like a detour, but it is something we need to understand in order to make sense of something very important about identity. Each culture creates identities it wants you to inhabit in order to make the culture work. So an agricultural culture will want you to be a farmer, not an astronaut or media influencer. The roles that serve the culture are the ones that are encouraged. So in capitalism, entrepreneurs have had a lot of support.
Where Does Our Identity Really Come From?
With that in mind about how cultures work, where does our identity really come from? Why do so many of us have such a negative experience as children and spend lifetimes trying to heal ourselves and/or reclaim ourselves from the early conditioning we experienced?
When we are young, we do not understand that when a parent says you are too quiet or too noisy, they are not necessarily talking about there being something wrong with you; they are often saying that you need to act differently in order to fit into the culture. The culture, though, is interested in what you can do for it, and that can be a good thing unless the cultural purpose is too inappropriate and different from what you have to give. People who discover this often identify themselves as misfits which is a very telling label to apply to yourself.
Reclaiming Yourself From Culture
Many people are trying to reclaim themselves from cultural norms as we go through this huge cultural shift out of capitalism into a new model for human life, one that is more socially and ecologically sustainable. It is necessary.
We have the opportunity to reclaim parts of ourselves that we have put aside in order to fit in. Culture as it is right now, which is still predominantly authoritarian, wants you to be a servant of its agenda. Right now, the agenda is control and material accumulation, both of which are hurting us. People are exhausted from too much productivity pressure, and the earth is also exhausted. It is time for us to release ourselves from the hardship created by the survival narrative that still dominates human discourse and social systems. It is time to question the trauma created by demanding that people live identities that are not right for them and increasingly for all of us. It is time to stop all the pain by forcing people to be someone they are not.
It is also time for each of us to give ourselves permission to be truer to our actual natures, release ourselves from working ourselves to death, and start caring deeply for ourselves, each other and the earth. It is possible to change our approach to life at this time of change. Your real identity is simple. It is human. That is what I go by and what I prefer. There is an advantage in making our identities that simple. When we do, we can invite all aspects of ourselves to the table and be what we need to be in living life connected to earth and reality. We need to be more grounded and connected with nature because right now, we are out of control in so many ways that our way of life is actually self-destructive. We deserve better, all of us.
If we want life to work again, we need to question identities of all kinds to discover what is real and right for us. To do that, we need to release ourselves from false identities to get our feet back on the ground. We will all be much freer and happier as a result, and I doubt we will miss the baggage of identities that are keeping us stuck. I am willing to give a shot, and I hope you are also.