Identity is something that we all know about. If asked; how would you describe yourself? Is your description related to other people, your family; is it related to the work you do? Is it related to the things you am interested in, your passions and hobbies? Do you countenance the fact that you were one way in the past, that you are like this in the present and that you may be another way entirely in the future?
From the start…
From the get go, our temperament, or our genetic make-up, initiates a response from our primary caregiver, usually our mother. The caregiver is going to react to how the baby is, which mixes with their own personality traits. This is a circular dynamic and, dependent on how we are looked after, we interpret information about ourselves; about the type of people we are, whether we are placid and pleasant, or difficult and truculent. As babies, we need our parents to interpret the world for us and this world view becomes integrated with our instinctual leanings.
No matter the genes we are born with, their combination does not solely determine who we are; experience mediates the other aspect of our identity/personality.
So how does this feed into identity? It is fashioned through nature and nurture. Yes we are born with a certain genetic inheritance, that may or may not serve us well, but we are also more than that. Identity encompasses more than just genes. No matter the genes we are born with, their combination does not solely determine who we are; experience mediates the other aspect of our identity/personality.
Throughout life our identity could be drawn as being similar to a cast of characters. Some complementary, some opposing each other. We pick these up on our way through life, through our natural temperament and the experiences we have.
Again the key is awareness, to get to know the different parts of ourselves. Looking at ourselves in different situations let us get to know our cast of characters. When some appear, when some fade into the background. This can be very supportive knowledge because sometimes channelling/summoning parts of ourselves that serve us well, in situations we might struggle, can be very helpful.
Identity is formed and forming all the time. We alter every day according to our experiences, so we do not have a fixed identity and this leads of the possibility of change. We can change.
I have been watching a Channel 4 programme presented by the artist Grayson Perry, it lead to me this question of identity as this is what he is investigating. He meets a range of different people and asks them about their understanding of identity. He make portraits of the people he meets and he does this by spending time with them, hearing how they see themselves in the world around them or how they have consciously constructed their identity. It is compelling for me as a therapist and as someone who has interest in how we understand ourselves. The diversity is astounding, not only in the range of people he meets but also the range within the people themselves. It affirmed to me our richness, the kaleidoscopic tapestry that is within each of us.
All of the artist’s subjects connect with the object he creates of them. It is like a photo, a moment in time, they recognise it. This will transform and develop into something else over time.
We do not have to have a fixed and stuck version of who we are. The discovery of the depth and breadth of who we are is a life long journey.