“Who am I?” A question we ask ourselves from time to time. We define ourselves by our roles in society and our interests. But have we entered these roles and adopted these interests of our own free will? When we change ourselves to please others, we lose our sense of self. If this has happened to you, then how do you find your identity again?
If we place our sense of identity on the fragility of our labels, we risk experiencing an identity crisis when these labels break down. If we remain rigid in our identity, we miss the opportunity to grow and develop.
This article will discuss what our identity is. It will also outline 5 ways to help you find your identity in the chaos of life.
What is an identity
At its core, our identity is our sense of self. Who we believe we are. But what creates our identity? What helps us put all the pieces of the jigsaw of ourselves together?
According to this article, our sense of identity is an amalgamation of many things:
- Social responsibility.
- Belief system.
- Ethics, morals, and values.
As you may have noticed, some of these things change over time. We are creatures of growth; we evolve.
Over the years, psychologists have developed different theories about how we build our identities.
The psychologist Freud believed our ego creates our identity. Our ego moderates our id and superego. According to Freud, our id is involved with motivation and desire. Our superego is concerned with morality and values. Our ego balances out our id and superego to create our identity.
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Nuances of identity
There are periods in our life when our sense of identity feels particularly tumultuous.
- Our teenage years.
- Life changes, including becoming a parent, moving house or job, marriage, and divorce.
Consider those who fixate heavily on their key defining identity as a parent. These people struggle the most with “empty nest syndrome.” When their children leave home, they feel lost and confused. They don’t know who they are anymore.
Significant life changes can cause us to experience an identity crisis. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, the identity crisis is a natural part of life development, which most commonly occurs in the teenage years. However, it is also prevalent during a life phase of significant change.
During an identity crisis, our sense of self jumbles up. This stage is an opportunity to untangle our identity and reassess who we are.
According to this article, there are 3 basic areas in the formation of our identity:
- Discovering and developing potential.
- Choosing our purpose in life.
- Finding opportunities to exercise that potential.
If I apply these 3 basic principles to an area of my life, it looks like this:
- Discover my love for animals, the outdoors, and fitness.
- Choose a purpose in life of kindness and compassion. Realize I am adept at helping bring happiness and connection to my community.
- Set up a canicross running club, which brings people and dogs together to have fun and stay fit while making friends and connections.
With this in mind, I now recognize why I feel a strong sense of self. I have allowed the organic and natural formation of my identity.
5 ways to find your identity
Beware not to fixate too heavily on your identity, as it may hinder your curiosity to embrace personal growth and change. While we can have a strong sense of who we are, it is also beneficial to remain open to growth and change.
When we don’t quite feel we are living authentically, we struggle. Perhaps a void exists between who we are inside and who we present to the world. This paradox can ignite change and encourage our identity to develop.
Here are 5 tips that make it easier for you to find your identity and discover who you are.
1. Know that you are not your thoughts
Be aware of your thoughts.
We all suffer from intrusive thoughts from time to time. Please do not allow them to create your identity.
My thoughts have a history of sabotaging me. They tell me I’m:
- An imposter.
If I allowed these thoughts to permeate, they would take hold of my sense of self and leave my self-esteem in tatters.
I’ll be honest; there was a time I listened to these thoughts. I believed I was worthless and unloveable. I factored my beliefs into my sense of self, which caused immense unhappiness.
It is perfectly normal to have intrusive, negative thoughts. While it is not pleasant, learn to recognize when these thoughts come up and don’t pay attention. You are not your thoughts!
If you need more help, here's an article about how to deal with feelings of inadequacy.
2. Listen to your heart
Listen to your daydreams. They are the universe’s way of directing you to your calling.
If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders.Vi Keeland
Let’s do a little exercise.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Set a timer for 1 minute. Don’t overthink things; set the timer, and now write down the following:
- What makes you smile?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What brings you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction?
- How much time do you give yourself to do these things?
- Can you name 3 people in your life you feel most comfortable with?
Now take time to read this over. These are words from your heart. Can you spend more time surrounded by things that make you smile and things that bring you enjoyment?
Whatever brings you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction - if this is not already a career, can it become one?
Why do you feel most comfortable with the 3 people you named? Maybe they support your dreams? I would guess you feel able to be your true self in their company. So who is that? Who are you when you are with these people?
3. Reconnect to your inner child
As we enter adulthood, we often move away from what we enjoyed as a child. We may adopt the interests of our peers to fit in, or we become consumed by our work. Both of these can cause us to lose ourselves.
I’m not suggesting you return to jumping around in puddles all day. But think about it, what did you enjoy as a child? What captivated your imagination?
For me, it was animals and expelling surplus energy out into nature.
Each time I find myself adrift and detached from my sense of self, I reconnect with the fundamental me. The sense of identity that I know will never change—my love of nature and animals.
This connection may be a simple case of spending more time with my dog, wandering in the woods, or volunteering at an animal shelter. The important thing is we listen to our inner child.
My partner was desperately unhappy and unfulfilled in his job a while back. In seeking to turn his life around, he connected with what brought him happiness as a child; lego and making things. With this new enlightenment, he reconnected with himself.
He now makes fine furniture and is an all-around fixer and maker.
Please get back to your childhood passions; you never know, they may still be burning inside.
4. Don’t attach your identity to your labels
We need to be careful with the things that label us.
In our quest to find our identity, we often attach to labels.
At one point in my life, I relied on my labels for my feelings of self-worth. I was a:
- Business owner.
- Community group organizer.
- A friend.
I then moved house and country. Everything I once thought defined me was stripped away. I felt naked and vulnerable. Who was I if I didn’t have these label accolades?
I learned I am more than the labels society encouraged me to attach to myself.
Take a minute to recognize who you are, without using typical labels to define yourself. When your life is stripped to the basics, what remains intact?
I am kind and compassionate, and these traits run through the core of my being wherever I am.
Labels may come and go, but the essence of yourself will remain untouched.
5. Stay true to your identity
As life twists and turns, we find ourselves in compromising situations. I have strayed off my path many times. I have gone along with a crowd to fit in. I have betrayed my own identity in favor of a more popular facade.
Luckily, I have always returned to my own identity. And each time I return, I find comfort in my skin and vow never to stray again.
But remaining true to our identity all of the time is easier said than done.
If you find yourself straying, ask yourself if your identity has a growth spurt or if you need guidance back to yourself.
Authenticity always wins. Don’t sell yourself out for others.
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Some people spend their whole lives searching for their identity. This lack of self-knowing can leave you feeling lost and rudderless. Save yourself the heartache and follow our 5 simple tricks to find your identity:
- You are not your thoughts.
- Listen to your heart.
- Reconnect to your inner child.
- Don’t attach your identity to your labels.
- Stay true.
Do you have a strong sense of identity? How have you managed to establish this? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!