The Importance of Identity


Identity affects us all – especially when we don’t know our roots.

I get the sense that few people think about their identity explicitly. Instead, it operates silently in their lives. Silently but continuously. So I think it crucial that we understand the importance of identity.

What is identity then? We are so multi-faceted as human beings, more so perhaps than ever before with all the juggling that we do. Our identities are made up by our roles as parents, friends, employees, the list goes on. We may also like to think of ourselves as kind, successful, ambitious, sociable etc.

So, let’s break our identity down into component parts:

The main aspects of identity

  • “Fixed” stuff:
    • religion
    • culture
    • sexuality
    • gender
    • nationality / ethnicity
  • Value system – our views on:
    • education
    • work
    • success
    • manners
    • family
    • respect
    • etc
  • Coping strategies / adapted behaviours:
    • avoidant
    • workaholic
    • drugs
    • food
    • jolly
    • compliant
    • etc
  • Likes and dislikes, skills and abilities:
    • food
    • temperature
    • reading
    • writing
    • running
    • etc

The first two categories probably combine to produce the third. Often, the second category – value system, is formed as a direct result of our cultural and familial teachings over time (see this related post). The fourth category, ‘likes and dislikes, skills and abilities’ will also be formed as a result of experiences (both good and bad) or lack of experiences together with innate tastes and talents.

But what if there is an expectation that we carry on with a particular value or way of living that doesn’t feel right? This can produce a coping strategy or adapted behaviour in the third category.

An example might be that our parents value professions such as accountant or doctor whereas we want to paint for a living. If we don’t feel that we have enough of a voice to push back on this, we might find ourselves studying to be a doctor, and hating our lives as a result. We might find a coping strategy such as alcohol or drugs to help us deal with this feeling.

Sometimes it feels very difficult to challenge others’ expectations, but it’s always important to try and figure out what feels right for ourselves first and foremost. We need to try and understand what our identity is telling us, because nobody else experiences the world in the exact way that we do. Only then can we work out whether we need to make changes.

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