Personal identity 101 was designed as an independent series of articles around the topic of identity and self. It joins various philosophical, psychological, and sociological theories to explain the importance of personal identity and its inspiration on different existential questions. Articles will be saturated with diverse ideas, concepts, and anticipated or scientifically proven theories that encourage readers to dive deeper into the topic and identify their position in this dilemma.
Personal Identity 101 consists of 8 articles. After completing the course, readers will be able to see the correlation between society and the self and vice versa.
Identity problems: Am I good enough?
Future of Personal Identity: Flying Cars and Smiling Android
Identity Problems: Am I Good Enough?
"Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1945)
The modern days brought us new opportunities - as well as challenges - in terms of personal identity and self; it allows individuals to be free and to be as their will dictates. Identity is the core of every discussion, as everyone tries to be an individual like no one else. The standard phrase for a self-introduction is “I am”, but it can be replaced with “I identify myself as”, as people have the freedom to choose aspects of their identity. Years ago, if one’s individual identifying attributions (such as biological sex, age, nationality, or culture) were strong identifiers, in the contemporary world, a human can easily choose how to identify itself. Modern humans distinguish biological sex from gender, and age is just a number that does not imply their routine and lifestyle. The phrase "I identify as" creates an illusion that modern individuals are more self-aware. People talk about mind power and will power: the idea of directing one's life with “positive thinking”. It sounds mesmerizing, however, studies show the devastating reality behind what seems like empowering thoughts. Self-affirming statements leave individuals empty and more depressed (Wood et al., 2009). As Harrison writes, “It is hard to believe your own propaganda, and so self-affirmation tends to backfire for the people who need it most” (Harrison, n.d.).
The contemporary world makes the coexistence between different realities possible via the World Wide Web, and these realities are omnipresent. Anyone who is tired of their own reality can switch to a different and more desired virtual reality. However, this charming idea of happiness and freedom involves a considerable amount of danger: even if those virtual worlds feel real, they are not. One might get easily confused and lost in the ocean of endless possibilities. And, needless to mention that choosing one’s own self is merely the effect of social influence.
As discussed in the previous article, sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) introduced the dramaturgical theory, suggesting that self and identity change constantly based on interactions with our surroundings. Humans adapt to different roles in different circumstances. Based on this idea, the incoherence of personal identity is not coherent can lead to various mental health and well-being problems. The reason for this is that harmony and stability come from inner coherence - it helps humans stay motivated, focused on long-term goals, and devoted to a purpose. The person that loses their sense of identity consequently loses their vision of the future, along with their purpose and confidence, which, as the BBC writes, is one of the reasons for increased borderline cases like “fragility of self” (Kotecha, 2014). Moreover, one’s self-worth and ability to give and receive love have roots in identity. As Glynn Harrison writes, to act freely and confidently and even to love and be loved, one needs to cultivate values and attach those values to a consistent and reliable self (Harrison, 2013).
Identity determines the nature and quality of our relationships too; in order to form a stable relationship, one needs to know oneself and the person he or she is communicating with - this helps the person make predictions and anticipate the form of interaction. A coherent identity is the key to durable relationships, trust, and understanding, and a society is only as strong as the interactions among its members. Thus, “where an individual’s sense of worth is constantly at stake, empathy towards others is reduced: few emotional resources remain available for others when so much care and attention needs to be expended upon oneself” (Harrison, n.d.).
Apart from the aforementioned issues, modern individuals can also suffer from self-esteem problems that have roots in social media. Sometimes the virtual world is very distant from reality; however, individuals tend to compare their identities and selves to the individuals they see online. Lacking the skills to identify the manipulated data, they fall into the problems of self-esteem: if there is no self-esteem, one can fall into depression and despair easily. This can contribute to prominent problems, including imposter syndrome. On the contrary, one might suffer from a lack of social recognition, causing negative feelings and emotions (The Digital Health Society, 2019).
One’s identity is the most important possession for her or him. It is the source one uses to display one's identity in front of others; therefore, all the features used for this presentation are carefully chosen to make the person look good. Because of this, rejection or negative comments can cause harm to a person’s self-worth. In case of being excluded or isolated from a group, the person feels lonely and this loneliness has the potential to cause self-loathe and the feeling of not being enough. The person does not need to experience major rejection or heartbreak, any blunt comment can create the feeling that one is “bad” because one does not have a worthy personality (Shneidman, 1993; Scheff, 1988).
In conclusion, in the contemporary world where everyone talks about their own uniqueness and individuality, personal identity problems are still prominent. One can talk about self, create virtual realities and demonstrate one’s own identity as desired; however, many individuals lack coherence in terms of identity and sense of self. This leads to diverse problems: motivation and focus on the future, poor interactions, relationship skills, and confidence. Also, virtual presentation of self can cause self-esteem problems with severe consequences.
Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor
Harrison, G. (2013) The Big Ego Trip, IVP.
Harrison, G. (n.d.). The Modern Crisis of Identity. Jubilee-Centre.Org. https://www.jubilee-centre.org/cambridge-papers/10178-2#_ftn17
Kotecha, B. S. (2014, December 12). Self-harm Hospital Admissions Among Children “at five-year high.” BBC News. Retrieved From: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-30414589
Mueller, A. S. (2021). The Social Roots of Suicide: Theorizing How the External Social World Matters to Suicide and Suicide Prevention. Frontiers. Retrieved From: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.621569/full
Scheff, T. J. (1988). Shame and conformity: The deference-emotion system. American Sociological Review, 53(3), 395–406. https://doi.org/10.2307/2095647
Shneidman, E. S. (1993). Suicide as psychache: A clinical approach to self-destructive behavior. Jason Aronson.
The digital health society. (2019, November 19). New technologies and challenges for personal identity. Retrieved From: https://thedigitalhealthsociety.com/new-technologies-and-challenges-for-personal-identity/
Wood, J. W., Purunovic, E., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some. Retrieved From: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02370.x
‘Who am I’ (1945), from Letters and Papers From Prison, SCM Press, 2013
Figure 1: Bonky, C. (2020). Be yourself [Photograph]. Unsplash.Com. https://unsplash.com/photos/igGrQCXBuNk
Figure 2: Mossholder, T. (2017). You are worthy of love [Photograph]. Unsplash.Com. https://unsplash.com/photos/SR8ByN6xY3k
Figure 3: Yang, C. (2019). Online identity [Photograph]. Unsplash.Com. https://unsplash.com/photos/1tnS_BVy9Jk