It suits our purpose for this self-help document to get you to think about identity as something that can be divided into three parts, corresponding to your perspectives on your past, present and future. These three parts don't actually exist as separate entities within your identity (which is rather a more uniform sort of thing). However, by paying attention to each part as though it was a separate sort of thing, we are able to point out methods you can use to clarify and improve the contribution each part makes to your overall identity.
The first point we want to make about the three parts of identity is that the content of each part can and usually does influence the content of the other parts. Your understanding of events from your past can influence your motivation to do things in your present or future. Vice versa, your fear of an event that might occur in the future, can influence how you act in the present.
If you have come to understand the world to be a threatening place based on past events you've experienced (abuse, rape, etc.), you are likely to present a defensive and guarded stance with regard to your present. You may avoid getting into relationships for fear they will turn out to be abusive, or you may be very ambivalent about being vulnerable in relationships or sharing loving sexuality for fear of being harmed again. If you are afraid that a terrorist or criminal attack may possibly end your life in the future, you may take defensive steps in the present (purchasing a gun, refusing to pass through "unsafe" neighborhoods, etc., viewing ethnic groups with prejudice) that restrict and degrade your freedom and quality of life.
It works the other way too. If your past experience has been that the world is a loving and warm place to be, you are likely to have a more open stance towards the world in the present which embodies your feeling of safety and acceptance. You are also likely to believe that things can be good for you in the future, even if they take a dramatic turn for the worse in the present. Because of your optimism, you are more likely to be motivated and willing to persist in self-help efforts to make that good potential future become a reality.
In the following sections, we describe methods for exploring your perspectives and beliefs concerning the past, present and future, and help you to understand ways you can use what you learn about yourself to make identity corrections which will help enhance your life.