People's identity is rooted in their identifications; in what they associated themselves with. What a person associates him or herself with is ultimately who that person is, for all identity is ultimately in relationship to something else. An American person identifies himself or herself as "American", for example, and that becomes part of that American person's identity. The same person might identify themselves as male (or female), a member of a particular religious group, a brother or sister, a child, an employee, etc. Even more personally, they may identify themselves as a loser, as someone who is helpless to influence the course of their lives, or as someone who needs to hate a particular religious group simply because that is what members of their own religious group are "supposed" to do. Though such personal beliefs may have no basis in reality, they often are taken at face value by the people who hold them. Such people act on their mistaken or irrational beliefs and end up creating problems for themselves.
Identity is not just what you know; it is also how you know. People are not born with an identity. Rather, identity is something that evolves over time. Young children have simple identities and see things in an overly simple, generally self-serving manner. As people grow older and wiser, they identify themselves with other people, places and things in increasingly sophisticated ways and start to grow out of this initial selfishness. A young child may see her mother as a creature that exists solely to take care of her, but an older child will often start to appreciate that her mother has needs of her own, and start acting less selfishly towards her mother so as to take that knowledge into account. Sometimes life events interrupt this natural progression from selfishness to thoughtfulness and people's identities stop growing. Such people may be chronologically adults, but relate to others in the selfish manner characteristic of a younger child, creating problems for themselves and the people around them when their selfish expectations clash with those held by people around them, who expect a more adult, more "responsive" and "responsible" identity to be present.
Whether due to mistaken beliefs or developmental delays, identity problems can cause people to have difficulty taking an appropriate perspective towards other important life tasks, creating a wide range of life problems. The following list describes a few different ways that identity problems can be present. Consider each to determine whether an identity problem helps contribute to your own problem.
A poor sense of self-worth (also known as poor self-esteem) occurs when you come to believe that you have little value or worth. This often occurs when key people in your life are critical towards you, or when you are perfectionist, and critical towards yourself. In either case, the tendency is to harshly judge, and ignore or play down the importance of real accomplishments, even when it makes no sense to act this way. There may also be a belief present to the effect that self-worth can only be based on the acclaim of other "popular" high status people, even thought this is not the case.
- Do you like yourself?
- Are you good at anything useful?
Self-efficacy describes how effective and in control of their lives people believe they can be. People need to feel that they have a certain amount of control over their lives so as to be able to get out of difficult situations or meet challenges they are expected to meet. When people believe they are helpless to alter negative situations they find themselves in (a situation called "learned helplessness"), they tend to get depressed. Though there are certainly many aspects of life that people cannot controlled, there are a remarkable number of things that can be influenced. People who have low self-efficacy expectations of themselves will believe they are helpless to influence their fate, however, and will generally not seek to alter their lives, even when they are suffering. Self-efficacy tends to be domain-specific; You might feel confident in one area of your life but feel helpless to influence another.
- Do you believe you have control over the important aspects of your life?
- Are you "stuck" in a situation you don't like but can't leave? Why do you think that is the case?
- Are you a weak person? In what way? Why is that?