Personal identity has been discussed for a long time. Questions like “Who am I? What am I? When did I begin?” occur to nearly all of us now and again. In Part1 of this case study we will explore the subject of identity and look at how it is formed and affected. In Part 2 we will reflect on the various ways people seek to identify themselves and suggest a process people can follow to find their true identity.
What is identity?
Identity is nothing more than a person’s perception of who they think they are. It is the way a person defines themselves, which is driven by their beliefs and values. Identity in most cases is self-defined, however for some people their need to belong and be valued results in them looking up to others to determine who they are.
How is identity formed?
When a baby is born, it is not conscious of who he or she is. In the formative years, ages 0-5 years, a child is like a sponge which soaks up everything in its environment.
In most cases the opinions and actions of our parents, guardians and teachers as the primary nurturers go a long way to shape our personal belief of who we are, what we can do and our self-worth.
Children who are often praised by their parents will learn to love themselves and be more confident compared to children who have experienced rejection or abandonment.
Additionally, external influences shapes children’s perception of who they think they are, as well as the image they want to project. These influences come in the form of anything or anyone who has the power to affect the mental picture children or people have of themselves. This could be siblings, classmates, a bully in school, TV programmes, chat sites and social networking sites like facebook etc…
Let me give what initially looks like a harmless example – sibling rivalry where one sibling is trying to assert themselves over the other or competing for the attention, love, acceptance of the parents. It is not uncommon to find siblings say really hurtful things to each other. The case is worsened when the child in an attempt to fit in with his or her classmates in school finds they have to give in to the pressure of dressing, behaving, talking in a particular way so as to gain acceptance.
CASE STUDY no. 1
What other people say about us? – Hurtful Words
Lisa overheard a boy in her class Grade 6 say to his friend who teasing him about her “Ugh, no way! I would not be caught dead with her. She is so fat and her legs are like big sausages.” From that time onward, Lisa became so conscious of herself. She would always dress in clothing one size bigger to cover her shape and long flowing skirts or trousers so as not to show her legs. Lisa never wore sleeveless tops for fear her arms would show. Every day she would look at herself in the mirror and she would hear the words of Stuart whom she really liked. She started spending more time at home either in front of the TV or on online chatting sites, pretending to be someone she was not.