I often reflect on the moment in Alice in Wonderland when the caterpillar asks ‘who are you?’ It is such a big question.
Her reply is “well I’m not sure, I’m not myself you see, I’m not the same person I was when I woke up this morning!” and ” How puzzling all these changes are! I’m Never sure what I’m going to be from one minute to another”
In each moment of our lives we have some sense of identity but this identity is ever evolving or unfolding. We are conceived then we are born and grow until we die. Are we the same person the whole time? I’m sure each of you will have differing answers to this question.
I have been curious about capturing this sense of identity. Some of us journal or keep a diary, some of us build a collection of selfies or pictures of ourselves at events or in moments with friends and family. Social media helps us to keep a log of this. Are we what we do? Are we who we present to the world? Are we what we feel? Who are we? How do we begin to answer that?
I’m not one for keeping a diary, I do both write and creatively journal but it’s not consistent enough to capture the subtle moments of evolution and of course I have photographs but for me this is an outward way of capturing a moment (outside looking at but not seeing in). I am fascinated more by the internal process, I would like to see in and observe.
A while back I created a Pinterest board specifically dedicated to my own sense of identity and featured the pins at the top of my account in a tidy collage. By doing this I have been able to capture moments of identifying with who I feel I am. The flow of identity is noticeable, upon each addition of an image that represents something I identify with in my heart the collage shifts.
The following are excerpts from this process throughout the year. The images are entirely subjective and symbolic, they represent a felt sense of who I am, have been and wish to be:
Copyright disclaimer – NONE of these images are my own and were all sourced from Pinterest and collated by the app from August 18-August 19. The purpose of sharing this collation is purely for sharing observation. If you are the owner of any of these images and wish them removed please feel free to contact me and your rights will be respected.
So What is Meant by Identity?
If we think about what science has told us so far, that ‘we’ are a mass of atoms, protons, electrons, molecules etc. That we are made up of a more closely knit mass of these particles than the air but everything is made up of this, we therefore are just a part of space with stronger bonding between particles… yet what we are made of is no different than the next thing. What we perceive to be distinctive, fixed, a part of or not a part of self is not so clear. Not if we really think about it. This sense of ‘me’ or ‘myself’ is a moving shifting ever changing process.
What a small handful of psychological theories tell us
Identity relates to our basic values that dictate the choices we make and these choices reflect who we are and what we value. Identity can also come from how parents, peers, and other people see us. As children we tend to get our sense of self from how our parents see us. Identity develops throughout our life the more we are exposed to the more we take in and chose or reject.
Erik Erikson theorised that we hold a continuous sense of who we are. That we have an overall ego that merges all our different life and felt sense roles into an overall identity, so should anything go wrong we have something stable to hold on to.
James Marcia, theorised that people move back and forward among differing stages in identity development.
(https://www.psychologytoday.com/ sourced 22:00 24th August)
Erving Goffman. Opens up the idea that we ‘present’ ourselves daily. Situation dependent that we tend to convey an ‘impression’ of ourselves. (Goffman 1956)
Social identity theory (Henri Tajfel and John Turner 1979) proposes that a person’s sense of who they are depends on the groups to which they belong. Similar to Walt Whitman they theorised that an individual doesn’t just have a personal identity but more widely that we have multiple identities depending on the groups we affiliate ourselves with and how we present depends on which group we are taking part in. (https://www.learning-theories.com/social-identity-theory-tajfel-turner.html sourced at 22:05 24th August 2019)
The Johari Window is a tool developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram in the 1950s that explores a person’s self awareness taking into consideration four aspects; what do we openly know about ourselves that others also know? What do we not know about ourselves that others know? What do we know about ourselves but others do not? and lastly what is unknown entirely? This model theorises that we have a sense of self and additionally others also have their own sense of who we are and there are parts of us no one knows yet. (Sigmund Freud would relate to this part as the unconscious and Carl Jung would add also the collective unconscious).
Freud also says that we are at the mercy of our desires and this affects our behaviour which in turn will feed our sense of identity. (Freud 1901)
As discussed in an earlier blog post on the back of George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory Miller Mair introduces the concept of Community Of Selves. The idea being that within ourselves we metaphorically have a community of differing identities that tend to have interplay between them and this interplay can have an effect on our external relationships in the world. (Mair 1977)
How does the science and the psychology marry up? My curiosity wonders from atoms, protons and electrons how do we have thought, perception and then preference that creates this sense of self identity?
‘I’ am not static, ‘I’ am ever changing, moment by moment, and sometimes this is context led but I do notice there is some consistency and connectedness overall. So I have a moment by moment sense but also something within that helps to define my overall character. I do notice that in using Pinterest I am opting for images that represent my feelings and where I know I am at core best but there is a huge part missing, the shadow aspects that I don’t necessarily like about myself. It would be a more balanced and accurate picture to include these so from this point I shall try to include images that best represent that.l for a more fuller exploration of this question.
Curiosity going forward for deeper contemplation: Sense of identity and personal character is this one in the same? Back to earlier questions; are we who we feel ourselves to be? Are we what we do? Or are we a culmination of both? Following on from some of the psychological theories; Is identity solely our interpretation or can it include the perception of others ie. are we who we are told we are? If so at which point does this change for us (if at all)?
Since realising that it is not about big action (as mentioned in my previous post in search of meaning (ii) ) I am moseying along nice and slowly so posts will arise with ease in and out during reflection periods.
So asked the Caterpillar “Who Are You?”
Here is a link to an anonymous survey should you wish to take part: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2BLGVHS