What makes me unique? Where am I headed?Many of us go through life on automatic pilot, without much reflection on who we are or where we're going. We fail to realize that our identity is fundamental to create a life with meaning and purpose.
The achievement of an identity is so important, in fact, that psychologist Erik Erikson considered it one of the eight stages of development that have a profound effect on the growth and well-being of an individual.
According to Erikson's theory, individuals who don't develop a strong sense of personal identity are confused about their place in the world and become unable to make decisions that are true to who they are. This can ultimately lead to feelings of emptiness and regrets regarding one's life choices (existential crises). A healthy and autonomous identity gives us the foundation that we need to reach our genuine aspirations. So how can we find our true identity?
Here's what I've learned not only from psychology but also through my own self-discovery journey:
Analyze & ChallengeMuch of what we think comes from what we have been taught. It may be that we learned it from our teachers, our parents, our religion, or norms passed on by society. Our beliefs can also come from inaccurate perceptions of ourselves we may have never even questioned or examined. To discover who we really are we need to develop a rich understanding of our thoughts, feelings, and actions through careful self-observation and examination.
Without a deep and balanced self-analysis, our identity can become a result of impositions (others' ideas of who we should be) or distortions (our own wrong ideas of who we think we are but are not). Self-awareness is the key to finding our true self. So take a look inside and get to know who you really are.
Challenge the beliefs you hold about yourself (because that's what you were told or because that's what you taught yourself to believe) and only accept them once you know they agree with your own reason and are conducive to your well-being.
Explore & DiscoverMany of us conform to an identity without having gone through a process of exploration. We accept ideas and beliefs of who we are without question and commit to them like if they were a divine truth. However, to find out who we truly are and who we want to be it is important that we explore alternatives before coming to any conclusions.
We need to expand beyond our limited ideas about ourselves and engage in new experiences. As they say, the sky is the limit, so don't be afraid to explore different possibilities. To pursue a life that matches our genuine inner needs and values we need to discover what they are. So experiment and see what you learn about yourself.
Life is indeed a wonderful adventure of self-discovery.
Have the courage to step outside your comfort zone and keep an open mind about the truths that may be revealed to you during the process. You'll be surprised with the breakthrough realizations you'll come to about yourself.
Embrace & CreateOnce we get to know our deep inner authentic self, we must build a life that honors it. Embrace who you are and align your decisions and actions with your values and principles. You can direct the course of your life in whichever way you choose. So don't just go with the flow, letting conformity define you. Create your own standards and expectations.
Be brave enough to stay true to yourself and never settle for a life that is not a reflection of who you are. And remember, life is a process of never-ending experiences that add to our knowledge and perspective, so adjust your sails as you keep learning and evolving. A healthy identity is one that is flexible and adaptive, open to the changes we experience throughout our lives.
As Dr. Seuss would say: "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Your than You." ReferenceSantrock, J.W. (2010). A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.