Out of all the identities that we have, some identities are more important to us i.e. we are more attached to them than others. These are our main identities. For example, if I asked you, “Who are you?”, then you’re likely to reply by stating your main self identity.
You might say, “I’m a doctor”. In this case, you’re identifying with your job. This is your main self identity. This is how you mainly see yourself as.
Other common examples include…
For instance, If you think of yourself as a “mathematical genius” then you’ll behave in ways that seek to maintain this self identity. In fact, self identity is one of the most powerful forces that shape human behavior.
If you can change someone’s self-concept or identity, you can successfully change their behavior. Someone has rightly said that if you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.
What determines what types of identities we acquire?
Why do you think an ardent Manchester United fan, when his favorite club wins, says in elation, “Yeah! We won!”? The very use of the word “We” shows explicitly that something he identifies with won, he won.
So far we’ve been discussing only positive identities that seek to raise our self-worth. But people have negative identities too that, much to their chagrin, tend to decrease their self-worth.
For instance, a guy who was constantly labeled as “stupid” or “loser” or “nerd” throughout childhood is likely to have these labels as part of his self-concept. How he perceives these labels determines, to a great extent, his emotions and behavior.
If you move in the direction of your positive identities, then you’ll experience positive emotions. If you move in the direction of your negative identities, then you’ll experience ‘negative’ emotions such as anxiety and depression.
Self identity and extreme behavior
We can go to great lengths to maintain the identities that we like and run away from the identities that we detest. If you’re unable to understand an extreme behavior of a person, try and see how the concept of self identity may have a role to play.
Say you have a friend who considers himself intelligent. You decide to have a little fun and give him a puzzle that’s impossible to solve. It’s likely that he’ll spend hours and even days trying to solve that puzzle. He may forget about the rest of his life and keep on grappling with the puzzle.
This is because not being able to solve that puzzle threatens his ‘intelligent’ self identity. He thinks, “I’m an intelligent person, I should be able to do this.”
You ought to be kind enough to put him out of his misery by revealing the truth about the impossibility of the puzzle unless he’s intelligent enough to reach that conclusion by himself.