This article will throw light on the concept of psychological identity, how it’s related to ego, and the causes of an identity crisis.
We have many identities that we acquire from our past experiences and cultural backgrounds. These identities may be broadly classified as positive (the identities we like) and negative (the identities we dislike).
For example, you may have a positive identity of ‘being a successful person’ and a negative identity of ‘being short-tempered’.
Identity crisis happens when a person loses a psychological identity- when they lose a self-concept; when they lose a way they used to define themselves.
It can be either an identity that they liked (positive) or an identity they disliked (negative). In most cases, an identity crisis is a result of losing an identity that served to increase a person’s self-worth i.e. a positive identity.
Identity and the ego
We suffer from an identity crisis when we lose an identity that we were using to feed our ego with. The purpose of most of our identities is just that- to sustain our ego.
One of the major tasks of the subconscious mind is to protect our ego. It does all it can to achieve that end, including maintaining a worthwhile identity.
People can identify with almost anything- a material possession, a place, a friend, a religion, a lover, a country, a social group, and so on. If you want to know what are the ideas or things you identify with, just pay attention to the words that you normally place after “my”….
- My city
- My country
- My job
- My car
- My lover
- My college
- My favorite sports team
Anything you add after “my” forms your extended identity, ideas you attach to your own self; ideas you use to define yourself. It’s easy to understand why people get so attached to their extended identities. It’s just an attempt to raise one’s self-worth.
If you have a friend who owns a Mercedes, he’ll see himself as ‘the Mercedes owner’ and project that identity to the world to boost his self-worth. If your brother studied at MIT, he’ll project the identity of being an MITian to the world.
People become strongly attached to their identities for a valid reason- it helps them maintain their self-worth, a fundamental goal of all humans. So, losing an identity means losing one’s self-worth, and nobody wants that.
When a person loses one of their important, ego-boosting identity, identity crises happens.
Identifying with temporary things leads to an identity crisis
No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.– H.P. Lovecraft
A person who identifies strongly with his job will suffer from a severe identity crisis if he gets fired. A person who loses his Mercedes in an unfortunate accident will no longer see himself as ‘the proud Merc owner’.
A person who mainly sees himself as ‘the lucky husband of beautiful Janel’ will lose all his self-worth if his marriage fails.
The only way to avoid an identity crisis is to not identify with temporary things at all. I know that’s easier said than done, but you can do it by increasing your awareness of psychological phenomena and observing them objectively.
One way would be to become more knowledgeable by reading articles such as the one you’re reading right now.
When you identify with temporary things, your self-worth automatically becomes fragile. You never know when these things will be taken away from you. Your self-worth will then become dependent on the whims of life.
What then should I identify with?
Even if we give up identifying with temporary things, we’ll still crave to identify with something because that’s how the mind works. It can’t stand being nothing. It has to find a way to define itself.
Since our goal is to maintain our self-worth and prevent it from being too fragile, the only logical solution is to identify with relatively permanent things.
When you identify with your knowledge, skills, and personality, these identities will remain with you till the day you die. You can’t lose these things in a fire, accident, or divorce.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 400+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4.5 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.