What is your identity?

Your identity is a persona that you create to help you separate yourself from others and to feel a sense of belonging within a group of people.

It is also based on a multitude of things like your beliefs, your profession, and what you value in life.

Here are just a few examples of what makes up your identity:

  • Where you live.
  • Your gender identification.
  • Race.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Religion.
  • Group affiliation.
  • Family.

Because your identity is made up of many different things, it can be confusing to pinpoint exactly what your identity is.

On top of that, your identity can evolve when there is a change in your life, such as moving to a different city, changing schools, getting a different job, having kids, making new friends, and the list goes on and on.

Let’s go over the different ways your identity is formed.

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What makes up your identity?

According to the book, “Self-Determination Theory – Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness”:

“In a similar vein, some contemporary social-cognitive approaches portray personality not as a self-unifying system but, rather, as a collection of selves or self-schemas that are activated by environmental cues. Personality is viewed as a storehouse or “handbag” of identity-related schemata, each of which can be cued by social contexts.”

Ryan & Deci

In other words, your identity is your persona or a collection of personas you develop to adapt to certain situations.

What the authors in the book were saying is, identity is a social construct. You create your identity according to your environment, like the people you’re surrounded by.

This makes sense, but I don’t think it’s entirely true.

I think that identity is also unique to each person.  I have 3 boys, and they each have their own unique identities even though we come from the same family, live in the same neighborhood, and have the same racial and ethnic identity.

I tend to do this myself, carving out my own unique identity within my family and social circles.

We tend to search for our own unique identity, even inside a group of like-minded people.

Even so, to say that these are the only things that make up identity is too simplistic because there are so many factors that contribute to a person’s identity.

For example, I identify as a mom and a wife; but I also identify as a dental hygienist, writer, and content creator.  And these are just naming a few of the “hats” I wear in my daily life.

Sometimes I embody all of my personal identities. Other times I identify with just one persona.

We tend to search for our own unique identity, even inside a group of like-minded people.

On top of that, I often code-switch, depending on where I’m at, the people I’m surrounded by, and the language that I’m speaking.

So what exactly forms an identity? If you’re already confused, don’t worry, I’ll go over how your identity is formed and the common types of identities we create in society.

Different types of identity.

I researched several different studies and literature on identity and made a short table of identity types.  These are just a few examples of identity types that you may or may not be aware of.

PeopleSocial RolesGenderNationalityRace/Ethnicity
ChildrenSchool kidFemaleAmericanBlack
AdultsHigh SchoolerMaleCanadianWhite
AdolescentsDadNon-binaryKenyanAsian
Young adultsEmployeeTransBurmeseLatino
Middle ageRetireeCisSri LankanPacific Islander
ElderlyMomAgenderMexicanIndigenous

The common factors that help shape our identities.

I discovered that how we form our identity can differ across the spectrum of cultures, occupations, environments, etc.

Though the way we form our identities can be nuanced, I noticed some common patterns in the way we form our identities from the studies and books I read.

Here is a list of the common factors that help shape our identities.

Personality

Your personality is unique to you and helps make up your identity. According to the studies, our identities are a combination of things.

For instance, our self image and how we picture our physical selves, e.g. our body type and capabilities, can influence our personal identity.

There is also the natural or real self: the part of us that is fixed human nature and never changes and just reacts to its environment in a certain way.

“I think therefore I am” – Rene Descartes

Our behavior can also make up our identity. For example, people who describe themselves as extroverted or introverted create an identity that aligns with that personality type.

Environment

Your environmental identity is the side of yourself that is ever-changing and affects your attitudes and behaviors.

This identity type is also known as social identity.  Your social identity shifts and adapts to any environment, e.g. societal norms and standards.

According to Identity Behavior Theory, we develop social identities to meet basic human needs to belong, to control, and to have a meaningful existence.

Transitions in life.

Life transitions, such as the period during your teenage years, can shape your identity.

Other examples are newlyweds, parenthood, changing jobs, bereavement, empty nesting, divorce, breakups, and moving away from home for the first time.

Life experiences.

Your life experience can be a factor that affects your identity.

For example, you win an award at your school and feel great.  You subsequently identify yourself as capable and intelligent.

The way you interpret your life experiences can also affect how you identify yourself.

Let’s say you overcome something challenging that some people might see as negative, such as a huge financial loss.

Instead of perceiving it as something negative, you see it as a learning experience, therefore you identify as someone who is victorious rather than a victim.

Race

Race is something that affects your identity and is a social construct in the sense that it’s used to place people in a hierarchical system based on certain traits, characteristics, etc, that they possess.

This system can be used to marginalize, oppress, and create animosity within the groups at the bottom.  It can also be used to center, support, and give power to those at the top of the hierarchy.

Race as an identity can both harm and help you regardless of where you are within this social construct.

It can cause you to internalize stereotypes, be oblivious to your privilege, and at the same time grant you support within the group of people with whom you share your racial identity. 

Ethnicity

Your ethnicity can shape your identity through the things you share and practice with others such as your customs, traditions, language, cuisine, and beliefs. 

Everyday identity.

What you do on a daily basis can shape how you identify yourself. Your everyday experiences can vary and have a positive or negative impact on you.

It can cause you to question your identity by creating discord and instability in your life, which can impact it negatively.

It can also affect you in a positive way if you’re constantly experiencing something positive and it reinforces and strengthens your identity.

Emotions

Your daily emotional experiences can have an impact on your identity whether it’s positive or negative.

People who have positive emotions tend to be committed to their identity. Whereas those who experience negative emotions are more likely to explore a different identity.

Family Relationships.

Your family can be a huge factor in how your identity is shaped because they’re usually the ones you spend the most time with and learn from.

The number of people in your family, the quality of your relationship, and how close you are to your family can affect your identity.

Peer relationships.

Your peers, such as your friends, coworkers, classmates, club members, religious group, and teammates help to shape your identity.

Just like your family relationships, the quantity, quality, and closeness of your peer relationships can impact your identity.

Knowledge and skills.

Your knowledge and skills can shape your identity and is a combination of your education and level of competency you have with your capabilities.

For example, you are an upper level manager and only identity with other upper level management.

Or you finished grad school and have an affinity towards people who also got their graduate degrees.

Vocation 

Your vocation is what you do for a living, which can have an impact on your identity.

For instance, I’m a dental hygienist and identify myself as such. I also recognize the intersectionality of this identity within other types of health and wellness identities, such as healthcare provider, dental healthcare worker, and wellness advocate.

Personal narrative and story.

Your personal narrative and story is the ability to reflect on your past, present, and future and link these together within a continuous narrative.

This is significant in terms of forming your identity because it can help you process the things that you experience in life.

For example, creating a narrative of the high and low points of your life helps you create meaning within those experiences and link them to yourself and your identity.

Life-changing events.

A life-changing event can be something like the birth of a child, getting married, losing your home, getting into an accident, or getting a promotion at work.

All of these can have an effect on your identity and impact the way you identify yourself.

Gender

Your gender is the sex you were given at birth or the gender you identify with.

Examples are male, female, cis, trans, and agender.

Your gender identity can affect the way you experience the world and how society treats you.

Illness

Some people identify with their illness and even hold events in honor of those stricken with the illness.

The type of illness you have, how long you’ve had it, and what stage you’re in can all affect your identity.

Values

Your values are the things you believe in and are also derived from other people, which can shape your identity and what you stand for.

Here are some examples of values:

  • Health
  • Family
  • Money
  • Kindness
  • Loyalty
  • Ambition
  • Learning
  • Creativity
  • Beauty

Other factors that make up your identity.

These other factors that help shape our identities were not mentioned in the studies or books I read but are significant factors that shape who we are.

Culture

Your culture doesn’t have to be your ethnicity or group, though these things do affect your identity.

Your culture can be made up of the people you have something in common with, people with whom you share a set of beliefs, or a group of like-minded women that you meet with every week.

Philosophy

Your philosophy of life is derived from your personal experiences and values.

It can create a set of beliefs that you stand for and a way of life that you follow.

For example, your philosophy is to always act with integrity and authenticity.

Resilience

Resilience is the ability of a person to adapt to stress and to recover from negative emotional experiences.”

This is important to your identity because people whose personality traits are strong, also exhibit strong resilience in the face of adversity.

Having support.

Feeling supported by those you surround yourself with can shape how strongly you are attached to your identity.

It’s important to feel a sense of security and belonging within your group because it can impact behavior and well-being.

It can also impact the way you process your experiences and create meaning in life.

When you put others’ well-being before your own, you risk your own happiness and satisfaction.

Autonomy

Autonomy support is considered particularly important for identity development.” 

In regard to identity in young adults, researchers found that having the freedom and autonomy to explore their own identities during development had an impact on their well-being.

This is true for everyone else. In her book, “Braving the Wilderness“, Brene Brown says that “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”

Feeling like you belong to yourself, and not just to a group of people, is empowering.

The 8 laws of identity.

What are the 8 laws of identity?

According to the book, “The Identity Code” by Larry Ackerman, the 8 Laws of Identity apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.

It also shapes your life even when you’re not conscious of them.

There are 8 essential questions that correspond with each law to help you find your identity code.

I remember being skeptical about the questions in this book when I first read them because they were so simple.

But as I was going through them, I realized that the questions were harder to answer than I thought.

According to the book, when you can answer all the questions with honesty, you will know your identity code.

Knowing your identity code can help you lead a life that feels more authentic, meaningful, and joyful.

“The laws of identity apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.”

1. The Law of Being.

The Law of Being is an individual’s ability to live as a person that is separate from others.

Corresponding question: Who am I?

This question might seem simple enough, but do you really know who you are at the core?

If you removed all of your identities, you would be left with nothing, which can feel unnerving at first.

This question challenges you to think about who you are apart from your external identities, like gender, race, occupation, and ethnicity.

2. The Law of Individuality.

The Law of Individuality pertains to your unique interests, skills, talents, capabilities, and passions.

Corresponding question:  What makes me special?

For this question, you can list all the things that are mentioned above, especially the thing or things that you love to do.

3. The Law of Constancy.

The Law of Constancy states that your internal, or core identity stays the same, while your external, or social identity is constantly changing.

Corresponding question:  Is there a pattern to my life?

We are creatures of habit and comfort and sometimes this can cover the patterns in our life that are hidden in plain sight.

Think about the things that you are constantly gravitating towards or have an affinity for and take note of any patterns between them.

4. The Law of Will.

The Law of Will is having faith in your unique strengths and capabilities to carry you through your journey of living your life according to your passions and purpose in life.

Corresponding question:  Where am I going?

You can start with the end goal in mind and work your way backward.  What is your biggest goal or dream in life?

Use the information from the 3 previous questions to help you come up with an answer.  Then list the goals that will help move forward and continue the momentum.

5. The Law of Possibility.

The Law of Possibility is both your gift and your gift to the world.  It takes all the answers to each question you’ve answered thus far to form an identity statement.

Corresponding question: What is my gift?

To answer this question, think of a thing (or things) that gives you great joy.

Here are some questions to help you out.

What is it that makes you feel alive?  What lights you up inside when you think about it? What makes you forget to eat or go to the bathroom?  What is it that you can do all day long without getting tired of it?

You can fill in the blank with the following words to form your statement:

I am (insert your name here) and I am driven by the need to (your gift).

Here’s an example:

I am Christine and I am driven by the need to help others find their true selves so they can heal their own lives.

6. The Law of Relationship.

The Law of Relationship is about who you can trust within your social circles.  It’s important to your identity code because relationships can affect your well-being and success.

Corresponding question:  Who Can I Trust?

This is not about your family, friends, or coworkers.  It’s about the people you know you can trust and be vulnerable with.

These are the people who support you, know you, and accept you for who you are.

7. The Law of Comprehension.

The Law of Comprehension is about what you stand for.  This is important because you want to communicate and share your gift with the world.

This way, your gift doesn’t stay hidden, but will only benefit you and those you share it with.

Corresponding question:  What is my message?

Think about your previous answers and what you would like to contribute to the world. Combine all of your responses together to align with what you stand for.

This is your message. Then think about the people you can trust to share your message with.

This takes your identity one step further by spreading your unique gift and message to the people that you trust.

Over time, you will be able to spread your message to almost anyone and any place in on Earth.

8. The Law of the Cycle.

The Law of the Cycle is about what legacy, no matter how small or big, you leave behind.

Corresponding question:  Will my life be rich?

This is more about how fulfilling, purposeful, and meaningful you will live your life than it is about material wealth.

Think about how well your message is going to tie in with all of your previous answers.  Then think about how you would like to be remembered.

This is how you will live a life that is full and rich and it ties in with all of the natural Laws of Identity.

Now that you know all about what makes up your identity, HOW you find it is the next step in knowing your true self.

So be sure to…

Read about the steps you need to take in order to find your true identity in this article:

9 ways to find your true identity and discover who you are.

Related articles:

100 Self-discovery journal prompts to connect more deeply with yourself.

‘I feel like I don’t know myself.”: What to do about it.

How to know yourself better in 10 different ways.

Christine Songco is the creator of Third Bliss and is passionate about helping others thrive holistically by finding their purpose and living life with more authenticity and joy. Christine has been featured in WebMD, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, Philips Lifeline, Owl Guru, and The Lifestyle Blogger UK.

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