“Identity” is one of the terms we use more and more often to explain our own actions, especially as a consequence of the latest social tendencies that push us to express our opinions as often as we can and to reveal personal information that not long ago we used to consider intimate. Although the term is quite frequently used it is not easy to define because it seems to get another meaning every time somebody uses it in another context.
Why is it so important to understand this concept? It must be because it can help us understand a lot of our daily frustrations. To be more precise let us take into consideration two common situations: the case of the women who don’t change their last names anymore when they get married and the case of the women who used to have a carrier as a professional and who after giving birth become very frustrated or even depressed because of the new life style. Both cases can be explained using the “identity” concept.
What is identity? To answer this question we need another one: Who am I? When a person is asked to answer this question he or she will provide a long list of information: the name, marital status, the profession, how many children he has, what are his achievements, what is it that he likes and what he doesn’t like, what are his values.
Identity brings together physical aspects, the social and the personal; the social aspect of identity is made up generally by roles, labels that tell a person to perform certain behaviors in certain situations; this could explain the frustration of the people in the examples above – in the case of the first it is about assuming the role of the married woman, and just like I said, the first element we use to describe “Who am I?” is the name. The name, even from the beginning of our existence is part of our identity, it distinguishes us from the others, it makes us special. In the case of the woman who just had a baby, she has to abandon an old role, one that brought a lot of satisfaction, that has given meaning to her existence, and integrate a new one, the mother role. To understand her frustration we must take into consideration the fact that the identity is a set of attributes, beliefs, desires, principles that make a person stand out in a society, that make the person feel proud, and even if she isn’t proud she feels she cannot change, the elements are continuous and consistent, with a certain degree of flexibility. It is exactly this need of consistency that makes the transition from one role to another so difficult.
Many of the attributes a person uses to describe her identity are reasons to be proud, which means that changing them can alter self respect, so the self esteem of the mother is low because before having the child she used to fit perfectly in the social category that is very much valued right now, the carrier woman.
This means that besides benefits, being part of a certain group comes with constraints and a certain psychological impact on the individual. This explains why very different elements put together can cause such strong emotions, if I don’t act according to my values and principles, I don’t think the way I used to think then I am not myself anymore.
One of the important roles of identity is to motivate us to act a certain manner, so that our behavior makes sense. Often we hear “I would never do that.” Why? Because it would contradict the way I act and it would probably ruin the image I have about myself. It would make me feel as if I would be worth less and as if I would not be special anymore, so identity is the way an individual feels about himself, the way he perceives and understands himself.
Identity help us understand better that the woman that doesn’t want to change her name when she gets married is not following a trend or that the woman that feels depressed because now she is only a mother isn’t just tired and bored or a bad parent.