Why it Matters: Levels of Identity Formation
“Understanding yourself is the key to your success.” — Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan
There comes a time when everyone asks themselves, “Who am I?” Despite popular belief, you do not determine your own identity. Many of the traits we claim as our own — thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideas, and preferences are influenced by many forces. To understand yourself and become a leader of your life, it is crucial to understand your part in society and your own consciousness.
When trying to unveil and understand our identities, there are several questions that may arise: Who am I? Who was I born to be? How do others see me?
The formation of identity happens at the following three levels:
Individual Level — where we feel most comfortable as ourselves
The process of developing identity starts at infancy, progresses through childhood, and becomes the focal point during your teens and early-adult life. At the individual level, identity is where we have the most control over the process because it is how we view ourselves.
It is stemmed from life experiences (such as kindergarten, puberty, death, etc.), personality, perspective, and even physical attributes. The individual-level also applies to situations where we are targeted by racism, sexism, religious oppression, homophobia, etc., that can impact one’s identity. How do you identify yourself to others? What do you identify with?
Example: I am an African-American man, heterosexual, middle-class, and able-bodied.
Community Level — our identity structured by others
At the community level, this is where our identity meets expectations, demands, and standards that are filtered by other individuals or groups. Oftentimes, this comparison from the individual level causes conflict for us. We are often being identified at school, the workplace, faith-based institutions, etc.
Example: When someone asks us, “where are you from?” — after being identified by your physical appearance — they are beginning to define who we are to them and often are trying to analyze if we are “one of them or not.” What questions do you ask others to try and figure out ‘who they are?’
This is when others are trying to determine their relationship or similarities to us.
Global Level — the way we label each other based on real or perceived differences
People tend to prescribe to social identities, which is identifying us by the terms of society rather than by the terms and identities we determine for ourselves. At the global level, power and privilege are assigned to us by the society we live in. In what ways do people perceive you differently from how you perceive yourself? When there is a discrepancy between the two, what impact does that have?
Example: When living in Fiji, the locals treated me like a local because I looked and lived like them. In other countries, because my features weren’t the same as theirs, I was treated differently; hence, I didn’t relate to and identify with them as much.
This goes to show that global identity is impacted by how the world and society sees you.
The goal of this post is to help you find a sense of self. According to our ancient ancestors, “the key to life is the knowledge of self.” Having a sense of who you are is the base of all knowledge. It is important to always self-reflect and wonder about the complexities of your identity. If you do not ask yourself who you are, you will never find the answer.
Reflect: Consider the factors that are most central to your identity — how you define yourself — and how those differ from the things that might stand out most to others when they meet you for the first time. Think about how your closest family members and friends might experience or define your identity. Over time, note how “in-touch” you feel with who you are, and keep track of how that knowledge correlates with your success and happiness. At Dr. Logan Speaks, we believe identity, happiness, and success are all intertwined and work hard to give you the tools to understand them, bring them into harmony with one another, and harness them for good.