Many of my patients struggle with finding their identity, sense of self, and meaning for their lives. How do you define who you are? Most people identify themselves through their occupation, family, affiliations, religion, past experiences, and/or recognized abilities. Typically, we seek our identity through our teen years and find our role, purpose, and direction during this time. Psychologist Erik Erickson developed the stages of psychosocial development through the human lifespan and identified the fifth stage as conflict between identity and role confusion that typically occurs between the ages of 12 to 18. Yet there are many adults who still struggle to find their sense of self.
In some cases people define themselves through their occupation alone. They have decided that this represents their best contribution to their family, their community, and society. Unfortunately they may only develop, nurture, and grow this aspect of life and isolate themselves from many other sources of joy and fulfillment. They may also focus more on “what they do” rather than “who they are.” Our sense of self is tied to a multitude of variables beyond occupation, including our relationships, character, morals/values, and life experiences.
Maybe you’ve been drifting along in life more as an observer than a participant. Maybe you’ve looked to others to give you direction and focus without blazing your own path in life. Or maybe you experienced limited support, guidance, and encouragement growing up which led to either confusion or insecurity that you’ve carried into adulthood. Part of finding yourself may require you to identify your positive traits, skills, and talents. Recognize that we all have something to contribute to our family/friends, community, and life. We were created for a purpose and figuring that out can help you find your sense of self. Next week I will offer suggestions for finding and nurturing your sense of self.