Understanding the multi-faceted nature of Identity

Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about the Declaration of Arbroath. Although 700 years old, it still fires up thoughts of Scottish independence, and is linked closely to our national identity. Don’t worry, this is not a post about independence, but the Declaration of Arbroath did get me thinking about identity. Today we’re going to understand identity more and why it can be complicated, even leading to conflict.

What is Identity

It was thinking about my own identity that brought me to the realisation that this is complicated. Its not just my nationality (Scottish in case you hadn’t guessed) or the town or city I call home (I don’t actually identify with anywhere but that’s a story for my personal blog). Its much more complicated than that.

Identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self

Psychology Today, 2023

Our identity is a mix of a range of internal and external factors all shaping who we become. Its dynamic, changing over time, based on our experiences and the influence of others.

At its core, our identity comprises our ethical beliefs and values, religion, national identity, political views. That’s a lot of different influences, but its further complicated by the impact and possible pressures from outside sources. These can be family and friends, role models and society all of which can and do have an impact. These internal and external cues that shape our identity can sometimes be in conflict rather than harmony.

We take on different roles in life and these can shape our identity too, such as teacher, blogger, wife. We will look at how these roles shape our identity now.

How do our roles define us?

The more I’ve explored identity for this post, I’ve come to the conclusion that its mult-faceted and complex. Adding in our roles, and being aware of how these shape who we are, I see them as a collection of mini-identities. I’ve not dug too deeply into psychology or philosophy, but maybe there’s a term for this already? I’ll let our fellow bloggers with greater expertise to jump in with that one.

If you think about the different roles you play daily, you’re probably like me and realise that you’re not always the same. The identity of a teacher is different from that of a blogger. The blogger me is more relaxed and has more fun. In the classroom, while I may still have fun, I need to be more professional. That said, there can be overlap and I’m conscious not to say anything that might be detrimental to my professional role when blogging. I would imagine the roles of parent and spouse/partner will have differences too?

How do external influences shape identity?

When we think about the roles that we adopt in life, there are a range of infuences shaping them. For example, if we think about “teacher”, we probably all have an idea in our head of what that looks like. I’ve written about that recently, but we expect them to be professional, well educated, knowledgeable, fair, organised and patient. Have you ever wondered where our concept of the teacher – or our other roles – comes from?

Anyone in a professional role has a professional body setting standards for their members. I am a member of two professional bodies; one which outlines what a teacher is like. the other, the HR practitioner. Despite being a college lecturer (in HR), it is the HR profession I associate with most strongly. However, its not just my own values or those set by my professional body that determine what the role is. Its also shaped by society which has their own sets of values. Their code of ethical behaviour and laws in place which are enforced if someone doesn’t comply.

Influences of family and friends

We grow up in homes with families who mould us into the people we become. This includes instilling in us their values and beliefs which are important to them and probably to wider society too. Examples of this would be what is right and wrong, how to interact with others and possibly their aspirations for us. I’ve seen students come through my classroom who are at college because their parents want them to study business or similar. I guess, as a teacher, I influence others too, maybe shaping ideas of the identity of an educator. I would like to think that I’m also helping them to reflect on their values, forming their own identity.

An identity crisis?

With so many different influences contributing to shape who we are, its inevitable that sometimes there will be conflict. We are trying to balance our values which shape how we identify personally based on our internal characteristics with those imposed on us by society, family etc. An example could be someone struggling with their gender identity – how they feel and perceive themselves may be at conflict with the images their family hold. This struggle can lead to an identity crisis. This is simply one example, but crises such as this can occur in a lot of different areas. Many of these conflicts occur in our teenage and early adult years, as we start to explore our identity, testing out hypotheses.

An example of a values conflict

As a teenager, I found myself in conflict with my maternal grandmother. She had very strong religious views. To me she was an intolerant and bigoted West of Scotland Protestant. She was so extreme that she would never wear green which just seemed silly to me. My conflict trigger point, however, came when my brother, who was dating a Catholic girl, was made to keep her on the doorstep. My grandmother refused to let Catholics into the house. I was disgusted – that’s not the way to treat anyone!

The family were members of the Orange Lodge and would have participated in the marches. They were proud of their heritage and any protestant who speaks out against them is considered as blasphemy and a betrayal of your identity and heritage. This caused me some conflict as I didn’t want to disagree but I had no choice. I couldn’t condone such hostile and aggressive behaviour towards a group of people who are different because of their religion . If that’s my heritage, I’m ashamed and don’t want to have any part of it. We should be embarassed by such behaviour. We should be tolerant of and embrace difference. I guess that’s one of my core values, so I had to challenge the religious and cultural identity of my family.

Be Authentic

The thought I wish to leave you with is the best way to comfortable with your identity and resolve any conflicts you may encounter is to be authentic. Know what your core values are and use them to guide you in life.

I hope you have found this post thought-provoking and would love to hear of any conflicts you’ve encountered and resolved.

You can read more about my own Scottish identity and how I struggle to find a sense of belonging on my personal blog.

21 thoughts on “Understanding the multi-faceted nature of Identity

  1. I agree with this Brenda. We are multi-faceted in our roles while (hopefully) keeping the underlying qualities and values that are important to us. Authenticity is a perfect way to describe that core identity.

    1. Thanks Deb. I enjoyed exploring a nit for this post. Its a topic that could have grown arms and legs.

      1. Yes, it is! Always a post to come back to and build on. I love those that go deeper and allow for ongoing discussion 🙂

  2. Personally, as being English, my father’s side of the family (Sanderson) have been traced back to being in Aberdeen until late 1800s. Also, I read a lot about Scottish history and Sanderson was under the Clan MacDonell of Glengary under the Donald name. My mothers side are Irish Catholics, Foley, that was the surname. For example if you are in Scotland, you are in a different country yet governed by a nation that basically destroyed everything you had so you wouldn’t dare attack the regime. Nowhere else in the world does one country dictate another! Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be their own independent nations.

    1. Thanks for your background and ideas. I think Ireland and Wales were treated much more harshly than Scotland. Mind you I think, historically, the English were also concerned about the risk posed to England if Scotland and France worked together, so they had to walk a fine line

      1. Well they had the army soldiers to out number the Welsh and then Henry VIII created the Church of England and Catholics were killed for simply being Catholic and having mass. This led to Catholics grouping at Flanders in Belgium and plotted to kill the Protestant king by blowing up parliament. Then in 1692 in Scotland, in Glencoe we had the clan MacDonald who gave shelter and food to the Campbells who proceeded to massacre their hosts on 13th Feb 1692. This was arguably the catalyst for the Jacobite rebellion and the clans in the highlands rallied around a Frenchman called Bonny Prince Charlie who landed on the northern coast of Scotland. He was aiming to unite the country and bring back a Catholic king. They marched on to London and they made it to Derby and after that (they fought battles along the way), they were hungry, tired and low on ammunition for muskets. Consequently they marched back north but they were pursued by the English and the Campbells and they met at Culloden Moor, seven miles south east of Inverness. Within about 45 minutes to an hour it was all over. It was an absolutely savage slaughter of the clansmen. I’ve visited the battlefield and there’s gravestones with a surname and the tartan of the Jacobites kilt or any tartan they wore was used to dump them in a mass grave. Following this the English and Campbells, under orders from the Duke of Cumberland, raped pillaged and destroyed the homes of people in the highlands and the idea that they were never going to attempt to challenge the regency again. Destroying absolutely everything that they owned and they had. Crops, homes, killing mothers and leaving infants there to undoubtedly perish. It’s disgusting to imagine being in the situation but it’s also a reaction that was justified at the time. We can sit here and say in hindsight it was this or that but at the time, constantly being in conflict with others warrants a response.

      2. Yeah, Glencoe and Culloden are such sad times in our history. And I’ve also visited both Culloden and Glencoe

      3. If you haven’t already got them, there’s three books by John Prebble that I would highly recommend;
        The Highland Clearances

      4. Absolutely, England had to stay a Protestant country and protect its Parliament. If there had been a Catholic back on the throne, then Parliament would have been replaced.
        It always makes me wonder what would it have been like if this succeeded or that did.

      5. It’s interesting how much of the past seems to have been so precarious, like walking on a tightrope. How easily things could have been different.

  3. Since I have started working with the European Commission (about 14 years ago) I define myself as European and the EU motto “unite in diversity” reflects exactly my feelings about my identity. Thank you for your beautiful post Brenda!

    1. Thanks for your comment – I’m not exactly sure who you are as its saying “somebody”. I guess WP strikes again

  4. While my core values have remained pretty steadfast throughout my life, I’ve struggled with who I am without those external identifiers. One of my gifts and hardships is that I tend to be whoever my role needs to be at that time. Father’s daughter. Mother’s Daughter. Wife. Mother. L’s employee. R’s co-worker. I tend to be the person they needed me to be…so much so that when pressed to identify who I am…I was stumped. A few years ago I started taking a hard look at this….and I’m still working on who ‘me’ really is.

    1. I can relate to that. We sometimes focus on what others need from us, that we forget or have never really known ourselves. It’s important to make those discoveries when we say we need to be our true selves. Bx

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