Deconstructing Self – Identity

This is the first part of a three-part series on Self. The three parts of Self that I will deconstruct over the next few weeks are identity, power, and emotion. Today, we start with identity.

What is Identity?

Many self-help books, courses, and motivational speakers focus on identity. Identity is complicated, and when we think about how we construct our own identities, we often glean over parts that we like less and focus heavily on what we think is important. 

I break identity down into three sub-elements: the mirror, the photograph, and the journal. The mirror is how we view ourselves, from the inside. The photograph is how others view us, and how we would like others to view us. The journal is our inner working, what we are willing to write, and what we hope no one else will see. 

The Mirror

Looking into the mirror is one the most revealing and terrifying tasks that we do. Every time we look in the mirror, we perceive ourselves in a certain light. Our moods change based on what we see in the mirror. 

When’s the last time you looked in the mirror and loved absolutely everything about what you saw? Hopefully never! When we look into the mirror, we see our flaws. We see what we need to fix to better ourselves, and we think about how to improve. We reflect on what we see. 

These are good ways of looking into the mirror. When it is dangerous to look into the mirror is when we see all negatives with no positives. Looking into the mirror and seeing a distorted version of ourselves indicates a poor self-image.

We must balance seeing the good and the bad. We must balance imagining how to improve and understanding that we will always wish for something different. The mirror is a metaphor for self-talk. For identity. 

The way you perceive yourself is a huge part of your overall identity. No one will see a better version of you if you don’t see a better version of yourself. Thinking through the negative self-talk and seeing areas of improvement combined with what’s already good is a great start to reframing the mirror-part of identity. 

The Photograph

While looking into a mirror is revealing for how we construct our self-image, looking into a photograph is equally revealing for how we project our self-image on to others. When someone else takes our photo, we build an image of how we want others to see us. 

Whether it is our pose, the setting, the lighting, the retouching, our clothing, or more, we manage every piece of a photograph to project a certain reputation to others, which shapes our identity. We, whether unconscious or not, carefully craft our identity over years. 

We choose our own clothes to project a certain image. Our accessories project another image. How we pose and smile projects yet another image.

Even when we think, 

“I don’t care today. I’m going to go out in pajamas and not brush my hair” 

we project a very specific image!

Everything that we do in our work and social life projects an image of what our identity is to others. To project the image that you want, think about what everything you are doing says about you and decide if that’s the identity that you want others to see. 

The Journal

Journaling is one of the most personal tasks that we do. Our journals are our lives. Many journals hold deep secrets, fears, emotions, and thoughts. Our journal is part of our identity.

What we write down in a journal reveals something about how we exist. It reveals our thought process, what we like and dislike, how we navigate our lives, and so much more. While not everyone journals, most have some sort of meditative, reflective practice that holds our deepest thoughts. 

These thoughts, while often never outside of a notebook, formulate our identity just as much as our self-image and our projected image. When our journals often hide information that we desperately want to exist outside of the pages, it’s easy to understand why our journal is such an important part of our identities. 

The next time you sit down and start writing, imagine how you could become the journal-image of yourself. Imagine how others would see you if you projected your journal-identity. What are your fears? Why? 

Developing our identities

Now that we have a better understanding of how we create our identities, what can we do to continue to develop them? The easy answer is to merge the mirror, the photograph, and the journal into one. The reality is that many of us (me included) are far too scared to ever portray the journal-version of self and the mirror-version of self out into the world.

While showing vulnerability is important when developing identity, we should limit our vulnerability to close friends and family. Our future coworkers and supervisors don’t want to hear about our deep-seated fears or see our inner anti-establishment persona.

For better or worse, we live in a society that cares deeply about its norms. So, to develop a personal identity that fits within society’s norms (though, this isn’t always necessary), we have to think deeply about how to improve.

Starting with the journal will offer the most clarity. How can we start living what we write down in our journals today? The easiest way to start living the journal is to start immediately! Take a random entry and do one thing that you normally wouldn’t normally in the photograph-identity. Take a risk and reap the benefits of the reward.

Next time

Next time, we will discuss part two, power. And as always, if you want to start deconstructing self today, book me, and I will help you start.