“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” ― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter
What does being the person that you are, from one day to the next, mean? This is the question of personal identity, and your answer to this question determines what type of identity you have. Personal identity theory is the philosophical confrontation with the most ultimate questions of our own existence: who we are and what we are?
Personal Identity is how a person sees themselves in relation to those around them; it is what makes them unique. Personal identity may be described by factors such as age. Gender. Nationality. Culture. Religious affiliation. Disability. Sexuality and sexual orientation. Interests. Talents. Personality traits. Family makeup and relationships and friendship networks. Part of our personal identity is given to us at birth, such as sex, family makeup, nationality and genetic history. Other aspects of our personal identity are formed during our early years of development and continue to develop during our life as we grow, mature, make choices, forge relationships and build an evolving identity for ourselves, these include gender, profession, hobbies, relationships, sexuality, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
Primary Identity References: However, there are four primary identity references that you might be aware of that you can use to help identify yourself. They are I. Me. Self. And You.
Each of these reflect different personal identity levels that you have. Here is an example of the context that these different identity references are used by us in everyday conversations.
I have a dear friend who has recently recovered from a bout of cancer treatment, who said something interesting to me. She said, ‘I didn’t realise just how much the cancer treatment would affect me. I guess in myself, I knew I’d always be ok, but what really shocked me is just how much the treatments can change you.’
To summarise what she was inferring:
- I: Didn’t realise the effect on me
- Me: (i). Is affected. (ii). Is shocked.
- Self: Is ok.
- You: Changed.
There is actually a relationship between these levels of personal identity. For example:
- I tell myself to exercise more – (talking to self)
- When I eat too much, it doesn’t really bother me – (me is unbothered by I’s behaviour)
So, if you want to get a deeper understanding of your own self, you might want to ask yourself who you are when you think of I. Me. Self. And You. Can you see, or describe what you are feeling or experiencing at the time?
How to identify the primary identity references: You could try asking the following three questions in sequence:
- First Question – Ask: “…and when you think where ‘I‘ is, where about is ‘I’?”
- Second Question – Ask: “…and how old is that ‘I’?”
- Third Question – Ask: “…and what is happening around that <insert age> that you are thinking of ‘I’?”
You can then repeat the exercise, replacing “I”, with “Me” and then “Self” and finally “You”.
You might get some surprising answers. I did.
A few years ago, I did this practice as part of my training to become an IEMT [Integral Eye Movement Therapy] practitioner and therapist. When I went through the process, I found that for each of the four Primary Identity References I had a different reference set. A different place where I was. A different age for each primary identity reference. I was thinking of different things.
- “I” was seven years old and was out playing
- “Me” was a teenager going to a disco
- “Self” was a thirty-something settling down with a new wife and child
- “You” was a forty-something going to work on a train into London
I had been going through a serious trauma and this was reflected in these strange differences. The differences represented how “split up” I was feeling. IEMT can be used to bring congruence to your primary identity references and this is what happened. After a short session, I felt calmer and more centred into myself.
I shared this with a colleague at work recently and they are much more present and grounded. When we went through the three questions across all four primary identity references,we found that they were in the present moment for all four references.
If you would like any help with this, or it raises questions, do get in touch. Likewise, if you want to know more how IEMT – Integral Eye Movement Therapy can help you, you can get in touch with me or you can go to:
I leave you with the following quote: