Who Are You?

When you think about who you are, what your identity is, what’s the first thing you think of? Your name, your profession, your role within your family or relationship, a combination of those things – or is it something more abstract? How many ‘you’s are there? How much of your identity have you created, and how much of it has been defined for you? Creating identities (one or many) may be a way for our minds to cope with how unnatural things have become. We spend a great deal of time focusing on how we relate to others – and less on how we relate to ourself (and our various internal components) or our world. Individuals are fractions that combine to create identities; not just in the co-dependent ‘half of a whole’ way, but in that their lives are splintered into distinct pockets of relationships between family, professional, and personal worlds (and variants of). You have a personal e-mail that only ‘real friends’ get access to, a business account that’s public, a spam account to sign up for junk; it’s hard (if not impossible) for anyone to have the complete picture of all that you are online, let alone how increasingly difficult it is for anyone to have knowledge of you in real life. We feel as if we ‘know’ people based on what they look like or what they wear or say; so we not only create identities for ourselves, but we create and project them on to others as well.

There is the über-identity – which is essentially a brand-as-person model (think Dear Abby, where a group of people pretend to be a singular entity). But Internet anonymity allows a person to try on as many identities as they want to without any consequences, so the many-to-one identity is far more rare than the multiple-identity individual. Of course, creating an identity is also sometimes done out of fear; but there is a huge difference between the fear of genuine repercussions (death) versus wanting to avoid responsibility for your actions or to figure out ‘who you really are.’ But does that mean that it’s becoming increasingly impossible for us to understand ourselves and all of our pieces as well? And are all of these fractions causing us to be more dissatisfied with who we are, as we can focus on the microcosms of negative aspects more easily than looking at the big picture?

And would this be surprising? We’ve been telling people to be unhappy and dissatisfied with who they are for decades now. We’ve told them that who they are is merely a by-product of what they do, what they’ve achieved, and what they own (unless they’re female, in which case it’s also what they look like). Everyone has both masculine and feminine traits, but we get caught up in gender-based negativity. Identities used to focus on what we were told were ideals, but now people have shifted away from creating identities of who they want to be into who they think will get the most attention. They place less importance on their identity being happy and fulfilled through self-belief and focus on external acceptance, appreciation, and support. Yet it’s hard to figure out cause and effect; are we dissatisfied because of who we think we are, or because of who we think we should be? What needs more validation – our internal view of our identity, or how others see us? And when others define us, is that who we really are?