We love it to identify with things. Whether positive or negative identity doesn’t matter much to us. But where does this need for Identity come from and what is an Identity in the first place?
An Identity can be defined as a thought to which we attach. This thought can be a belief, a certain behavior pattern, or an ideology. Here are some examples for identities:
Nice, strong, friendly, hard-headed, French, smart, independent, being white, hard-working, loving, being a truck driver, tennis player, rich, or being poor.
The question now might arise, why do we have identities? Why do we start to attach ourselves to things? Why go through all this hassle?
The lower the self worth, the bigger is the need for identities. That’s why people of low self worth are easy pray for cults and ideologies. People of low self worth are on the lookout for higher identities which will (or so they hope at least) raise their self worth. A great example of this are nationalists. If you don’t have a lot going for you at least you still have a country to which you can attach your self worth
Unfortunately, since most of us don’t really know who or what we are, we are rather insecure about ourselves. That’s why we start clinging to all the sorts of things and attempt to make them our ‘own’. As soon as there is a collection of identities, the ego arises. This gives new confidence of actually ‘being’ something, which gives the quote: “I think therefore I am” a whole new meaning.
But we don’t just have ‘positive’ identities, we also have many negative ones. And we have good reasons for that.
They give us comfort and acceptance. We find safety in our negative identities because of course, they are very familiar. We rather embrace a negativ identity than face nothingness.
They put responsibility ‘out of reach’. Often we don’t want to be responsible. Here negative identities come in handy. They are great excuses to stay lazy. “Oh I would love to work on my passions, but I’m too old/unskilled/busy/poor.”
They make us unique. Most of us have an innate need for differentiation. Often we try to find things that make us unique, but this doesn’t even have to be something positive. Many take pride in being lazy, procrastinating, or even not caring about their health.
Identities can be very toxic to us. The blinded victim however might not see this. The businessman that worked 16 hours a day for the last 20 years will be so identified with his lifestyle that he in fact prides himself on being such a hardworking person. Not realizing of course that he’s wasting his life in pursuit of mediocre material pleasures. But our identities give us comfort, a human likes to do the thing with which he is most familiar. It takes great will or maybe even a great disaster for us to get rid of those identities.
Let’s think of an obese person. One of the biggest problems in dieting is your ‘identity set point’. If you do not drop your identity of being an obese person. You will always return back to where your identity is. This does not only apply to obese people, but also to underweight people. That’s what people call the yoyo effect, it’s coming back to your original weight after trying a diet. So next time you start a diet, start imagining that you are already at your goal weight, visualize it until it actually becomes your identity, and at this point weight loss will be easy.
To really understand identities fully, we need to get a better perspective of who ‘we’ really are. And the truth is, we are not any identity. ‘Neti Neti’ some Hindus would say, you are ‘not this, not that’. We could look at single identities as parts of a bigger whole. A lot of identities create the ego. But of course those identities are hollow, they are no more than thoughts without substance. Yes we might even stack identities on top of identity and create a rather impressive self image. But it remains just that. An image. A representation. The problem of course is that all those identities are rather constricting. And our true self lies behind all of those many identities and buried so deep it is already forgotten and takes often hard work to see it. But it is there. Once you peal identity by identity off from your original nature, your true self might become visible again…
Every form, every identity, every label is some sort of limitation. Our true nature however is absolutely unlimited.
Your true self can and will never be an identity.