“…human kinds serve so many different needs, there is no single recipe for making one…The issue is not what human kinds are in the world, but what they are in the mind…Human kind thinking is an absolute requirement for being human…Who is ‘our side’?”
– David Berreby, Us & Them: The Science of Identity
What are you made of? I don’t mean physically with blood and bones. I mean psychologically. Who are you? If you break down who you are / what you stand for, you’ll see how quite literally what behaviors and activities you maintain to keep yourself in line. Or maybe you don’t…maybe there’s a disconnect between who you say you are and what you actually do…👀
We’re all complex, multifaceted people. The upkeep on maintaining relationships and civic duty in work, family, friends, dating, children, social community spaces is exhausting and virtually impossible right now. And it got me thinking about how warranted taking the time to interpret what makes up our self concept.
Checking Boxes for your Self-Concept
Psychology has theory after theory on interpreting identity. All fair considering we all have our complexities and quite naturally we as individuals evolve. To understand how rooted this is in cognition, human agency and decision making, it starts with honestly understanding how individuals define themselves, stake claim in a value, and prescribe activity to fulfill everything (ie: identity).
Think about all the different boxes that you check which make up your identity. Job applications today are starting to look like those Seventeen Magazine personality quizzes I spent 40% of middle school filling out.
Let’s look at some example self-concept traits:
- Middle class
- Gen X
Conscious Behavior to Satisfy your Identity
Now think about all the things you do to support your sense of self. Some things you clearly don’t have a choice in the matter – like being born a specific race or mix. Then some things you might seek out – like becoming a parent or joining the military. But where do you go to “activate” what you spiritually, genetically or consciously subscribe to? How do you behave to fulfill that part of yourself?
For example, consciously as a Black woman I can call out multiple outlets and identity filling stations that I’ll seek out specifically to satisfy and rejuvenate my sense of Blackness (ie: styles of food, consuming Black arts/music/movies, changing my hair, styles of clothes/wardrobe, etc…).
Identity becomes a canvas that we get to paint and present as we evolve as individuals.
How do you satisfy your cultural affiliation? Lifestyle? Sexuality? Race? What are those spaces? Who is in your community?
Here’s another example:
A mother or father → maybe the style of dress changed into something more comfort > fashionable, more conscious in monitoring television, setting parental guidelines…
- What are your trusted go-to sources of things you find supportive
- How many mommy/daddy dates do you have with other parents
- Who do you trust to talk to, ask questions and get information
Breaking down how we categorize ourselves is important because it outlines what you value. Now the hard part… how do you balance all the versions of yourself? The mismanagement of one’s self-concept can be part of the problem when finding yourself in an argument…with others and even with yourself.
If you’re a professional fighter standing in the cage, that doesn’t diminish or make you any less a man, or woman, or gay, or disabled, or parent. One major part of self has just become more dominant in that moment.
Critical Thinking to Combat Ignorance
It makes me think of all the situational shifting I’ve had to go through as a Black woman. In the workplace, socializing, dating, etc…am I being too Black? Not Black enough? Too intimidating? Not feminine enough? Hypersexualized? The a la carte pressures that come with degrading archetypes like “Ma” and the “fixer…”
People either a) don’t know how to think critically or b) are willfully ignorant and love to project their curiosities and demands on others in a dehumanizing fashion.
We can be in more than one community. Having male friends doesn’t make you less of a feminist. That’s where ignorance comes in. And ignorance is a vitamin for hatred and stereotypes.
Communities are spaces comprised of likeminded others that vibe over a similar philosophy or activity. Instances of unfair judgement and discrimination from outsiders not within one of our communities all typical come from a stereotype that they’ve produced because they refuse to recognize that we are allowed to check more than one box. We’re allowed to be multifaceted, evolving and complex. Look up Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow. In it he breaks down that we have two processes of thinking:
System 1 = thinking fast, instinctive and emotional (and often times lazy). Relies on heuristics, using first impressions to jump to conclusions and can offer an explanation for human biases.
- What’s the problem with that? We have a tendency to group things together, which creates social groups or categorizations that are often based on exaggerations of comparing one group or person to another (us vs them, stereotyping)
- “Look at him, I bet that fruit vendor doesn’t have a health permit and is illegal. It’s ghetto and looks like shit, this isn’t Pacoima.” (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, google Santa Clarita owners harass local fruit vendor or look at this as a recent example: https://newsmaven.io/pinacnews/citizen-journalism/watch-former-cop-with-arrest-record-shamed-in-video-for-harassing-fruit-vendor-pKtY3reK-UiZ-zgm4uQ2LQ
System 2 = thinking slow and deliberate (often times harder, which is likely why it’s done LESS). A more analytical form of critical thinking that uses reflection, problem-solving and analysis as opposed to associating new information with pre-existing patterns or thoughts. Logically creates new patterns for each new experience.
Breaking Down Identity
With a heightened awareness now of human decision making and all features that make up our self-concept, lay it all out to consider an overall understanding of identity.
a person’s sense of self based on group memberships
- Good for pride and esteem from group affiliation
- Bad for negative social comparison, being hyper critical of Self from relying on comparative processes
a person feeling different than their group cohorts based on individual distinctions
- embraced and expressed individualism
- Ex. attending a women’s march but recognizing that as a Black woman, my experiences and added reasoning to participate are different than the other women
Fluctuating behavior to reflect a more salient identity. When a particular self-concept is dominant and in the driver seat, your behaviors change and get prioritized to satisfy that sense of Self. Recognizes that both a social and personal identity can both be salient at the same time.
- ex. Black Women’s March – performing and emphasizing dual identities from a dynamic interplay of multiple self concepts
The Wrap Up: Put That Energy in Yourself
We’re able to be more than one thing. We’re able to have multiple self concepts, any of which can become more dominant given a certain environment. But for our own self-care, we have to recognize that we’re unable to give equal attention to more than one thing simultaneously. It’s an emotional juggling act at the expensive of our sanity and wellbeing. Every part of us can’t fit in the driver seat and all the exhaustive effort in keeping everything strong, salient and loud takes a suffering toll.
That energy is better served in building emotional resilience. Recognize and accept that we don’t have to be everything to everybody all the time. Be humble. Be human. All of the boxes we check are important. They make us unique. The problem is that in casual, general and most social environments or the territory that comes with being a public figure, the fast “System 1 thinkers” end up making lazy stereotypes and will always throw around other personal identity features that aren’t even the topic at that time. Ex. hyper-sexualizing Serena William’s body and attire during a match, or a teacher telling a young Black student that he should focus on music or athletics to be successful.
Reckless projections from others is what often motivates people to scream out our individual complexities out the gate. But for the sake of mental and emotional stability, identity salience does not dilute your connections to other self concepts, nor does it belittle your ties and experience within other communities. We’re fluidly able to bring attention to various outlets, spaces and utilities of identity that give us a sense of fulfillment. Maintaining a healthy balance within our self concepts can be drastically different for others, even within the same community.