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Your Personal and Social Identities

Lesson 9 on "Connecting the pieces of the puzzle of you" is all about bringing clarity to your personal and social Identities. Personal identity and social identities are rarely explored in self-discovery or self-awareness processes even though the consciousness of these identities brings you to greater clarity about you. That's why we are going to focus on them just a bit today.

The good news and the bad news is that you are a highly complex being. You probably realize that you are unique and distinctive from everyone, and, at the same time, you know that you need and want to be similar to others that are important to you.

It's that push-me/pull-you of the human condition. We are torn between keeping our own separate identities and attracted to identifying with and belonging to the group. However, we define it.

Our culture has socialized us into being the same and different. It's very confusing. We are told to be a team-player, and also to take responsibility for our own actions. We are required to do what we're told to do, yet - we should think for ourselves. At a very young age, we learn how to fit in and also to align ourselves with people and groups that we want to be identified with. It goes on. We are bombarded with conflicting messages and we feel that tug.

This tendency of individuals to create and relate to an identity that both connects and separates them from others is called personal and social identity theory.

It helps you to understand what distinguishes you from everyone else. You have more personal power when you know who and what influences your actions.

Social identity theory provides a theoretical framework to shed light on the attraction and aversion for certain groups of people as individuals identify themselves in categories of social classification.

Personal and social identities are different from each other.

Let's look at your personal identity first. Personal identity is about what you believe. It's that internalization of you. We've been looking at this throughout our course. You have already been exploring your personal identity because you have assessed your talents and skills, your motivators, your needs, values, your beliefs. They are all part of what your personal identity is.

Now, besides your beliefs and attitudes, it's also composed of your intelligence, your education, your physical attributes, life experiences, and exposures.

You want to assess how much clarity you now have unearthed around your personal identity. This exercise is obviously for your personal awareness and to stimulate thinking about how it's all working for or against the unique essence of you.

Now, social identity as opposed to personal identity describes and evaluates who you are by providing your identification through the groups you belong to. You are motivated to categorize yourself because of self-esteem needs and a desire to reduce uncertainty in the social environment by understanding your unique place in the world.

Your social identity involves identification with a group based on such things as your chronological age which we are going to talk more about in the next lesson. It's also about your life stage. It involves your race, your sex, religion, your ethnicity, your national origin. It can involve your marital status, your sexual orientation, your workplace membership, your profession. It may include your organizational culture, the occupational industry that you are in, your economic status. It could involve your political affiliation, your social status, and your geographic location.

Social identity is a perception of belonging with what you consider is the in-group of persons and comparing that with what you consider is an out-group. You do this identification for positive identity and self-enhancement. It stems from a basic belief and categorization of individuals as different from or similar to you.

Social identity includes all these groups that are important for you to belong to and identify with because it's how you see yourself. These groups provide you with identification even though being part of them doesn't always work out the way you want it to be.

You want to consider why you have chosen to connect yourself with certain groups and not others. How much sway do any of these groups have over your decisions and your daily activities?

Each one of us has multiple social and personal identities that define us. They tell us who we are and sometimes they compete for our attention and time. To complicate things even more, we bring our social and personal identities to the workplace that has its own identity in the form of its corporate culture.

Recognize that you choose this self-categorizing and identity with these groups. It isn't necessarily good or bad that you choose to classify yourself. What's important is that you are aware that you do it. That you're aware that you self-classify, and that you determine if these associations work for or against you.

And, to layer on all of that even further, we have to think of the fact that you are a part of a generational cohort that further competes for your identity. We are going to explore your generational cohort next in Lesson 10.

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Written by

Sylvia Gaffney, PhD