What is Identity?

Many people when repeat by force some phrases excessively, they almost lose their meaning and become empty formulas. Such is the case with affinity from Mark Manson when he affirms in his article “Stop Trying to Change Yourself” that your identity is a “made up thing that you’re emotionally attached to.”

Manson also is the author of the famous book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.” If you google his name, you will find that Manson’s book has been a best seller and widely well-received by many people due to the unique humor with curse words to present his statements and arguments.

I have only read one of his articles (Stop Trying to Change Yourself), and it was enough for me to detect the danger of his way of thinking. Manson’s article speaks about “Identity,” and he states that there is no such a thing as a “self,” for that reason, one is wasting his/her time by trying to change oneself. The theme of “identity” has been a favorite topic for philosophers and thinkers of all times, but I will not go over all of them to avoid an extensive and unnecessary explanation about it.

However, I will bring up some psychological and theological arguments to defend my explanation against Manson’s point of view. I will start by explaining the importance of the sense of personal identity, and I will follow with a short reflection on the aspect of Christian Identity.

Michael E. Cavanagh says that an important base, perhaps, the most important foundation for mental and spiritual health is the psychological identity.1 A mature person can pose the question: “Who Am I?” And easily be able to answer that crucial question. Alessandro Manenti also has important affirmations regarding identity: “Every human being has the ability to love, to give himself/herself to another. A person has the ability to perform something meaningful in a creative way, as well as the corresponding energy…it is important to be aware of this, because it is about this essential reality that a person finds himself and is found to be substantially worthy of esteem. The rest is secondary. That is to say, it matters little that a certain human being possesses great or certain talents; since it does not change the fact that the person does not have intellectual coefficient of a genius, or that the person does not dazzle people when he/she speaks, or that a person finds difficulties to perform certain functions; it is not a drama the fact that a person makes a mistake or discovered that there is someone more valuable than him/her.”2

 

Personal Identity

Every person is able to affirm that he/she is a unique and unrepeatable individual. The molecules of DNA determine our hereditary qualities. Genetically speaking, it is almost impossible to find two people genetically equal. For instance, from the union of the 23 chromosomes of the father and the 23 chromosomes of the mother we get 8,388,608 possible combinations. Hence, one should ask if we have consciousness of our own identity. I know for a fact that I am a human being, which means that I am “an indivisible substance of rational nature,” which is the classical definition from the Roman philosopher Boethius (Rationalis Naturae Individua Substantia). My real “I” is the unity of an organism, animated by a rational soul, spiritual and immortal. I have been created through the image of God (Gen 1, 26), which helps as the foundation of my self-image and my positive self-esteem, elements that are important for the satisfaction of my life, for the efficiency at work and the power to enjoy the good interpersonal relationships, in contrast with what Manson explains when “there’s no real Self.”

 

The body and body image

As a human person, I have elements that belong constitutively to my human nature. I have — above all in the physical notion — a body. Each of the cells of my organism is a masterwork of genetical engineering, for example the neurons of my brain that qualify me to think, imagine and memorize. The heart that beats 70 times per minute, day and night. My eyes that allow me to see the light and enjoy some beautiful surroundings. My ears that allow me to hear my favorite music artists like Armin van Buuren, Above and Beyond and Fatum.

My body and body image constitute the same base of all the senses of identity. It is a gift of God the fact that we all have this organism, and secondary are the facts if whether one is thin or fat, good looking or ugly. The important thing is that the person feels comfortable with his body image; male or female; weak or strong; young or old. A satisfaction that when a person sees his image reflected in a mirror, one can exclaim: “that’s me.”

Emotions and Perceptions

Through the corporal senses a person receives infinity of stimulations from the exterior world. The sensation of emotions is a chaotic accumulation of information that has to be selected and organized to become perceptions.

It is a unanimous conviction of psychologists to affirm that our perception is selective. One important aspect of our own identity is the peculiar way that each person has of perceiving the world, but especially of how that person perceives himself, i.e., self-image. This self-image reflects the sense of identity of a person. For instance, Nathaniel Branden states in his work “The Psychology of Self Esteem” that people see the world through their own filter, so the image of my “I” pictures and influences all perceptions, the way of thinking, feeling, and acting.

The self-concept is the frame of reference of all the perceptions.

 

Intelligence

My intelligence is what specifies me as a human, rational and free being. I have my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own personal beliefs. The ability to think conceptually confers me a dignity as king above all creation, since I can decide things unlike the animal and plant kingdoms. I can think with abstract categories of universal value. I can formulate hypothesis and scientific laws; I can share with others my ideas, opinions and beliefs. I am an intelligent and free being.

 

Christian Identity

As a Catholic, I consider that a Christian Identity is not an artificial mask of identity for a person. Christian Identity is a constitutive and vital aspect that has to be considered to explain Identity.

Besides our values for a human person, we have to integrate our identity as Christians. Through Baptism, we have attended the generous call of God, and we were marked to elevate our person to a superior frame, unknown and inaccessible through natural sciences. Only faith and revelation can guide us to this reality.

One essential element of identity for an authentic Christian is his/her divine filiation: I am a child of God through baptism.

The Church reminds us insistently that each Christian is honored with the name of Christ, because he/she can call himself a child of God; through the waters of baptism, a person becomes a new creature, a member of Christ in conformity with the image of the Son. These elements contribute to form the identity of a Christian, they are not simply theoretical abstractions, but when a person truly accepts them as truth, he makes them become an own life through faith. The Holy Spirit and prayer then find firm bases to form a positive self-image and a healthy self-esteem.

Hence, we will notice that your identity is not a made up thing that we are emotionally attached to…our identity it’s not a mirage in the desert…our identity is not a ketchup bottle in an empty fridge. Your identity defines you as a human, rational, free being, especially you are a child of God.

For further reading:

“Finding our True Identity”