Who am I… really? Thoughts on Identity and Identification
There’s a difference between acknowledging a fact about yourself, and identifying yourself with something. Identification is a substitute for identity, it is a trauma survival strategy.
A fact about myself is that I was born in the UK and so have a British passport. This means I am British. Emotional identification with being British, however is a way in which I outsource my identity because of a lack of real identity; this is due to early traumatisation. To say that I am British is one thing, and a fact that I can be conscious of, but to use my Britishness as a substitute for my identity is in the Identity Therapy thinking a psychological identification.
In a trauma of identity my psyche splits and I am forced to identify with my mother’s wants, needs, desires, unresolved trauma and emotions rather than my own. In this very early trauma event I am not able to keep my identity in tact. The trauma of identity means that I am not seen and valued by my mother as a separate, unique being with my own identity, as a subject in my own right, but rather as an object without intrinsic value to her, and in order to survive I am forced to split from my wants and identify with my mother’s wants instead. This is the first identification and loss of identity.
Thereafter the only way in which I can have some sense of myself is through identification. I literally outsource my identity to others. I rely on others to reflect an identity for me, but this isn’t my real identity… It is a false (survival) identity that I gain through identification. I unconsciously seek people in my life who reflect the identity I think is me, and in this way may end up in similar and familiar situations and relationships. Through my identifications as an adult I am constantly seeking myself, as should have been reflected by my mother seeing me as an individual, a subject. But since the only connection with her that I know is one of identification with her and her wants, I do not really know what I am looking for. And until this is made conscious I am lost in a cycle of unsatisfying, essentially destructive and life diminishing situations and relationships.
Identification with, for example, a football team gives me something that I lack through not having an intact identity. It gives me a sense of self, a sense of safety and a sense of connection, a sense of emotional nourishment… In fact all the things that I lost or didn’t have with my mother. The football team is then a substitute mother.
Identification leads to violence and destruction because if I identify with one thing I am dis-identifying with another and the other becomes my enemy. To keep my identification in tact as my substitute identity I must fight anything that threatens it. And when another group of people who have identified with their group try and strengthen their identification even more, against my identified group, I and my group have to do the same… And then we are at war.
The solution to this is to dare to explore my inner world, to admit to my lack of identity, to question my need for others’ validation of me, and to take the fact of my traumatisation seriously. The trauma of identity at that early time of my life, when I was forced to give up on myself in order to have some emotional and validation contact with my mother, causes my psyche to split and my survival then depends on surrendering my identity to an identification with her.
To reclaim myself, to know who I really am, requires that I face that traumatised part of me. My real identity requires that I integrate the split off parts of myself and discover for the first time who I really am… Not surviving on the reflections of others, but standing separate from their perceptions of me, and giving up on the illusions of identification. It is only from an integrated identity, a coming into real and true contact with myself, my trauma and my real healthy self, that I can then see the reality of the world and connect with the reality of others.
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