who am I… really? Thoughts on identity and identification

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

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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who am I… really? Thoughts on identity and identification — 15 Comments

  1. I’m not sure about this, instead of identifying with my mothers wants, parentification was the mayor motivation hindering myself of living my live. Always thought to kill my parents, if I stopped taking care of their Needs.
    Is identification to some extent with someone, not the parents, not a very human occurrence?

    • Connie, identification with the wants and needs of the mother is the survival strategy of the trauma of identity, which is when the infant’s own wants and needs, their identity in fact, are denied by the mother. The baby has to give up its healthy self and align itself with the identity of the mother in order to survive in its vulnerability. This commonly takes place during pregnancy, is very deep and unknown as a result, but means that the infant has to imagine the mother’s love and protection when in fact the mother is incapable of love and doesn’t see her child as an individual in their own right, but as an object to satisfy her own needs and desires. From here the child’s only sense of identity, of who he or she really is, is through identification with another – primarily the mother, but later one’s partner, boss, friends and one’s own children. Hope this makes it clearer.

  2. To some extent, this is true. Since private school, always want to be successful in study, in work place, and become parents’ pride and joy, want to be recognised by parents.

  3. Thank you for this post. It really made me think of a quote by Max Stirner, ‘The Unique One and its Property’ (you prefer German I guess, ‘Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum’ (1844)). Talking about the German nationalist tendencies he writes: “Not in their nationality, not in the womb should they return to be born again, but each and every one of them should return to him- or herself.” The book is a critique of all forms of identification and a very warm plea for healthy ‘egoïsm’.

    I strongly recommend this book to everyone who’s interested in discussions on identity, ownness, uniqueness. It is my greatest philosophical source of inspiration in working with the method of Franz Ruppert.

  4. Very interesting article and it sounds a lot like my mother and my own not having a clue what I want in life even though I’m now nearly 60. However perhaps I’m in some sort of half way position? I can’t say that I seek myself in the identity of others. I avoid close relationships and I barely have any relationships and I hide a lot. So I am not one who finds myself through others .. but I do avoid others at a deeper level. On a superficial level, I get on fine with people but I very rarely expose much of emotional self. As for having some sort of idea of what I want in life. Utterly clueless and I go from pillar to post in jobs, homes, and finance.

    Does this make sense? Any comments would be much appreciated

    • Dear Anne, yes of course that does make sense, and one way of managing one’s lack of sense of self is to avoid any situation that would reflect that to oneself, as you say, hiding. But I could also add that this kind of hiding could also be to do with being an unwanted child. You might be interested in reading the blog I posted on 25th February 2017 on Trauma of Identity and the Unwanted Child. See listing to the right at the top.

  5. re above comment – my mother is now quite elderly and for years I have had the thought I wish she would die so I can live.

  6. Your writings on this work continue to prove to be so beneficial for me.
    I am at the end of a term in university writing on identity in one of my communication classes(required topic. The IoPT way of viewing identity and identification makes all the sense in the world to me. However, one of my communications instructors here (US), as well as their guest speakers, is teaching what we call identifications as identity. Inverse to me now. More than semantics dissonance. Happy to be able to source reference material from your and Franz’s writings as I continue. Going against the grain here a bit. Maybe even swimming upstream a little. Grateful to have you all across the pond affirming what makes more sense to me. Thank-you. Again.

    • Good luck with it! And by the way… I have updated some things in this piece to help you get it right for your paper… The main thing I now know is that the Trauma of Identity is the first trauma, and the Trauma of Love is subsequent to it, and as a result of the Trauma of Identity.

  7. I just realized and am accepting that I am an adult and have no idea who I am. There has been one trauma after another that I don’t know myself without it. I tend to create it in everything I do. I am ready to stop the destruction of my life and am scared as hell! I don’t know how or where to start.

  8. Thank you, Vivian for posting it!
    It helps me through and let me hold on myself in this just recognized feeling of lack of identity, specially the last passage gives a clear feeling of an own inner direction, without feeling pressure to act right now. How important it is to take my time, to be shure, thats my own impuls coming next…..
    Thanks a lot!

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