Personal identity is a factor with which most people struggle their whole lives. For myself and most as I imagine, personal identity is a concept that we are familiar with, since we recognize our character, preferences, personal morality, and other elements which make up an identity. However, it is also mysterious, both constantly shifting as well as having some corners that are not yet discovered, and potentially terrifying to the individual to explore.
Personal identity is a highly complex concept to grasp, yet it is critical to the way I live, act, interact with others, and even display emotions. My identity is a mix of my past experiences and my beliefs, the central core to who I am. This paper seeks to examine how self identity is formed, exploration outside the boundaries of perceived self-identity, and the role of self-identity in the relationship with others.
Forming Personal Identity
Personal identity is more of a philosophical question than psychological. It is difficult to define due to the complex nature. Personal identity is often compared to the self, but that is different since self is a sort of unchanging, immaterial subject of consciousness, while personal identity is more of a persistent and continuous unity of a person that combines memory with the present consciousness. Some of the key factors in personal identity are defining, “who am I?” but it is also a consideration of concepts such as personhood, persistence (what allows us to move through time and survive life’s difficulties), and other metaphysical influences (“Personal Identity”).
I fully agree with the definitions stated above. To me, personal identity is constantly evolving through life experiences that go on to define us. Memories and experiences past are the primary driver to the formation of self-identity. As young children, we develop through direct experience, similarly as adults our identity forms as part of the experience. It may be partially influenced to an extent by personal beliefs that are based on knowledge and rational, but at the end of the day, I feel as if these are minor influences.
At the same time, personal identity also impacts our expression and behavior, emotions and perceptions. In the story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” there is a deep discussion on how people perceive and express love. Despite sometimes drastic expressions, ranging from violence to deep caring for an individual, people love and demonstrate it differently as part of their personal identity (Carver 173). I will argue that this view of love is morphed and shaped by previous experiences that are combined with the state of things in the present. These emotionally impactful moments such as love help to shape the personal identity of a person and how they will view or present it in the future.
Venturing Outside Personal Identity
In the short story, “The Hitchhiking Game” a couple engages in a roleplaying game, where the woman pretends to be a seductress and the man adopts the role of a heartless ‘tough guy.’ These roles are drastically different from what they believe to be their personal identities, a shy, ‘pure’ girl and a worldly, experienced man who wants to settle down. However, the “game” quickly gets out of hand as the roleplay merges with reality, and they learn significantly about themselves and each other.
The woman experiences a bout of confidence, becoming more open sexually and no longer ashamed of her body. Meanwhile, the man becomes reckless, defiant, and almost abusive (Kundera). It seems that both realize that their personal identity does not satisfy them, and they have some aspects of themselves deep down that they did not realize. It is a realization that is terrifying but at the same time liberating for them, albeit it places their relationship into question.
Since personal identity is such a flexible concept, humans are not bound to it in my opinion. Personal identity serves almost as guidelines to defining who we are, but there are always going to be times when we ignore our identity and conscience. These actions demonstrate venturing outside the boundaries of personal identity, or perhaps expanding it in a way. Earlier, I argued that personal identity directs and influences behavior, and while that is true, it is not a guarantee as personal identity is fluid, and can quickly adopt new worldviews, elements of morality, and self-perception which can change an individual.
Personal Identity and Other People
As evident by the above discussions, despite identity being a strongly personal concept, it is highly dependent on interactions with other people. I would suggest that other people directly and indirectly contribute to an individual’s personal identity. This is done through experiences and feelings that we share with others. In “The Memoirs of Casanova,” the protagonist has two experiences with personal identity.
First, when having two lovers, he inherently takes on different personalities and identities almost, to match the other person (Calvino). While personality and identity are distinct concepts, I think that personality is shaped by identity and potentially vice-versa. Therefore, based on this could it be that our personal identity changes depending on with whom we interact? Other people help define who I am with time, the deeper the relationship, the deeper the impact.
This is further supported by the protagonist in his relationship with Fulvia. His arguably most memorable and deepest relationship out of all he had. That person and relationship changed his identity, by impact his way of thought, emotional state, self-development and other ways. However, in the end he realizes that for Fulvia, he himself was an instrument of self-discovery for her in various ways (Calvino). Arguably this self-discovery through another person contributes to personal identity and its formation as it consistently morphs and grows as a part of our experience and interactions.
This can be further explored in the concept of how the environment affects personal identity. No doubt family, which are both individuals and a factor of environment have had deep influence on who I am. Other environmental influences such as culture, religion, language, and society have all shaped my worldview, values, opinions, and to an extent behavior. Therefore, these elements are also critical parts of identity that stem not from within but through outside influences.
Personal identity is a concept that defines who we are, but it is a persistently changing and morphing phenomenon. Identity is shaped strongly by experiences as these help to define ultimately the core of who I am as a human being and my perceptions and values. Therefore, despite identity being a highly personal aspect, it is defined through others based on the experiences we had with other people as well as the influences they had on our worldview.
Personal identity is unique and complex, it is unlikely to find two individuals with similar identities, even if undergoing similar experiences. Finally, personal identity is not stringent but fluid, consistently evolving and stretching. It is possible for people to step outside their identity, but it also usually serves as a manner of guideline for behavior and values in life.
Calvino. The Memoirs of Casanova. Calvino Chinese Station, 2008. Web.
Carver, Raymond. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Knopf, 1981.
Kundera, Milan. “The Hitchhiking Game.” Esquire. 1974. Web.
“Personal Identity.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2019. Web.