Who Am I?

The search for identity

Allan Milne Lees

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Image credit: The Voice

Shortly after we are born, we are given a name. For most people, this name (or at least some portion of it) remains with them for the rest of their lives and can have an influence on how others perceive them. In countries that have tribes or castes, affiliation with a particular social strata also becomes inextricably connected to how others perceive them. The socio-economic status of the person’s parents likewise influences external perceptions. Very often, all these factors and more shape a person’s conception of who they are.

Yet these things are not enough to provide a complete sense of identity. We are born with a personality, and the complex ceaseless interaction of that personality with the external environment is what shapes us over the years.

For the most part, however, none of this is enough to give us a firm sense of self. Particularly in the teen years, most people feel confused about what they want, what they think they should want, what they do, and what they think they should do. Everything is an inchoate jumble and there seems to be no firm “me” in the center to which they can refer during times of stress. For a great many people this lack of self-definition persists throughout life, with the individual simply becoming accustomed to their lack of center and no longer noticing it. In consequence, when difficulties arise, they seek to escape feelings of inadequacy by ingesting substances that alter their neural chemistry and thus to some degree mute their psychological discomfort, albeit temporarily and at the cost of having even less personal adequacy than before because now they are reliant on external substances to maintain their precarious psychological balance.

It’s clear, therefore, that we need to develop a firm and reasonably accurate sense of who we are in order to become adults capable of functioning with some degree of adequacy. Unfortunately in our modern world this has become increasingly more difficult to accomplish and as a result a great many people grow older but never grow up.

To understand the problem, we need to begin at the beginning.

When we’re young we tend to acquire our notions of behavior and personality from our parents and other close family members. We don’t question much, but simply absorb…

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.