The Importance of Identity

December 2, 2020

Identity is an important element of what makes us who we are. Think about identity and how we want to define ourselves and our families as we go into 2021.

Ask yourself – How does society define you? How does your family of origin define you? How does your body image, sexuality, political orientation and gender define you? Or NOT define you? What tools and techniques can we use to find our identity?

Our clinician team offers some great insight to offer on the importance of identity.


Kasey Cain, Licensed Professional Counselor 

I was once asked to participate in an activity where I was given a stack of index cards and prompted to write one identity per notecard. Since, like all people, I am made up of many identities, I began writing: Mother, School Counselor, Therapist, Woman, Jewish… The facilitator then asked the group to select one of the identities and discard it. The room filled with murmurs and sighs – almost unanimously people stated that they were unable to select one of their identities that they would willingly be able to part with. The activity sparked meaningful conversation around personal identity. We discussed identities we selected/created for ourselves as well as identities that society shapes. (Social identities are ones that are created, named, framed, and defined by society, often one dominant culture, and express how you relate to other people in that society. Some examples of social identity categories are socio-economic status, race, and ability.) As adults, this was a challenging and meaningful exploration.

Of course, since I work with children and families, I connected that experience to the power of working with clients to explore their identity. I am not alone in seeing the value of identity exploration. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists self-awareness as one of the five core competencies for social-emotional learning. CASEL defines self-awareness as “the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Such as:

  • Integrating personal and social identities
  • Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets
  • Identifying one’s emotions
  • Demonstrating honesty and integrity
  • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts
  • Examining prejudices and biases
  • Experiencing self-efficacy
  • Having a growth mindset
  • Developing interests and a sense of purpose. We are never too young to start exploring our identity. Our identity grows and changes as we do. Exploring identity isn’t a one-time thing, but rather an ongoing self-discovery. Some questions to consider are:
    • What factors shape your identity?
    • How have your identities developed over time?
    • How do your identities influence your choices, behaviors, and values?
    • What challenges occur when others view us differently than we view ourselves?
    • What challenges occur when society assigns us an identity?

I encourage you to take the time to think about what makes you, well, you and celebrate yourself. I just know that you are awesome!

Rebecca Staines, School/Licensed Professional Counselor

Identity is a particularly important topic as your kids begin middle school and high school. In fact, when looking atErickson’s 8 stages of development, the Identity versus Role Confusion stage occurs during the ages of 12 to 19. It then makes sense that during this time you notice that your teenager may try out different clothes, hairstyles, and even venture into body piercings. Although this can be terrifying and disorienting to witness as a parent, identity exploration is a critical part of development for your teenager.

While your teenager is exploring different forms of identity through appearance, friends, activities, and music make sure to have continual conversations about the choices your teen is making to express themselves. You might ask, are these forms of self-expression healthy? Do any of these forms of expression give off unintended or negative messages that your teen is unaware of? If so, use it as a moment to educate, but also critically listen to your teen without judgement.

If your teen is reading a particular book, watching a show, or listening to music that you are unfamiliar with – read, watch, and listen alongside them. You may be pleasantly surprised at the conversations these activities spark between you and your teen, and it also a chance to get to know your everchanging child as they grow into an adult.

Dorri C. Scott, MSW, Resident Family Therapist and Parent Coach in Northern Virginia

Having celebrated a different “thanksgiving” and a year to remember, recognizing who YOU are is probably more important than ever.

One’s identity beyond the outward trappings (clothes, makeup, the car you drive, and where you live etc.) tells only a part of your story. Identity including beliefs, values, and what we deem truly important is what matters most. Too, it alone is lasting.

Uncertain about your identity? Try this:

  • Start with a conversation with you.
  • Ask yourself…Who am I?
  • What gets me out of bed daily?
  • Who are the people I love the most?
  • And, if today was my last day who are the people I choose to share that last meal with.
  • Why?
Search high and humbly to seek the truth – your truth for your true identity.
Identify places, people and things that bring you joy. Prepare for 2021 and allow post COVID to further help you journey toward a better more focused YOU.

Until next time, Be Wise!