Some people today treat identity as fluid, easy to change or choose. Whatever you “identify as” in the moment is what matters, and the rest of us are supposed to play along. But identity — the answer to “who are you?” — is actually something formed over time. All our experiences, our personality traits, our choices build who/what you are. There are parts of identity that we can’t change, and if you want to change the other parts it requires hard work and a fundamental shift in how we think and behave.
The word “fundamental” comes from the same root as “foundation” (Latin fundare “to found/lay a base for”). Many of our foundations are laid when we’re young. We ask questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I value?” and we figure out answers that stick with us as we grow. We might not be using those words, but nevertheless we pick up things that become part of our identities and create the lenses through which we see the world.
Building Blocks of Self
Let’s think of each of the things making up our identity as blocks that go into our foundations. Someone who grew up in a good, healthy family might have blocks like “I am loved,” “It is safe to trust other people,” and “I am allowed to have healthy boundaries.” Or they might have grown up in a good family, but still incorporated blocks like, “I am loved, but I’m not worthy of it” or “I can only trust people in my family.” Others, who perhaps didn’t grow up in a good situation at all, have blocks like, “I am not worth loving,” “Trusting other people always leads to me getting hurt,” or “My needs and wants will never be honored.”
These foundational ideas don’t always stay the same. You can swap some out or re-write them as more experiences happen and you make choices about how to live your life. You might lose good foundations as you grow and pick up new blocks that aren’t healthy and supportive. On the other hand, you can also over-write bad foundations and put more positive ideas into your identity. Read more