Self-identity and the social grape vine

The dictionary definition of self-identity is ‘the perception or recognition of one’s characteristics as a particular individual, especially in relation to social context.’  That last part is quite important I think. Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, if I think I have a certain quality but others don’t, do I really have it? There’s no easy answer.

Some of our personal qualities are obvious. They are evident in our actions, our self-presentation, our interactions with others. They are public. Others are more private. Some we keep those aspects of ourselves under lock and key, known only to our inner ego. Secrets, dreams, fears, hopes, vulnerabilities, and strengths no one else can perceive.

Then there are those qualities in between. The part of ourselves we share only with intimate partners or family. Sometimes not even family. The part of us that comes out only with those closest to our hearts and behind closed doors. Harking back to the definition of self-identity – especially in relation to social context – what happens when some of our inner most qualities are misconstrued by others? It challenges the very bedrock on which we base our own identity.

I recently found out there has been a public perception of my identity which does not align with my own self-perception or that of those closest to me. Unfortunately this particular misperception is based on something which is completely inaccurate; an event which never actually took place. The hurt and the inner sadness and turmoil I have felt as a result have been palpable. Because not only is the perception based on an untruth, but it goes against the very core of who I am and against my own self-identity.

But why is this? Why, when I know this to be untrue and when I am generally happy with who I am, should a social misunderstanding rock my world so much? I suppose there’s an element of feeling betrayed. In your mind you question why people close to you would so easily believe such things from other people, and not speak to you directly. And there’s also an element of wanting to set the record straight; to run around with a sandwich board and a bell shouting ‘that’s not me at all!’ But that would be airing dirty laundry and we’re not supposed to do that. But what if the laundry was never dirty? What if it’s the whitest, cleanest laundry that ever was and people just think it’s dirty….is it ok to air it then? Probably not.

After this revelation, I asked a friend how he always manages to remain so balanced in public. He told me it’s a question of choice. A choice not to let what someone else has done or said define you. I admire that. I’m not entirely sure it’s my style, but one can aspire.

So, before I sign off and in the essence of authenticity, I am going to break all socially acceptable protocol and air my CLEAN laundry and claim back that elusive self-identity. There are many things I am bad at in this life. I have atrocious taste in music (and films come to that); I am marginally neurotic; I am sometimes bossy; I can be emotionally hypersensitive, which goes with being highly empathetic (a decidedly double-edged sword); I have been known to have rubbish self-esteem; I rarely do what I am supposed to do to be deemed socially acceptable (this blog post is case and point); and my will power is about as strong as a leaf in the wind.

BUT I am also compassionate to a fault and highly aware of those close to me and what they feel. In fact, I’ve had to work quite hard to learn to even start factoring my own needs into the mix (I’ve been called a ‘rescuer’ more than once). I might have some other good points too….but it would be just too unacceptable to publicly declare those. I mean, I’m still British after all.

So I am going to take my self-identity and try to stay grounded in that. I am going to make a choice not to let conclusions others have jumped to define me or the way I see myself. I am going to work on my own self-esteem, and I am going to revel in my terrible taste in music until the coast clears. Zigazig ah.

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