Developing A Sense of True Identity

If the nations of this world all die eventually, I imagine the official cause of death would be from complications due to the identity struggles of their citizenry. I get no pleasure out of making that statement, but I cannot ignore that, as far as I can tell, the divided world seems to be in nothing less than an identity strained civil war. I don’t need to rehash the details. You see them every day. To some degree, it has always been the way of the competitive world–“Who we are is ‘not you’ so die stranger die unless we can benefit from tolerating your existence.” But just because this subconscious programming seems to emerge from basic survival instincts, that doesn’t mean it always has to dictate how we come in contact with the world. We don’t have to see others as a threat to our perceived identity. There is a way to live beyond the limits of our historical narrative. But I do not think it is going happen through legislation and negotiation. I think it is going to take willing souls learning to truly appreciate themselves as the unique and beautiful creations they are and then freely extending that awareness to others from the mindset that indeed we are all One.

As it stands, it seems that far too many of us are looking for permission to know ourselves and others this way. We are dependent on what I am calling “externals” to validate our worth and how we show up in the world. Those externals include possessions, history, group affiliation, relationships, etc. This is not to say that we cannot learn from, enjoy, or appreciate these things. But I am saying that the degree to which we are defined by these apparently separate externals is the degree to which they limit us. We are more than these externals–these idols. When we think that things, which are essentially constructs, make us who we are we become nothing more than what I  am referring to as “I” dolls or false versions of ourselves. We know not who we are or what we do. And one thing we don’t need now is an increased supply of people who have no idea who they are or what they are doing–people who look for meaning and significance outside of their true selves. As Howard Thurman put it, what we need is people who have come alive.

What is below are some ideas that I am using to help me focus on my essential being. If they are useful to you, I’m glad. Please share them if you can think of others who might benefit from what is being shared.


Identity is not static. What this means is who you are is always becoming. There is no such thing as a never changing future you at which you can arrive. You know that person that you tell yourself will be the happier, better version of you who will materialize once you get whatever it is that is presently keeping you from being you? What I am saying is that version of you that you believe exists on the other side of you winning the lotto or writing that novel or finding that relationship is not there. Even if you acquire all of those things, you do not know the person who will be on the other end of those achievements, because the very nature of being is evolutionary. You are eternally becoming. This is your very isness. If you were not becoming i.e. coming into being, you would cease to be. This violates the eternal nature out of which we emerge. Cosmically this means that if you were to ever cease becoming it would be as if–and perhaps actually that–you never were. In an eternally dynamic Universe, only what is becoming is. There is no identity beyond this.


Identity is not inherent. Some people believe that we are born who we are in the sense that our identities are determined by external factors such as race, culture, economic status, national origin, etc. For example, there is the assumption of black male criminality that is fostered in our society. If I accepted this as my inherent identity, then I would be dead or in jail by now. For many, including myself, this belief in an inherent identity to which we must conform or combat creates an internal struggle that overwhelms some, weakens the resolve of others, and challenges the rest of us to overcome this illusion. I agree with what Dorothy West says above, our identity is shaped by these things coupled with a resistance to self-pity. As far as we can prove, we cannot choose the circumstances into which we came into the world of form. We can, however, choose how we leverage the unique challenges and gifts that come with these circumstance. And as we do this consciously, our identity shaping journey becomes evolutionary and expansive.


We are not our struggles. Do you identify with what you’ve been through or with where you desire to be? Remember, identity is a journey. Our struggles are a part of that journey, but they are never the final destination.  Unfortunately, many of us can’t get past the struggles. And that is what we call suffering. To some degree, our suffering comes less from what happens to us than from what we tell ourselves about has happened to us. Most especially when we feel like we have been victimized, it may feel that moving through what we’ve endured is somehow letting the perpetrator off of the hook. Might I suggest that choosing to stay in that painful energy and identifying with the struggle, thereby turning it into suffering, may in fact be taking the baton from the person who hurt you and victimizing yourself. Let yourself off the hook by realizing that who you truly are and who you are becoming is more than the worst thing that has ever happened to you or even the worst thing you’ve ever done.

The true you knows what leads to happiness. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is told that God knew him before he was ever formed in his mother’s womb and had consecrated him as a prophet. Even though I said that identity is not inherent, I don’t think this proclamation is contradictory. To be known by the Eternal is not the same as being known temporally. To be known by God is to be known truly. And to be known as you truly are is inexpressible joy. My prayer for my identity journey has always been to know myself as I am known by God. But whether one believes in God or not, Brenda Shoshanna’s statement rings true. Another thing I like about what she says is the term “sense of identity”. To a large degree, one’s identity could function as a sense just like vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touching–none of which are static though they come in contact with and are experienced through apparent static phenomena. All senses are essentially journey oriented. And, as the wise philosopher king Solomon taught, “the eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Likewise, the sense of identity is never filled with being. That is the truth of it and to know this is to know that only with a developed sense of identity, can you sense what leads to true happiness.

You can grow from anywhere. Identity is only a prison for the one who sees it as something located in time–especially if they see it as located in the past. Perhaps for some this is a useful way to relate to identity, in that they no where they never want to go back to. As Jay-Z says, it can be a foundation to grow upon. However, because identity is not located in time you can quite literally grow from anywhere. You can use your sense of identity to draw yourself to a certain future, away from an undesired past, or to be fully and wholly present now.

Professor Peter Weinreich, creator of the Identity Structure Analysis (ISA) puts it like this, “A person’s identity is defined as the totality of one’s self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future.” Sounds intelligent to me. So how can we use this awareness to emerge in the world with the highest functioning sense of identity possible?


Greatness is within you. Many of us cannot even begin to fathom the greatness that is “with-in” us. And in my experience, most people are incredibly resistant to this awareness. My theory is that we are not willing to see this greatness within us because if we receive this good news then we will necessarily have to accept that this same greatness is within all. Yes, even that jerk that cut you off in traffic, that politician that you would never have voted for, and those people who don’t worship as you do just to name a few.

I understand that it seems difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that our essential greatness comes from the fact that we are all inextricably One. However, I would venture to say that anyone who has explored any of the ancient spiritual traditions with any depth will agree that this is what each teaches in their own way. To speak from my chosen path, I accept that Jesus’ teaching that we love all as we love ourselves and his prayer that we all be One are not in vain but rather emerge from the above mentioned awareness.

In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul declares to the people of Athens, “’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it,  who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is God served by human hands, as though the Divine needed anything, since it is God who gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” And later he says, “For in God we live and move and have our being.” This is to say that we are so inseparable from the Creator of all that we are living, moving, and having our being wholly within the One who dwells wholly with and in us. In this way, all is in One and One is in All.

But do not be deceived. There is no experience of true greatness apart from God and neighbor. The illusion of such requires that the impossibility of our separation be real and essential Oneness be denied. This is not. This is something the clearest sense of identity will affirm. In closing, I will revisit the observations of Peter Weinreich and Wendy Saunderson who from their ISA research have witnessed that “people’s identities are addressed and brought into being by interaction with others”. In other words, no identity is an island. To be fully who we are becoming, we must fully acknowledge the becoming of all.

And this is the journey of identity from the beginning…


2 replies »

  1. This a very interesting and inspiring read, and it’s always good to be reminded of the human capacity to uplift and enlighten in midst of the seeming endless stream of news about our ability to wantonly destroy.

    I think you make many excellent points here – and in particular I’m grateful to be reminded about Howard Thurman, a name that I’m embarrassed to say had slipped into the dusty cobwebs of my memory.

    These points all stuck chords:

    “I think it is going to take willing souls learning to truly appreciate themselves as the unique and beautiful creations they are and then freely extending that awareness to others from the mindset that indeed we are all One”

    “Might I suggest that choosing to stay in that painful energy and identifying with the struggle, thereby turning it into suffering, may in fact be taking the baton from the person who hurt you and victimizing yourself”

    “The true you knows what leads to happiness”

    I was also quite stuck by your section on “Identity is not inherent.” This seems to me to be such a key point. And also seems like it is very difficult – indeed one of the key challenges of today’s world: how to connect with who feel they are losing their grip on the safety and security of their identity.

    In the Buddhist world, there is the idea the “six realms” which are psychological states of mind that of the we all go through (or, depending on the teacher, real but alternative planes of existence). They are “human”, “gods”, “jealous gods”, “animals”, and “hungry ghosts”, and “hell dwellers”. Each realm has its particular qualities, and its particular teachings for how to escape it. Thinking about this piece, the “hungry ghosts” came to mind: beings who are consumed with envy and desire for what no longer exists, who have tiny mouths and enormous empty bellies, and who suffer because even when presented with good food and drink, they perceive it as rotten. This also seems to be connected to speech – in that misuse of speech to fuel confusion rather than wisdom is one of the traditional qualities associated with this state. I definitely have some research to do on this now.

    Thanks again for this excellent post.


    • Thanks for checking out the post and excuse the late response. Presently, I am trying to articulate this conviction in my heart that there is no separate “I”. The Christian tradition says, “We are all one in Christ.” Unfortunately words are never enough and always too much so I m mostly trying to invite people into the spaces between the words where they can bear witness to what is arising in consciousness and then choose how they would like to respond to it. If I tell people that we are all the Christ for example, unless the person is utterly aware of this, thoughts will arise–either asserting or denying this. What are the thoughts? Do they challenge or confirm the statement? How do you live out those thoughts in your daily life etc.? I think many people will think about what I said and how it adds or takes away from their sense of identity while never asking themselves, “is it true?” Like Buddha nature, the Christed nature is perceived as a threat to most people. They can’t imagine a them that is not in conflict with others.


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