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Self Identity Problems

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 22nd 2016


People's identity is rooted in their identifications; in what they associated themselves with. What a person associates him or herself with is ultimately who that person is, for all identity is ultimately in relationship to something else. An American person identifies himself or herself as "American", for example, and that becomes part of that American person's identity. The same person might identify themselves as male (or female), a member of a particular religious group, a brother or sister, a child, an employee, etc. Even more personally, they may identify themselves as a loser, as someone who is helpless to influence the course of their lives, or as someone who needs to hate a particular religious group simply because that is what members of their own religious group are "supposed" to do. Though such personal beliefs may have no basis in reality, they often are taken at face value by the people who hold them. Such people act on their mistaken or irrational beliefs and end up creating problems for themselves.

Identity is not just what you know; it is also how you know. People are not born with an identity. Rather, identity is something that evolves over time. Young children have simple identities and see things in an overly simple, generally self-serving manner. As people grow older and wiser, they identify themselves with other people, places and things in increasingly sophisticated ways and start to grow out of this initial selfishness. A young child may see her mother as a creature that exists solely to take care of her, but an older child will often start to appreciate that her mother has needs of her own, and start acting less selfishly towards her mother so as to take that knowledge into account. Sometimes life events interrupt this natural progression from selfishness to thoughtfulness and people's identities stop growing. Such people may be chronologically adults, but relate to others in the selfish manner characteristic of a younger child, creating problems for themselves and the people around them when their selfish expectations clash with those held by people around them, who expect a more adult, more "responsive" and "responsible" identity to be present.

Whether due to mistaken beliefs or developmental delays, identity problems can cause people to have difficulty taking an appropriate perspective towards other important life tasks, creating a wide range of life problems. The following list describes a few different ways that identity problems can be present. Consider each to determine whether an identity problem helps contribute to your own problem.

Low Self-Esteem.

A poor sense of self-worth (also known as poor self-esteem) occurs when you come to believe that you have little value or worth. This often occurs when key people in your life are critical towards you, or when you are perfectionist, and critical towards yourself. In either case, the tendency is to harshly judge, and ignore or play down the importance of real accomplishments, even when it makes no sense to act this way. There may also be a belief present to the effect that self-worth can only be based on the acclaim of other "popular" high status people, even though this is not the case.

  • Do you like yourself?
  • Are you good at anything useful?

Low Self-Efficacy.

Self-efficacy describes how effective and in control of their lives people believe they can be. People need to feel that they have a certain amount of control over their lives so as to be able to get out of difficult situations or meet challenges they are expected to meet. When people believe they are helpless to alter negative situations they find themselves in (a situation called "learned helplessness"), they tend to get depressed. Though there are certainly many aspects of life that people cannot controlled, there are a remarkable number of things that can be influenced. People who have low self-efficacy expectations of themselves will believe they are helpless to influence their fate, however, and will generally not seek to alter their lives, even when they are suffering. Self-efficacy tends to be domain-specific; You might feel confident in one area of your life but feel helpless to influence another.

  • Do you believe you have control over the important aspects of your life?
  • Are you "stuck" in a situation you don't like but can't leave? Why do you think that is the case?
  • Are you a weak person? In what way? Why is that?


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Summary - Miriam Pia - Jun 18th 2014

I noticed the obvious:  When what I try works well, it leads to 'high self esteem'.  Being treated well nurtures 'self respect'.   Some kindness and consideration towards others comes naturally and some becomes more natural after practicing it as politeness as taught by responsible, reliable elders.  Being harmed or repeatedly treated badly leads to a lot of 'low self esteem'.  Too much failure, especially if openly criticized can also lead to 'low self esteem' when not balanced out by successes. 

Most likely, everyone is like that.  Since experience is compiled uniquely with individuals, we become even more different than we are to begin with.  I do believe there are also natural differences.

resourceful site - Mickey - Apr 24th 2014

I just came across this website, I met a lady, 34 years, BS as social worker, she just turned vegetarian 2 months ago, love protector a year ago, she is very sensitive to cruelty, I believe she has a hard time to cope with life events that hurt animals more than people or at least to the same degree, excetp that she believes people have a free will and and option to avoid suffering and injustice, however, animals don't, I agree, to a certain extend. but I think that we are dealing here with an identity problem, and I will try to help, getting info from here...thanks for the page. by the way, I believe we all have an identity problem, but I we all hava a solutio to it, we just needed some help or direction, this is a good start...I guess we are not alone! thanks Drs Mark Dombeck/Jolyn Wells-Moran, Ph.D.

Dylan I hope you are doing better

apriciating - mahbube - Dec 30th 2010

the text was so helpefull for me to write my class is very clear to understand and very usefull too.thank you.

easy to read and understand - - Mar 21st 2010

I am writing an essay on identity and i find this easy to read and understand

Parents - Dylan - Sep 24th 2009

I find that I hard a hard time with identity.  My dad has said that he has an inferiority complex.  Looking back, I feel like I was his project.  I would do one thing and he would tell me things like " Everything you do creates baggage.  When you mess up, it stays with you for the rest of your life.  Now some people don't care what people think, but I don't think that's you."  And so I consequently I would start to try and conform and I would get things like "You can't worry about what other people think.  Keep your mind free."  It was always just a bottom line and never a conversation.  My mother, sweet as she was, is a Southern Baptist.  So ALL drinking was bad and ALL sex was bad outside of marriage.  During my third semester in college I was losing my ability more and more to function.  When I called my dad and told him I thought I needed to see a pscyhologist, his response was "No, no you don't."  And that was that.  After that it went down hill very quickly and three years later, life is mostly unbearable.  Now, my parents answer to my depression was to load on the responsibility.  I had to pay rent to live at their house, pay for my own health insurance, buy my own car, pay for my own therapy, and get a job.  This was a couple of weeks after I had been released from the hospital.  Last night, my dad showed me an article written by a person suffering from depression, explaining that a person needs ample amount of rest, help in finding support, a minimal amount of responsibility, and so on.  I told him it was "right on."  So today I asked him if he would help pay for this therapist that has a degree in philosophy and psychology; a would-be gold mine for my condition.  All he had to say was "Well we can't afford it so start saving up your money."  This really bugs me because I make $6.00 an hour working for my grandmother.  He is a retired history teacher with a two story house and basement, a new Harley, a Sebring convertible while my mom has a fairly new Honda Pilot (paid for) and a thriving photography business.  I guess some parents just don't get it, even after handing the answer to you on a piece of paper.  

hiiiiiiiiiii - zaid - May 23rd 2009

this is all cool!! but i have a low self steam and im looking for treatment


I am really going to consider this ... - Debbie - Jun 2nd 2008

Self-Efficacy. This is the first time I've really come across this idea and I can identify with this description right now in my life. Cool - thanks a lot!

self-efficacy - pocojo - Jun 1st 2008

Been in therapy most of the past 15 years (i.e. most of my adult life) and this is the first time I read about self-efficacy. Now that makes a lot of sense to me. It helps a lot to read a definition of a problem I knew I had but didn't know how to explain in terms of definitions I did know (depression, low self-esteem, procrastination...). Nothing really fit as well as "lack of self-efficacy", not that I know that term. I'm learning a whole lot reading this book. Defining a problem is an important step towards solving it. Since in my case I got a lot of problems and difficulty in breaking them up in manageable parts, it helps a lot. Thank you a lot for making all this material available, and for free.

Clear and Precise - John Paul - Dec 30th 2007

As I read the first document, I found the article clear and precise, easy to understand , and the questions are very applicable. Early at this stage, I wish to thank you for the opportunity for us to avail of your expetiese.

the need for information - - Nov 19th 2007
I have to say, I like this site very much. I am able to find issue of relavence an only need to click what I want to see rather than have to read chapter after chapter to get the point I want to read and or understand.  So yes, this site is very helpful when trying to identify what an issue is and does provide some direction into repair of issue.

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