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Methods For Changing Your Identity and Your Motivations

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

To talk about identity is to talk about the self and the self-concept; the knowledge, beliefs, memories, expectations, tendencies and understandings each person has that define them as unique individuals and also as members of families and other social groups. Identity defines people and deeply informs and gives meaning to every aspect of their lives. It is shaped by people's memories of past events, even as it shapes how people interpret, remember and regard events belonging to the past, present and future. It informs what people think they deserve and provides the measure of their worth, both to themselves and frequently to others. It shapes what people think they are capable of accomplishing (their perspective) and thus, helps to shape what they end up choosing to do and not do. It affects people's motivations very directly; when people don't believe something is possible to accomplish, they don't persevere at it, no matter how easy that thing might actually be to complete.

In this sense, a person's identity is a sort of lens through which they must look to appraise and judge themselves and their options, and the world. It is therefore very important that people regularly check their identity (their "lens") for distortions or problems (mistaken beliefs, faulty understandings and memories, unrealistic attitudes) that would otherwise keep them from being able to view themselves and their options and the world in an unbiased and reasonably objective manner. To the extent that there are serious problems, issues, distortions or disturbances present in your identity, you will very likely misjudge your options, make poor choices in life and end up adding to your misery, rather than keeping it to a minimum.

Because your identity is at base, in large part a set of beliefs, it can be examined and altered using cognitive techniques such as cognitive restructuring as described above. Indeed, the use of cognitive restructuring techniques to challenge beliefs about the necessity of depression or anxiety in your life can lead to an alteration of your identity. As you use the cognitive technique to successfully challenge and re-challenge your beliefs, those beliefs start to change. As your beliefs change, so too does your identity.

Before you can have any hope of making changes to your identity with cognitive or other techniques, however, you must first decide that that exploring your identity is a worthwhile thing to do. Some people resist identity exploration. They may (mistakenly) assume that they are already perfect; that their current perspective on things is the sole and only correct one to have and that any problems they might be experiencing are caused by other people (a mistake known as "externalization", described below). Alternatively, they may lack the necessary insight or intelligence required to realize that their experiences are filtered through the lens of their identity and perspective. Such people fundamentally don't get the idea of identity, naively assume that everyone else must see themselves and the world as they do, and never realize that it is important to pay attention to perspective. We hope that you will not make these (or similar) mistakes and will be willing to look at your own perspective so as to best figure out if and how it can be improved for the betterment of your life.


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Good article - Justine - Jun 17th 2012

The best article I have ever read !

Informing text with effects of abuse - Amy - May 24th 2012

I wish this text, particularily the section on identity, was more informed by the effects of abuse on identity. As I read this section, it is clear to me that basic personailit traits I had have changed due to abuse and trauma and that I have become more prone to impulsivity and anxiety as a result of abuse. The text implies that it is about me, when actually this change occured over years due to unrelenting abuse. Please discuss more about abuse recovery and returning to greater efficacy as well as defending onesself from abusers.

question about writer - FATNI ABDERRAHMANE - Oct 29th 2008


please can you helpe me

i search the writer of book " Understanding abaout self help "

thank you

Thank you - Crystal - Sep 26th 2008

Thank you Drs Dombeck and Moran for posting your book online for free. Your service to the community is much appreciated.



You are not only what you eat , you're what you believe! - IROLDA DOUGLAS - Sep 4th 2008

This article is very inspirational as it challenges the concept of self, making us aware that identity is basically what we believe and can be changed through cognitive restructuring. We can allow our creative subconscious to change the negative beliefs that are formed at the conscious level and stored in our subconscious as truth. These negative beliefs becomes attitudes such as low-esteem and lack of will to prevail in difficult circumstances. Achievers will see obstacles as challenges to be mastered and not to be avoid.

going - - Jul 29th 2008

This information was quite "helpful."  lately I have been opposing others' beliefs in regards to my own.  I hope I can find a way out before I become hardenend with this mindset.

Identity - Shari L - Jun 1st 2008

I found it intersting that some people would not want to explore their identity and what makes them tick. I agree that there are people out there that think they are perfect and do not have issues to work on. Then there are those who think everyone thinks as they do. I am defiantely NOT one of these people. I am very willing to look at my beliefs, and perceptions of things to find my true identity.

Interesting Thought on Identity - Kirsten - May 29th 2008

I really liked how this article shows people to look at identity as a lens that needs to be cleaned from time to time. I found it to be very helpful when I started to assess my own identity. It helps you to feel more hopeful about the changes that you are trying to make.

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