Personal and social identity
Who am I? This question is common but the answer is so unusual that it could be considered a rhetorical question. It is a question we often ask ourselves when we feel insecure or don’t know how to take control of our lives.
However, this article does not pretend to be an existential philosophical essay on being, nor does it intend to give a transcendental answer that will make you reinvent yourself. I will simply show what Psychology has to say about identity and how it largely determines our behavior.
Identity: something that defines us
With a simple look at different profiles in social networks we can see the small descriptions we make of ourselves. Some people define themselves as students, footballers, reporters, film buffs; while others will define themselves as happy, friendly, funny, curious, passionate, etc.
As can be seen, these two types of definitions are the most common and there is a fundamental difference between them. Some people are defined by the groups they are part of, while others are defined by their personal traits. Psychology defines self-concept, the self or “self” as the same construct formed by two different identities: The personal identity and the social identity .
The social identity defines the self (the self-concept) in terms of the groups of belonging. We have as many social identities as groups we feel we belong to. Therefore, the groups of belonging determine the group, an important aspect of self-concept, for some people the most important thing.
Let’s take a famous Latin singer as an example. Ricky Martin is part of many roles, and he could define himself as a man, artist, brown, singer, homosexual, millionaire, son, Latin American, father, etc. He could define himself with any of them, but he will choose to identify himself with those adjectives that he feels differentiate him more and bring a differential value to the rest .
Another representative example can be seen in the small biographies that each one of us has in the social network Twitter. Defining oneself based on the groups to which one belongs is as humane as judging other people based on their attire and non-verbal behavior.
Because they form such a large part of our self-concept, groups irretrievably determine our self-esteem. Let’s remember that self-esteem is an emotional-affective assessment that we make of our own self-concept. For that reason to define itself on the basis of groups of high social status will suppose a high self-esteem, whereas those who comprise of groups little valued socially, will have to use strategies of support in the personal identity to deal with the decrease in their valuation.
In this way we see the high impact that the different groups to which we belong have on our self-esteem and self-concept.
Effects of social identity
In the article in which we talked about stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination, we mentioned Tajfel’s theory of social identity in which the effects of social categorization on inter-group relations in the form of prejudices, stereotypes and discriminatory behavior were revealed.
Tajfel demonstrated that the mere fact of identifying a group and considering it different from others gave rise to a differentiated treatment since it affects the cognitive process of perception , increasing the magnitude of the similarities with those of the same group and the differences with those who do not form part of our group of belonging. This perceptive effect is known in social psychology as the effect of double emphasis.
As we have pointed out before, social identity and self-esteem are closely related . Part of our self-esteem depends on the assessment of the groups to which we belong. If we like the group we belong to, we like ourselves. “To shine with the reflection of glory” of others. We identify with the achievements of the group or some of its individuals and this is reflected in a positive state of mind and self-esteem. This effect can be seen widely in the football fan base.
When the winning team is ours, we proudly go out on the streets identified with the success of our team and we attribute it to ourselves, as they are part of our identity. Did you see anyone who was not very excited about feeling Spanish when Iniesta gave us the victory in that wonderful summer of 2010?
Social identity defines the self (and self-concept) in terms of social relationships and idiosyncratic traits (I am different from others). We have as many “I’s” as relationships we are involved in and idiosyncratic traits we think we possess.
But what is it that differentiates us from others when we are part of the same group? Here our traits, attitudes, abilities and other characteristics that we attribute to ourselves come into play . Those who define themselves by their sympathy, solidarity, tranquillity or courage; have a personal identity of greater dimension than the social one. This may be because their groups of belonging do not make them feel good because of their low social status, or simply because the individuality of these people is better reflected by their attributes than by their social roles.
I’m sure that as you read this article, you were trying to figure out what identity you were making yourself known to others when you introduced yourself. You can go further, you know that the basis of promoting one’s image is to maintain high levels of self-esteem. So take care and cultivate those groups or traits that you define yourself with and want the world to know you about , because if you define yourself with them it means that they have a high emotional value for you. There is nothing more rewarding than getting to know yourself.