Why we stress on identity

Geen categorie

In this day and age, our culture stresses a lot on our identity. As humans, we like to see the world as black or white. We like to judge people based on certain types. At the same time we have good reasons to claim our identity as truly ours. We don’t have much room for nuance, and like ourselves and others to stick to the identity we use to describe ourselves. Think of phrases like ‘I’m vegan, so I care about the environment’ and ‘I don’t lie, because I’m a christian’. Certain identities require that we show certain behaviour, and when there’s a mismatch between the two, we call it hypocrisy. But why?


Like I said, we have good reasons for doing so. Our brain needs a lot of energy, and for survival reasons we have learned to see patterns (even when they’re not there) and use autopilot to judge many different situations. This makes that we expect certain behaviour from others, based on their identity. You are a mom, so you have to put your children first. Or: you meditate, so you have you care about sustainability.

It’s easier to understand and make sense of each other that way, and we like life to be predicable – since it requires less energy in our brain. Another evolutionary explanation is that of the ego – or the need or want for power. These apply to when we wear certain clothes or want a fancy car to match our (make-believe) identity. You drive a Bentley, so you must be rich and powerful.


However, we also like to stick to these patterns when it comes to our own behaviour and identity. This is not only on social media, like I wrote in this article, but also because we require consistency in our identity to think of ourselves as ourselves. From my studies I remember a philosopher named Christine Korsgaard, who has what I believe to be the perfect explanation: Humans as a species have the ability to self-reflect. Which means that we can have an opinion on our own behaviour, and we like to be a certain type of person.

In order to be able to live with ourselves, and in order to look at ourselves with integrity, we need to be able to attribute certain traits to our personality – continuously. The essential word here is integrity, which in latin doesn’t only mean to be honest, to be sincere and to be pure, but also to be unimpaired, or more literally: ‘together’ or ‘to be in one piece’.

This is why we want to stick to certain behaviour that is required by the type of person we are. We want the behaviour to continually match with the description we have of ourselves, in order to be able to be in one piece. When we think of ourselves of a good mother, or a good friend, we have to take care of our children and be nice to our friends. When we like to think of ourselves as a good partner, we have to show behaviour that matches with this type of person and not lie, cheat or be mean to our spouses.

So we can’t show a lot of behaviour that shows us as the opposite of how we need to see our identity. Out of fear of losing our integrity, or being called immoral or a hypocrite, we have to cling to who we view ourselves and each other to be- even when that means we have to stay within a black or white description.

The need to be us

A good example of this fear is when people constantly start or end phrases with ‘I’m the type of person who..’ or ‘..that’s just who I am.’ This fear is also the reason why ever so often, when you ask someone to describe themselves, they unintentionally describe who would like to be. Or in other words: what they need themselves to see as, in order to believe they are still ‘them’.

I hope you see how this explains why we stress on identity, especially on social media but also in real life. Moreover, I hope you see that some nuance won’t destroy your integrity or ‘togetherness’. The irony is, you are still allowed to see yourself as a good friend, partner or person even if you don’t show the expected behaviour 100% of the time. You, unlike probably many prejudices other people have of you, will not fall apart. I promise.

Let me know what you think about this theory! Does it align with how you view your identity?

xx Coco

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