Immediate family, friend groups, and our physical surroundings are all aspects that influence our constantly shifting ideas of ourselves. Own identity may often be discreetly transformed over time as our perception of who we are changes without our personal awareness that we are changing. For example, a young man who has just been granted the privilege of being allowed to wear his mother's clothes because she has died realizes that he is now able to fit into her closet even though he continues to wear men's clothing underneath.
Our sense of self is also influenced by our relationships with others. Social psychologists study how people think about themselves based on the images they see in the minds of other people. These images are called "identities" because they serve to define who someone is or should be like.
People look to others to tell them what their identity is. They try to fit into these images by seeking out people who most closely match their perceived identities. If you ask people why they eat certain foods, they will usually say that it tastes good or that it fits into their diet. In the same way, if you ask people what role they want to play at work or in life, they will often mention things such as worker, employee, manager, leader, etc. People seek out these roles in order to feel like they belong; that they can fit in with the expectations of others.
Extrapersonal variables such as environmental changes and life events can have an impact on identity, as can intrapersonal identity processes such as exploration, commitment, and reconsideration. There is additional evidence that gender, age, and cultural patterns all influence the formation of identity at different periods. For example, young people are more likely than others to identify with a single aspect of themselves, while those in middle age are more likely to see themselves as balanced individuals.
Identity has been defined as "the knowledge of who one is." This knowledge consists of two components: (1) a sense of self-definition, or self-identity, which refers to the awareness of who one is; and (2) a sense of self-esteem, or self-concept, which refers to the belief about oneself that results from this self-awareness. Identity develops over time as an individual compares his or her own traits and abilities with those desired for himself or herself as an idealized version of someone else. Culture also influences identity formation by providing us with certain roles to which we can aspire, by indicating what kinds of behaviors are important, and by defining acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Individuals who lack a coherent sense of self may engage in disruptive behaviors in an attempt to define themselves. For example, teenagers who struggle with identity issues may behave disrespectfully toward others in order to obtain attention from their parents or peers.
Personal identity, then, is neither given nor stable, but rather a process—at least to some extent self-chosen—that describes how a specific individual changes and connects through time. These several selves, however, are all parts of the same individual and can change over time. For example, if I cut myself badly with a knife, I will bleed profusely for a while but eventually my blood cells grow back and so do I.
We see this kind of identity change every day. A friend starts work at a new job and takes on new responsibilities - he or she becomes "someone else" now. As we get to know our friend better, we realize that this new person is not exactly the same as the old one; they have changed for the better or for the worse.
Our personal identities are also shaped by our relationships with other people. If I love someone and they love me back, we will be connected for eternity - or at least as long as humanity exists! But if someone loves me but I don't return their love, we will end our connection when I die. The person I cut myself with a knife will never feel my pain again.
Finally, our personal identities change when we gain or lose something important to us.
In this sense, one's personal identity is dependent and transitory; the way I describe myself as a person may have been different, and may shift from one period to the next. Personality traits are believed to be stable over time.
For example, studies have shown that around 70% of people remain fairly consistent in their most important personality trait, called the "Big Five". This includes things like openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Even though we are not static beings, but rather dynamic systems, these traits appear to be stable over time.
Identity is also related to self-concept. The more someone values or believes certain attributes in themselves, the more they will identify with those characteristics. So if you think you're honest or trustworthy, you will feel a connection to these qualities and will want to maintain them in your life.
However, despite our attempts to do so, we cannot escape changing over time. Our personalities evolve depending on what happens to us; some experiences are good for us, others bad. This can lead to changes within ourselves that may not be obvious at first glance.
For example, studies have shown that people who were treated for depression after having a baby went on to be less neurotic than before they had a child.