How To Cultivate A Strong Internal Identity
An internal identity is an identity that is not dependent on people and things outside of yourself, but rather upon what is inside of you, and what those things inside of you lead you to seek or accomplish. There are many benefits to cultivating a strong internal identity, including:
You become harder to manipulate. Those who feel they need to receive a sense of purpose or strongly crave validation from someone outside of themselves are often easy targets for those who have learned that they can strategically give or withdraw approval to manipulate others into compliance. However, if having someone else's approval or not doesn't make as big of a big difference to you, then this sort of thing much less likely to affect you.
You can create your own sense of validation. If you have a strong internal identity, you don't need validation from other people as much because you receive a sense of validation when you act in a way that makes you feel like you're being true to yourself.
You can move on and readapt more easily. If there's one constant in life, it's that things change! Book series and TV shows end, sensibilities change, fashion moves on, and in a few years you'll be a different person from you who are now. WIth a strong internal identity, you'll be more able to gracefully weather changes and readapt yourself to the new worlds you find yourself in.
Now, having some of your identity be somewhat external isn't always bad - sometimes it can be good, because it can give you a sense of belonging and foster a sense of kinship with others. But it's good to make sure that a large part of your identity is internal for the reasons above. Interested? Then read on for a few ways you can work on cultivating a strong internal identity!
Table of Contents
- Avoid basing too much of your identity on titles, names, brands, etc.
- Develop an internal moral system.
- Make change and growth a part of your identity.
- Know that there are some things that you are never required to justify to others.
- In summary...
Avoid basing too much of your identity on titles, names, brands, etc.
Those with primarily external identities define themselves mainly by things outside of themselves, or by things that come from without, rather than from within. For example, they might define themselves by their favorite sports teams, or the fandoms they're in, or the music they like.
Now, while declaring yourself a fan of something can be a useful way to connect to someone with similar interests to yours, defining your personhood by something outside of yourself can lead to some trouble!
Let's say that you think of yourself as a fan of a certain famous singer, to the point where many of your online names reflect this - but then this singer goes and does something awful that spoils your ability to enjoy this singer anymore. That's a huge chunk of your personal identity gone right there! Who are you, if you're no longer a fan of this singer? And what about all those accounts you created where you proclaim your fandom, where you can't easily change their names? Sure, you can sometimes just open new accounts, but it can be a pain in the rear, especially if some assets aren't transferable between accounts.
Or as another example, maybe you're a fan of a book series, and you define your identity (or at least a huge part of it) as being a fan of it. But as time goes on, either you realize that the book series isn't as good as you thought it was, or its quality goes down, or it just no longer holds the appeal for you now that it used to. But you feel that if you let go of the series, then you're giving up a huge part of yourself. It's a painful prospect!
So rather than trying to define your personhood by things like this, here are some things you might try for instead:
What you do. Do you enjoy learning and make a habit of doing so? Then "someone who likes to learn" is a good, solid brick to build your identity up with.
Principles you believe in. Do you believe in trying to brighten people's days? Then "someone who tries to brighten people's days" is good.
The core components of what you enjoy. For example, "I like stories that inspire me to be a better person and remind me that there is still hope in the world" can work.
Develop an internal moral system.
A good internal moral system is a huge part of having a strong internal identity. Much of what your internal moral system should entail is something that you'll have to figure out for yourself, and it may be something that you ultimately spend years working on and refining. One thing you might do is stop and reflect on what you've observed in life. Ask yourself...
- What have you seen people do that genuinely made things better for others?
- What have you seen people do that were done with good intentions, but really just made things worse?
- What have you seen people do that was just petty, unfair, or selfish?
- What other things have you seen people do that just made things worse in some way, period?
Now ask yourself:
- How can you take what you've observed and learned and apply it to make the world a better place?
- How can you take what you've observed and learned and apply it to make yourself a better person?
- How can you take what you've learned and apply it to make yourself and others happier?
For example, maybe you've noticed that yelling and screaming at people ultimately doesn't help things that much - you might have noticed that being yelled and screamed at breaks you down instead of building you up, or makes you resent the person yelling and screaming at you. So you might develop a rule: "Try not to yell and scream at people; it hurts them and creates resentment."
You might have also noticed that people who were patient and unpatronizing toward you ultimately helped you grow and develop the most. So you might develop another rule: "Being patient and unpatronizing can be very helpful in producing growth and change in others; therefore, I should strive to be that way."
Similarly, being mindful of annoying, unhelpful, or destructive behaviors in others can be useful. If you see someone - whether a real person or fictional character - acting thus, stop and ask yourself: "Do I ever act that way - just, under different circumstances or for different reasons, perhaps? If so, is it possible that I'm being too lenient on myself, or that I'm being too harsh on others?"
Here are a some examples of possible moral precepts, and why they might be a good idea:
Don't be a big jerk. (Because treating others rudely frustrates and stresses people and rarely accomplishes anything constructive.)
Seek the truth, even if it's not what you wanted to hear. (Because lies, even when they're comfortable, ultimately tend to be harmful and destructive.)
It's best to be kind and considerate, but you aren't required to be a doormat. (Because treating others well ultimately benefits everyone, but allowing people to exploit you is allowing them to do the opposite of this, which is not beneficial.)
As long as you're not exploiting someone else to do it, you have the right to tend to your own needs. (Because how can you be of help to anyone else if you're too tired, hurt, etc.? How can you manage the things you need to do just to live, work, etc.?)
You are always entitled to ask questions and deliberate before making a big decision. (Because being properly informed and having time to weigh the evidence allows one to avoid making decisions that will harm oneself or others.)
Others are entitled to information that will allow them to make fully informed decisions. (Because without this information, people might be harmed in ways they could have otherwise avoided, or tricked into actions they might not support.)
You are not obligated to fret over problems you can't do anything about. (Fretting does nothing to actually fix the problem, and therefore is not an act of responsibility.)
Seek the path of least harm. (This usually makes the world a better, fairer place for everyone, and breeds the least amount of resentment, thus reducing the likelihood of destructive retaliation.)
If it's not creating problems or harming anyone, you don't need to worry about it. (Because then you spend energy fretting over a non-issue - energy which you could be using to enjoy yourself or to tackle something that actually is harming people.)
Don't assume facts not in evidence. (Because this leads to taking actions that don't actually benefit anyone, and may even harm the innocent.)
Try the peaceful/diplomatic solution first. (Peaceful/diplomatic solutions usually lead to the least harm and reduce the odds of destructive retaliation.)
Every rule and precept, even the ones I hold dear, deserve critical examination. (Because if not, rules and precepts that actually create harm, rather than prevent it, might never be challenged or corrected.)
Above all, ask myself, "but is it actually working/helping?" (Anything that is not actually working, or that is working poorly, is likely either a waste or a source of harm, and it would likely be most beneficial to modify it or to try something new.)
Make change and growth a part of your identity.
The idea of remaining static and unchanging is one that is often romanticized - staying exactly the same despite everything might be painted up as remaining loyal or faithful, or as being true to oneself, or it might be shown that those who stay the same are of a nobler mind than those who change. Thus the impression can be made that unchangingness and total rigidity makes one a better, nobler person.
In reality, some degree of stability or unchangingness is not bad - it can be very good, even. But as with anything else, it's possible to take it too for. For example, one might end up trying to use solutions that worked just fine way back when in an environment where they don't actually work well now, resulting in failure. Or one might end up clinging to bad habits or false beliefs learned from parents, grandparents, mentors, etc., or clinging to behavioral patterns that create problems for oneself or others. Or you might end up sticking to moral or ethical codes that actually do more harm than good.
This kind of thing usually has one of two outcomes: People dig their heels in, so to speak, and refuse to change - usually to their own detriment, and to the detriment of others; or they reach a point where it becomes impossible to deny reality - and then they feel as if their whole world (and possibly even selves) have been turned inside out. It's a very painful experience, and can potentially be traumatic - both mentally and physically. (EG, lead to heart attacks or other stress-related conditions. Most of you are likely too young to worry about that, but you won't always be.)
So, here are some attitudes that make change and growth a part of one's identity:
"I am a person who remains open to the possibility that I might be wrong, or that I might not have all the facts, so that I remain receptive to information that will make me a better, happier person; or help me make better choices and take smarter actions." (Just be aware that there are some people who will try to manipulate others by preying on their senses of ethics and their willingnes to remain open-minded - see How To Recognize A Moral Abuser and How To Recognize Gaslighting for more information.)
"There are some ways that I could be better, but that's okay - because I'm a work in progress, and I'm working on it!"
"I understand that most people taught me the way they did in good faith, believing that they were correct and their information beneficial, but I also acknowledge that they were human and therefore fallible. So it is my right to examine and question what I was taught, and to compare it with reality around me and with competing ideas, and so determine its actual truth and value."
"I am someone who gives new things a chance, because then I can find new things to like, or better ways to do things!"
"I used to like doing this one thing, but that's in the past now. But now I enjoy doing another thing, so this is what I am now - and that's healthy and okay, because people change."
Know that there are some things that you are never required to justify to others.
As a general rule, if what you're doing doesn't harm or negatively impact someone else's life in a demonstrable way, then you are not required to justify it. Period. A few examples are:
- Your personal food choices.
- Your personal fashion choices.
- Who you choose to associate with.
- Who you choose to date.
- What you choose to watch.
An impulse to justify yourself can be a hard habit to break, but it can be broken. If you start feeling like you need to justify yourself, ask yourself: "Does what I'm doing actually harm or negatively impact anyone else?" If not, then remind yourself that you don't actually need to justify your actions, and carry on.
Of course, this is not to say that you should never try to explain these things to anyone at all. There's nothing wrong with explaining things to people who are simply curious, or telling people why you think your latest favorite show is so great. (And refusing to explain things to people who are simply curious can come off as very hostile.) However, you don't need to justify yourself out of a fear of being judged, and those who want explanations because they are judgmental prats are owed none.
- Avoid basing too much of your identity on titles, names, brands, etc. Instead, go for things like what you do, what you believe in, and core components of things you like that make you happy, etc.
- Develop an internal moral system. A good place to start is by asking yourself what kinds of behaviors and attitudes make the world a better, fairer, and happier place; and which ones do the opposite.
- Make change and growth a part of your identity, by making improvement, new experience, and changes in tastes a part of who you are.
- Work on getting out of the habit of trying to justify choices that aren't anyone else's business. (If it doesn't negatively impact others, it's not their business.)
You might also like:
Ways To Deal With Negative Emotions
7 Ways To Make Yourself A Happier Person
Simple Ways To Brighten Your Life & Exercise Your Imagination
We Are Who We Make Ourselves - Who Do You Want To Be?
How To Make A Light Book (A Book To Make Yourself Feel Better When You're Feeling Down)