When it comes to discussions of identity, many of us assume we have a unified, cohesive sense of self that we refer to as our identity. I am who I am. The fact of the matter, however, is that identity is far more complicated than that. Indeed, it goes well beyond the roles that we carry (e.g., father, husband, freelance writer) and the groups to which we self-identify (e.g., Canadian, Generation Y, gamer). We find ourselves in a constant battle with who we are and the decisions that we make.
Psychologist Dr. Brian Little suggests we each have three core identities — biogenic, sociogenic and ideogenic — and the daily struggle is to seek the delicate balance between them.
Your biogenic identity can be best described as the personality with which you were born. This is who you would be if there were no outside factors. For instance, you may be an INTP personality type like me. This means I prefer to keep to myself and I look at the big picture, rather than focusing on the details.
Your sociogenic identity is guided by the expectations that the world places upon you. These are not only the prevailing morals and ethics, but also the social norms. If you are naturally outgoing and outspoken, you may repress those urges when attending a more solemn event where you are expected to keep quiet.
And finally, your ideogenic identity refers to what you want to achieve or accomplish. These are your desires, goals, visions and aspirations. Let’s say that you are a natural introvert (biogenic) and society wants you to stay in line (sociogenic), but you are horrified by a perceived injustice. If you choose to stand up and speak your mind, your ideogenic identity is driving your actions.
The balance that we seek between these three identities can and will shift based on the situation, just as our perceived locus of control can change. You may allow your biogenic identity to prevail at home, your sociogenic identity to prevail at the office, and your ideogenic identity to prevail in your charitable work.
Maintaining this kind of dynamic can indeed be stressful, as it can be feel like we are being pulled in completely different directions. If nothing else, Dr. Little’s model of identity can allow us to be more mindful of what we do and why we do it.