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Monday, March 21, 2011

Exploring Identity-Part 3- Identity and different levels of human functioning

The human being functions on different levels, there are 5 important levels that we function on.

- Spiritual
- Psychological
- Intellectual
- Social
- Physical

All these things are what makes up the whole human being and if we only function on some levels instead of all then we will always feel that something is missing in our lives. The way we perceive ourselves on all these different levels ultimately contributes to our IDENTITY OR SELF-DEFINITION.

1. What is your identity (i.e. how do you see yourself ) on each of the different levels of functioning?
2. Are you happy with your identity, is this a positive identity or a negative one, look at each area and decide.
3. What do you think your identity is based on?

Let's look at an example of how you can do this.
For instance you can say, I am a very spiritual person and I am happy with that. Then for the psychological level you might say, I have a certain personality type (I may be introverted, outgoing, perfectionistic, etc.) but I'm not that happy with my identity on a psychological level because it's not that good to be introverted, etc. Then you might say, on a physical level I am very happy with the way I look, (for whatever reasons- you can make a note of your own reasons). On an intellectual level you may think, I need to learn more and study more and I'm not very happy with my identity on an intellectual level. On a social level, you may say... I have lots of friends, I socialise easily, people like me, I am very happy with my identity on a social level.
The above is just to give you an idea of what needs to be done when thinking about your own identity on all the different levels. Now you can apply this to your own life and see what your identity is like on all the different levels and whether you are happy with it or not.
Rememember, you may be very happy with your identity on some levels and on other levels you may be unhappy with your identity.
Now we will take this a little further:
Consider the following:
What are the ideas about your identity based on? Are they based on Islamic ideals or something else? 
If they are based on something else, what are they based on and why have these other things become important to you?
Once you've identified how you feel about your identity on all the different levels, this will help you to understand why you have either a positive or a negative identity.
  •  If you have a negative identity on any level, then pay attention to the above questions and perhaps you feel negative about yourself on some levels when those things don't even matter in Islam.
  • Allah Almighty made us all differently, and we are all different on all the different levels mentioned above. It doesn't make sense for us to all wish to be the same when Allah (SWT) made us unique.
  •  Many times people have a negative self-identity because they do not accept themselves as Allah has made them and they try to be like others.
  •  This is also a form of ungratefulness, because we should be thankful to Allah for everything. If we are not good at a certain thing, then surely we will have to be good at something else. For instance, if we are not that good looking, we may be very intelligent, and so forth.
  • Allah Almighty has not deprived anyone so we should always be grateful for who we are, exactly how Allah has made us.
  • This will help us to always maintain a positive identity on all levels!
May The Almighty help us all to recognize the bounties He has given us, to accept ourselves the way we are, to only strive to better ourselves in ways that please our Creator, Allah and to always be happy with our identities! Insha'Allah Ameen!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Exploring Identity- Part 2- Identity and Social Groups

Tajfel and Turner (in Wetherell, 1996) suggests that people’s sense of themselves transforms in group settings. First of all, the base of people’s self-definition changes and personal identity gives way to social identity. They argue that in many situations we react to others in terms of our identity as a unique individual with a particular personality, likes and dislikes, skills and talents, attitudes and opinions. This self definition can continue into groups and may be dominant if we strongly disagree with the group, the flipside is that we can begin to perceive ourselves as a member of a social group and we then take on the characteristics of that group, allowing our own personal characteristics to take a back seat. In short, they are asserting that if an individual agrees with and identifies with the group, then the group identity becomes more important than their personal identity. However, in some cases, even if people disagree with the group, they might not be strong enough to stand up against the group and thus their personal identity will still be overridden by the group identity. As we label ourselves as a member of a particular group, our sense of who we are and what we are like as an individual changes. (Wetherell, 1996:33-35)

When a person begins to categorize her/himself in terms of a group, then their self-esteem becomes bound up with the fortune of the group. Tafjel and Turner also suggest that in order for people to think well of themselves, they then need to have a positive view of the group that they are identifying with. In sum, the person’s self-perception and how he/she feels about themselves is directly linked to what is happening in the group. Personal identity is overshadowed by group identity in many cases. (Wetherell, 1996:34)

The influence of a group on a person’s self concept may not necessarily be a bad thing. Obviously a part of life is for people to belong to different social groups. If we become afraid that social groups will override our personal ideas of the self then we will end up living in isolation. It is important to hold on to your own idea of your self and to use this positively within a group. The group, while contributing to your selfhood should not be the sole means of your selfhood.

We can see an example of how groups can negatively influence people’s ideas and perceptions of the self when we look at how teenagers are influenced into doing things that they don’t really want to do just because of peer pressure. In the case of experimenting with drugs for instance, many teenagers find it difficult to remain strong in their own beliefs and ideas about drugs and they easily give in to what is expected from them by their social group. On the other hand, there are many cases where social groups can play a positive influence on a person’s self perception and self-esteem.

Make a list of the various social groups to which you belong. This can include things like, political groups, sports clubs, religious group, parent’s association, professional association, cultural group, book club, women’s group, work group, etc…basically any social group that you can think of, if you are not sure if a group can be regarded as a social group then you can put it in anyway.

Now think about and answer the following questions:

1. Was it easy or difficult for you to write down the social groups that you belong to?
2. How aware are you of belonging to this group, that is, does belonging to this group play a big part or small part in your life?
3. How do you think the different groups effect the way you see yourself?
4. Was there any time, in any of the groups that your personal identity was overshadowed by the group identity, if yes, what do you think the reasons for this are?
5. Have you ever experienced any conflict in any of the groups because the group ideas and beliefs clashed with your personal ideas and beliefs, if yes, what did you do in this situation?

Reference for this post: Wetherell, M. (1996). Identities, Groups and Social Issues. London: Sage

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