What Makes Up Your Identity?

By Tyra Marieza
Your identity undergoes several changes throughout your lifetime.
Your identity undergoes several changes throughout your lifetime.

A person considering what makes himself unique may ask, "Who am I?" During his self-examination, he may think about his moral values, his characteristics and the actions he may or may not take that makes him different from anyone else. Personal identity, unlike a fingerprint or hair strand, is subject to change. In order to understand who you are and how you developed into your current stage of identity, requires an apt understanding of several contributing factors that are presented in different theories during the study of psychology.

Nature and Identity

In relation to identity, nature is what's genetically passed down to you biologically. Your eye color, the length and texture of your hair, skin complexion, height and other physiological traits are all a part of your nature and factors in who you are without your choosing. Nature is so crucial to your identity that at doctor visits you are asked questions regarding your health conditions and those of your immediate relatives, since genetic disorders are often hereditary.

Nature and Self-Image

As an adolescent, you began to compare your natural traits with those around you. You also began to value certain traits that you hold based on society's values of those same traits. This phase of comparing who you are to those around you is the foundation of your self-esteem and becomes a factor in your personal identity.

This also is the stage when you face the decision of whether to embrace behaviors that are stereotypical of certain traits that you hold. For example, the stereotypes of blondes or that all tall men should play basketball.

Nurture and Identity

The nurture theory in regard to identity, states that it is your environment that predominately shapes the frame of your personal identity. The way that the adults in your family, in your neighborhood, church and school behave are the reason why you are the way you are, according to the nurture theory.

An important perspective to keep in mind about the nurture theory is that one's environment is changeable and that it's your acceptance of your environment's influence that makes you a "product of your environment." This is why a child who was once in a poorly educated community can raise her grade-point average when placed in a better school system. It also is why a child in a poorly educated community may have a remarkable grade-point average despite external influences.

Erikson's Psychosocial Stages

Erikson's eight psychosocial stages of development is a theory that explains how a person's identity is formed throughout their lifetime. Richard Niolon, Ph.D., clinical psychology and associate professor at The Chicago School of Psychology, suggests that a more simple way to understand Erikson's theory is to categorize the first four stages in Erikson's psychosocial stages as time spent understanding the world and the remaining four stages as understanding you in comparison to the world.

In each of Erikson's stages, your identity is shaped by a "nurturing influence," such as a parent, social institution, peers and the world around you in general. Depending on how you interpret these interactions -- the praises and corrections, approvals and encouragements -- you begin to form the identity that you hold today and the identity that you strive to hold on to tomorrow.

About the Author

Tyra Marieza launched her writing career in 2009. She now publishes articles for various websites, covering topics such as health, parenting and current events. While attending college, her work received awards for Best Poetry and Outstanding Persuasive Writing. Marieza attended Kansas State University and studied international business.