English & EAL

Identity and Belonging: Introduction

by
Lisa Tran

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What is Identity and Belonging?

An identity is who or what a person or thing is. Your identity defines who you are. It is a self-representation of your interests, relationships, social activity and much more. Our sense of identity and belonging is impacted by various factors, including our experiences, relationships, and our environment. The journey to find identity and belonging can often be a struggle, since we ask ourselves, ‘who am I?’ vs. ‘who do others want me to be?’ and ‘where do I belong? Where do I fit in?’ This point in our lives is completely subjective, meaning that it is our personal view that influences our decisions. The issue of identity and belonging has encompassed humans for many generations, and will remain a key turning point for many to come.

What is an identity?

Identity is multi-faceted, meaning that a combination of many traits forms one identity. An identity can be defined as anything, depending on what you wish others to perceive and also how others wish to perceive you. Listed below are some examples of ‘identities’ :

  • Career identity : Lawyer, nurse, environmentalist, politician
  • Family identity : Father, mother, older sister, nephew, cousin
  • Skills identity : Athletic, intelligent, leader, listener
  • Cultural identity : History, tradition, religion, gender, ethics
  • Social identity : Peer group, clique, gang, club, mob, social class

Note that people do not just possess one concrete identity. We are neither just a doctor nor an entrepreneur, but also someone who loves rock music and likes to dine out.  In different situations, we may alter our identity accordingly to the environment and the people. For example, you may be lively with your primary school friends, yet more reserved and serious with your high school friends. This is usually due to our innate desire to belong; sacrificing or amending our identity to do so.

What is belonging?

Belonging means to feel a sense of welcome and acceptance to someone or something. As suggested by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a psychological theory centered on humans’ innate desire for fulfillment, belonging is a need that we naturally seek in order to feel loved. In the same manner as our identities, there are many forms of belonging.

  • Relationships : Family, friends, partner, teacher, associate, pet
  • Social : groups, classes, clubs, organisations, teams
  • Environment : Australia, America, Melbourne, Queensland, countryside,  metropolitan, nature vs. man-made environments

If we fail to find a sense of belonging, isolation and depression often ensues. However, there are those who do not belong but are in fact, liberated by their independence. This may be due to their desire to rebel from family tradition, friends’ expectations or work commitment and thus, are pleased to be set-apart.

What influences identity and belonging?

Everything and everyone can influence a person’s identity and belonging. While some influences can be major, such as one’s relationship with their family, other influences may be minor, for example an incident with a friend many years ago. For different people, the same experience may have affected them to a different extent, for example, a pair of friends travelling to an art exhibition. While for one friend, the experience was exquisite and a good night out, for the other, it may have inspired them to switch careers and become an artist. Although we all live in the same world where many of our experiences overlap, the reason why we are all unique is because we ultimately choose what does or does not impact us in a crucial or unimportant way. It is through the addition of the myriad parts of our lives that come together to create our identity.

Why does the struggle with identity and belonging occur?

It is a valid point to argue that everyone has struggled with their identity and belonging during a chapter of their life. There comes a time when our opinions and beliefs begin to differentiate from those around us. During this time, some people may discover where they belong, whereas many others do not. It is not solely one stage of our lives when we are confronted with an identity crisis, but a continuous challenge throughout our lives as we encounter new experiences that will alter our thoughts, emotions and perspective on ourselves.

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