Why Identity Matters and How It Shapes Us

Why Identity Matters and How It Shapes Us

Your identity is a set of physical, mental, emotional, social, and interpersonal characteristics that are unique to you.

It encapsulates your core personal values and your beliefs about the world, says Asfia Qaadir, DO, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at PrairieCare.

In this article, we explore the concept of identity, its importance, factors that contribute to its development, and some strategies that can help you reflect upon your identity.

Defining Identity

Your identity gives you your sense of self. It is a set of traits that distinguishes you from other people, because while you might have some things in common with others, no one else has the exact same combination of traits as you.

Your identity also gives you a sense of continuity, i.e. the feeling that you are the same person you were two years ago and you will be the same person two days from now.

Asfia Qaadir, DO, Psychiatrist

Your identity plays an important role in how you treat others and how you carry yourself in the world.

- Asfia Qaadir, DO, Psychiatrist

What Makes Up a Person's Identity?

These are some of the factors that can contribute to your identity:

  • Physical appearance
  • Physical sensations
  • Emotional traits
  • Education
  • Profession
  • Life experiences
  • Genetics
  • Health conditions
  • Family
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Social community
  • Peer group
  • Political environment
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Personality
  • Interests
  • Goals
  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Memories
  • Finances

Asfia Qaadir, DO, Psychiatrist

We all have layers and dimensions that contribute to who we are and how we express our identity.

- Asfia Qaadir, DO, Psychiatrist

All of these factors interact together and influence you in unique and complex ways, shaping who you are. Identity formation is a subjective and deeply personal experience.

Is Personality Genetic?

Identity Development Across the Lifespan

Identity development is a lifelong process that begins in childhood, starts to solidify in adolescence, and continues through adulthood.


Childhood is when we first start to develop a self-concept and form an identity.

As children, we are highly dependent on our families for our physical and emotional needs. Our early interactions with family members play a critical role in the formation of our identities.

During this stage, we learn about our families and communities, and what values are important to them, says Dr. Qaadir. 

The information and values we absorb in childhood are like little seeds that are planted years before we can really intentionally reflect upon them as adults, says Dr. Qaadir.

Traumatic or abusive experiences during childhood can disrupt identity formation and have lasting effects on the psyche.


Adolescence is a critical period of identity formation.

As teenagers, we start to intentionally develop a sense of self based on how the values we're learning show up in our relationships with ourselves, our friends, family members, and in different scenarios that challenge us, Dr. Qaadir explains.

Adolescence is a time of discovering ourselves, learning to express ourselves, figuring out where we fit in socially (and where we don't), developing relationships, and pursuing interests, says Dr. Qaadir.

This is the period where we start to become independent and form life goals. It can also be a period of storm and stress, as we experience mood disruptions, challenge authority figures, and take risks as we try to work out who we are.


As adults, we begin building our public or professional identities and deepen our personal relationships, says Dr. Qaadir.

These stages are not set in stone, rather they are fluid, and we get the rest of our lives to continue experiencing life and evolving our identities, says Dr. Qaadir.

The Importance of Identity

Having a strong sense of identity is important because it:

  • Creates self-awareness: A strong sense of identity can give you a deep sense of awareness of who you are as a person. It can help you understand your likes, dislikes, actions, motivations, and relationships.
  • Provides direction and motivation: Having a strong sense of identity can give you a clear understanding of your values and interests, which can help provide clarity, direction, and motivation when it comes to setting goals and working toward them.
  • Enables healthy relationships: When you know and accept yourself, you can form meaningful connections with people who appreciate and respect you for who you are. A strong sense of identity also helps you communicate effectively, establish healthy boundaries, and engage in authentic and fulfilling interactions.
  • Keeps you grounded: Our identities give us roots when things around us feel chaotic or uncertain, says Dr. Qaadir. “Our roots keep us grounded and help us remember what truly matters at the end of the day.”
  • Improves decision-making: Understanding yourself well can help you make choices that are consistent with your values, beliefs, and long-term goals. This clarity reduces confusion, indecision, and the tendency to conform to others' expectations, which may lead to poor decision-making.
  • Fosters community participation: Identity is often shaped by cultural, social, political, spiritual, and historical contexts. Having a strong sense of identity allows you to understand, appreciate, and take pride in your cultural heritage. This can empower you to participate actively in society, express your unique perspective, and contribute to positive societal change.

On the other hand, a weak sense of identity can make it more difficult to ground yourself emotionally in times of stress and more confusing when you're trying to navigate major life decisions, says Dr. Qaadir.

Tips for Reflecting on Your Identity

Dr. Qaadir suggests some strategies that can help you reflect on your identity:

  • Art: Art is an incredible medium that can help you process and reflect on your identity. It can help you express yourself in creative and unique ways.
  • Reading: Reading peoples' stories through narrative is an excellent way to broaden your horizons, determine how you feel about the world around you, and reflect on your place in it.
  • Journaling: Journaling can also be very useful for self-reflection. It can help you understand your feelings and motivations better.
  • Conversation: Conversations with people can expose you to diverse perspectives, and help you form and represent your own.
  • Nature: Being in nature can give you a chance to reflect undisturbed. Spending time in nature often has a way of putting things in perspective.
  • Relationships: You can especially strengthen your sense of identity through the relationships around you. It is valuable to surround yourself with people who reflect your core values but may be different from you in other aspects of identity such as personality styles, cultural backgrounds, passions, professions, or spiritual paths because that provides perspective and learning from others.
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