Identity and the Community of Selves

I’ve been mulling over the topic of identity a lot in recent weeks following some pretty intense client sessions, and thought I’d share some of my thoughts.

One thing I’ve been introducing to clients has been the idea of the self-concept – your collection of beliefs about yourself – and how this can affect your perceptions about how others view you. Those of you who know your Carl Rogers will be familiar with his theory of self-concept, comprising self-image (your view of yourself), self-worth (the value you place on yourself), and the ideal self (the person you wish you were). Unless these components overlap, people will find themselves out of balance with respect to how they relate to their world, leading to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and lack of confidence.

Your self-concept isn’t immutable; it’s something that develops and changes throughout life as you grow and learn. It’s shaped by all sorts of factors, such as your environment.

I’ve lived a life on two different continents since having relocated to the UK nearly two decades ago. For the first few years after moving I felt a bit lost in the in-between, never knowing if I was coming or going. I didn’t only speak differently; I acted differently depending on whether I was here, or there. What had been home was full of hardwired associations with family, school, and childhood traumas, and I found myself falling into all the old patterns when with family and friends. On the other side I was anonymous; free to rewrite my story.

I’ve found it helpful both in my own life and when working with clients to think about identity not as a single entity, but rather as a “community of selves” that come to the fore in different arenas of your life. You’ll probably recognise this if you consider your own life: do you see yourself differently depending on where you are and the people you’re interacting with? Do you see the dedicated athlete? The corporate professional? The strict parent; the stubborn child; the jokey friend; the weekend warrior?

Sometimes some of these identities may seem to be in conflict. Perhaps you’re a highly-respected expert in your particular industry but find yourself unable to assert yourself in social situations. Or perhaps you’re the life of the party, but the idea of public speaking sends you into a cold sweat.

But you can learn to choose which aspects of you you’re going to allow to take centre-stage at any point in your life and in whatever circumstance. You can learn to own your identity and define how you want to see yourself; to realise that you’re not any single one of the labels that you or anyone else gives you. You’re much richer and more complex and more beautiful than that, and you have the power to choose which mantle you’re going to put on – and when.


Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself;
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


Has this resonated with you? Get in touch.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

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