Shealan conducted a series of interviews with John to explore the importance of understanding yourself. In this episode John and Shealan discuss the dynamic between the introvert and extrovert temperaments and how to live in the depth of the introvert. John explains the foundations of identity - security, self-worth and significance - and the role God's family can play in laying these foundations when they were missing in our early years.
Click here to download the podcast 'Understanding identity'
How our identity is formed
We all need to know who we are. We need an identity. The word 'identity' means 'repeatedly' so our identity is 'what is always there', 'what keeps coming through', so we could say it is 'who we really are'. The key factor in the formation of our identity is our relationship with our parents. The first five years of our lives are vital - that is when the concrete is still wet!
The 'Three S's' form the foundations of our identity - security, self-worth and significance.
Security can be summed up as 'I am what I belong to'.
Security is formed in the first year of life - a sense of belonging is communicated primarily through a mother's touch and that belonging gives security. The foundation is laid that the child is loved just for being here. In that first year the child learns that he is accepted unconditionally - there are no issues of right or wrong or performance. That lays the foundation for our security.
Self-worth can be summed up as 'I am what is valued in me'.
Self-worth is largely formed in the second year of a child's life. It is formed within us by discipline. Discipline gives value because it is holding you to a standard. When a parent disciples a child, that parent is saying "You are worth something. The way you are behaving is not consistent with who you really are so I will hold you to something better." That gives value and self-worth.
Significance can be summed up as 'I am what I can do'.
Significance develops in years three to five as a child's character and interests start to develop and reflects who we are in terms of function. We can all do at least one thing really well and it is the responsibility of parents to help the child to discover it. Each child is different and must be encouraged to be so - and that includes different from the parents!
If we put significance before security we will:
always measure our worth by how well we perform
assume that our acceptance by others is dependent on how well we perform
shield from others who we really are and how we feel about ourselves and instead present our achievements and abilities as our point of connection
lose the ability to be still and quiet within ourselves and to let who we are be what we give to others. ‘To be idle requires a strong sense of personal identity.’ (Robert Stevenson)
Sadly, many marriages break up when the children leave home because the couple have been united in a task rather than in a heart relationship.
If we put self-worth before security Self-worth is built into our lives when a parent loves us enough to discipline us. Someone believes in us. If security doesn’t come first then we will instinctively try and compensate for that lack by an undue focus on what we feel will give us value. Rather than seeing discipline as love we will see it as a threat - an attempt by someone to take something from us. An insecure person feels that they are defending a vacuum. They always fear being exposed, found out. They fear discovering themselves. Every step forward in understanding contains a potential threat.
Deficiencies in our basic needs
The extent to which there is a lack in any of these three needs leads to a ‘negative identity’. Where there should be something ‘solid’ there is a vacuum and in this vacuum anxiety flourishes.
This anxiety expresses itself in a number of ways but particularly links with the specific lack. For example, we all want to belong so the clothes we wear and the way we look become a means of identifying with a particular group. That is natural but the concern becomes excessive according to the levels of insecurity. The anxiety that results from the lack of self-worth will express itself in relation to a position or role that we feel would give us value. If we never had significance built into our lives we can be unduly anxious about how well we perform in a given situation.
None of us can live comfortably with a negative view of ourselves so we cover it with defensiveness. Hostility, guilt and a fear of inadequacy sit beneath the surface. Click here to discover what we can do to move forward when these foundations were not laid in childhood and we struggle with who we are.
Merle has written an article for the Understanding family section of the website in which she shares five 'S's' which form the building blocks to raising happy children who are secure in their own identity. Click here to read Merle's article, which is entitled 'Happy children'.
 The basic concept of the ‘Three S’s’ forming the basis of our identity originated from a CWR training course John and Merle attended many years ago. They have built on this concept over the years as part of the Understanding Yourself resources.