I asked my friend, Dr. James Wilder to talk to me about how identity was formed and he put it this way: "First, for an infant and child the development is focused on an individual identity and from adult on it is focused on group identity. All aspects of identity only become developed and solid when you see them reflected in the "face" of another. It only really becomes "me" when it is the way that you see me."
"The common way to establish identity is by the cumulative history of what I have done. That makes me the sum of what has gone before. Since most of that is malfunction and sin, my identity becomes the sum total of my errors to date--as they are seen by others and reflected to me.
When I am seen through the eyes of heaven as who I was meant to be and not what I have done, then my potential defines my identity!
The second point would be that "belonging" is more a characteristic of identity than a requirement for identity.
Individual Identity -- What you see reflected in the faces of the people you relate to during the formation of your "individual identity" creates a picture of yourself. That picture is confirmed when you see it reflected in the faces of the people in your "group"--it solidifies; it becomes real. "You" are what you see in those faces. You are what others say you are!
Your emotional response to the picture others create for you is where the sense of "belonging" and the sense of "worth" come from. It is a sense of a feeling of worth and belonging. God designed the family to show you the truth about yourself and the truth about God. If what you see in the faces around you is in reality, other people's brokenness and sin, you may not learn the truth about yourself. You may feel that you are broken; you are the sin that you see in the face(s)--awful, disgusting, and worthless. You feel you are what others tell you with their faces, words, and body language. One friend put it this way: "When people treat you like a couch, you begin to feel like a couch. They talk about you, over you, ignore you, abuse you, shove you around, use you, throw you away when they are finished with you, but they never talk to you. You feel like a piece of furniture."
Here is another example of a person emotionally responding to the picture others present. For several years when this man was a child, his two brothers, two and four years older respectively, called him "Stupid." "Get out of the way, Stupid. Let me do that." He finally concluded he was indeed stupid and proceeded to do poorly in school, act out, and otherwise cause trouble for himself and others. However, he also received other messages, messages of worth and belonging from other family members. These same two brothers would also quickly come to his defense when defense was needed. Consequently, he had an unstable, fluctuating picture of himself. When he finished his tour of duty in the army, he registered for college, took a couple courses and received "A's." That was all he needed. He proved to himself and anyone who cared to ask that he was not stupid!
Feeling Different -- Because of your sensitivity, you may feel so different from other family members that you wonder if you were adopted. Another fellow I know would listen to stories his siblings told and wonder what family raised them--certainly not the one in which he grew up! The family reminisced of wonderful adventures, fun, and laughter, whereas the family my friend was familiar with was much darker. Actually, both pictures of the family were true! The siblings did have wonderful adventures; there was much fun and laughter. There was also much pain in some members. My friend was more sensitive than others; therefore, he felt the unexpressed pain. It colored all his family experiences a much darker tone. Being aware of the unexpressed pain, he did not perceive the fun or experience the laughter and adventure.
You also may have felt the unexpressed and unresolved trouble of family members and it colored your experience of life. Your sensitivity may have made your experience of life in the family much darker and more somber. You may feel you do not belong to this family; you are that different from the others.
Your perception that you are different may not be wrong, but your conclusion may be! You may have a very accurate perception of the darker reality within your family. If they are not as sensitive as you, they may not have felt their own troubles as acutely as you. You may be quite accurate when you perceive dark and somber emotions of disgust, contempt, and rejection. That may be exactly what a family member was feeling! However, if you assume that every feeling you have originates from your own being or that you caused them to have disgust, contempt, or rejection toward you, you can arrive at a false conslusion about others, God and yourself. You may conclude that you are "wrong," that there is something about you that is flawed or undesireable. You withdraw to the fringes of the family and wonder if you really belong here. You question your worth.
What you have perceived is not the ultimate reality that God created you to live in, nor is it God's reality. God's reality is the one He designed you for, and the one in which you want to live. God chooses to look at the potential He designed into you rather than the sum total of all you "malfunctions and sins," as Dr. Wilder said! Perhaps that is why He is so patient! He knows what He built into you and that you are capable of doing and being what He has call you to do and be. He knows you can be the person He designed you to be. God looks at an accurate picture of you. You may be looking at a distorted or false picture of yourself.
The next post will be about our "group" identity. My suggestion is to ask the Lord to see what He sees when He looks at you. And, how does your potential--which God sees--differ from the image you have of yourself. And then we will look at things we can do to correct the self-image that we have received.
These posts on identity are taken from the book Highly Sensitive, published by Destiny Image. It can be purchased from my website, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or Destiny Image.