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Our Identity Crisis

In The Wind Fluttering The Flag With Numeral 3, Three, IsolatedWhat three things immediately come to your mind when someone asks: Who are you?

Do you list your job? What role you play in a family? Your race? When people think of countries with a rich culture, does America come to mind? 

I once had a friend who developed a NY accent in the middle of Virginia. She did not have the accent when I met her, but a few months later, there it was.  

My friend had just graduated from a well-known private school and all of her friends had recently left for college. At 18, she felt stuck working at Starbucks with a boyfriend she didn’t really like, but who helped pay the bills. 

As she talked to me about her hopes of saving up enough money to get an apartment on her own, without her boyfriend, I could hear the ebbs and flows of the New York Honk. Her voice had taken on a more raspy quality and even her hand gestures seemed to be more flamboyant. It was as if my friend had morphed into an entirely different person.

When I asked her about the accent, she first denied the change. She said it had always been there and that I just hadn’t noticed. After a few minutes, she launched into an enthusiastic discussion about her mother. The accent was lost.  

After the awkward realization that her accent came and went, she admitted that it wasn’t entirely real. “It just feels more real,” she said.   

What she meant was, her perception of the people who had a NY accent was that of a tough, working class, honest group of people. She had never met anyone with the accent, but she thought she agreed with the “culture”. 

The U.S. does not have a culture that is concerned with tribal law and it does not govern with religion. Capitalism is the main law of the land. But what if citizens felt content without the need to buy more? This is why the U.S. fosters a certain need for approval and an intense level of insecurity in all of us. Needing less, means spending less and without buying new products, the economy changes. 

Through the power of persuasion from the media, we have been told: 

  • Women are not attractive (or may not exist) over a certain age.  
  • Men who do not dominate are weak.
  • Children who do not use tutors/go to private school will never get into Ivy league schools.
  • Making money is the way to earn power.
  • Power is happiness.

It’s no surprise my friend was looking for something “real” in an age where luck is the goal. The problem exists when “real” is only seen as the opposite of a polished and wealthy lifestyle. There are no characters in the game of life who are exclusively smart, competitive CEO’s or only tough, working class, New Yorkers. We are complex human beings with a mixture of emotion, values, and priorities. When we fail to understand who we are at our core, reality can shift dramatically. 

Warning signs for a weak identity include:

Genre Thinking

If someone jumps into a specific genre of personality traits, generally it isn’t their authentic identity. People who display Genre Thinking are generally people who change opinions, appearance, and/or values depending on the environment they currently inhabit. We’ve all seen the boyfriend/girlfriend who ditches their friends to become completely absorbed in their significant other. Or the nerdy guy who suddenly becomes a punk rocker one day and a Rastifarian the next. These are examples of what could become an unstable identity. 

Relationship Identities

This is similar to Genre Thinking, but has to do specifically with relationships.  If someone is a firm liberal for most of his life and then completely changes to fit the conservative mold of his fiancée and her family, this also is a red flag.

People Pleasers

People who have a hard time saying “no” can easily fall prey to an identity crisis. Refusing to stand up for core values is sure to cause anxiety, confusion, and an identity that seems passive and disconnected. Everyone has limits. If they are not enforced, the shape of a personality becomes blurred. 

America’s identity has faded for many years. Our country, filled with immigrants, hope, and optimism has shifted to something more ambiguous.  

Until we come to a shared understanding of who we really are, what we really stand for, and how far we’re willing to go, freedom is as lonely as the bathroom selfie.

Our Identity Crisis

Rebecca Lee

Rebecca Lee lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She has published with: Harvard, Adbusters, The Virginian Pilot etc. Her book, Object Relations, is due for publication in July.

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APA Reference
Lee, R. (2018). Our Identity Crisis. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Mar 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.