With all the outside influences which impact on our personalities from the moment we have a consciousness, let alone a sense of self, it can be difficult to know what we really want, and even harder to know what it is we actually need. There are often times when our socialised behaviours clash with our natural instincts. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should ignore any impulse that is the result of socialisation, and just do everything according to natural urges. Socialisation exists as a mode to aid the process of interacting with others. It’s a necessary social tool, hence the name. However, socialisation more often than not works by placing a person within certain categories and then teaching them that people within those categories must behave a certain way, even if people in other categories are expected to act differently. In other words, due to socialisation, people rarely identify themselves as [person//individual], but are more likely to identify themselves much more complexly; for instance: [person//age//nationality//gender//education//etc.//individual].
Such a complex method of self-identification naturally leads to complications in self-expression. Because people do not think of themselves solely as either an individual or as part of a united group, they often become confused about who they are, what they want and need out of life, and what actions, out of all the options, it is actually ok for them to do.
Of course, while it is nearly impossible for a person to completely reject all classifications and identify solely as an individual, nearly all of us pick and choose, and occasionally adapt and change the categories we use to create our own identities and to guide the behaviour with which we interact with others.
Mr. Weirdo has an identity just as complex as might be expected for a person in their mid twenties. In fact, it is possibly even more complex – study abroad has widened his horizons a little more than if he had stayed immersed in his native culture his entire life. Indeed, it was through study abroad that he was exposed to a society in which hugs were completely acceptable, and he now thinks hugs are great. But, although he admires this behaviour he has discovered within a separate identity group, and wants to incorporate it within his own behaviour, categories which had previously been rooted in his own identity limit his success in incorporating this new characteristic whole-heartedly.
The two main categories which cause Mr. Weirdo problems as he tries to adapt to this new behaviour are: [Japanese//Male]. Now, Mr. Weirdo is not trying to reject these categories from his identity. He merely wants to incorporate a new piece, and is finding it difficult to make the new piece fit while leaving the existing pieces intact. But, while he has been socialised to feel that Japanese are not comfortable with casual physical contact, and that masculinity means to avoid displays of emotion and ‘touchy-feely stuff’, it might be impossible to incorporate hug-culture entirely into his identity. So Mr. Weirdo is forced to compromise. He limits his new hug behaviour to situations in which he feels it might be acceptable enough to get away with it – hugging only with people who already participate in hug-culture, and avoiding the touchy-feely emotional stuff by making it clear to himself – although maybe not quite so clear to others as he would hope – that this behaviour is a ‘hug’, not, however long it might last, or how intimate it might be, a girly ‘cuddle’.
Outwardly, Mr. Weirdo is proud to hold hug-culture within his identity, but subconsciously he is conflicted. Although he might say “Japanese people don’t hug enough”, like he wants to encourage them to hug more, he is noticeably reluctant to take the bilingual ‘Free Hugs’ sign I made him out of the closet and actually air it in the public spaces of Japan.
As we learn new things about other people, we also learn new things about ourselves. By becoming exposed to new ideas, we have a chance to incorporate them into our own identities. But the more difficult struggle is to change those categories which are already a part of our identity. Although behaviours and categories may have been incorporated into ourselves from before an age when we learned how to pick and chose, most of us never feel the desire to give up a category once we have successfully incorporated it into our identities.
The struggle to balance our complexities of identity is one common to everyone. Feel free to use the comments below to share your perspective on your own struggle with identity.