Shaping Our Identity

An exploration of three theories of identity

The Looking Glass Theory

Definition: People use the way that they think others seem them to shape their identity

Founders or Theory: Charles Horton Cooley

Elements of the Theory: We use people around us to form who we are (our identity) and what others say reflect on how we think of ourselves.

This theory differs from James Marcia's theory because this theory discusses how people care how other people view them, while James Marcia's discusses how once people have reached identity achievement, they are no longer "dependent on acceptance from other people".

James Marcia’s Identity Theory

Definition: there are four major identity statuses, or degrees to which a person has achieved their identity

Founders or Theory: James Marcia

Elements of the Theory: The four major identity statuses

- Identity diffusion: no strong opinions, desires, or dreams for the future; the person has no idea who they are or what they want

- Foreclosure: the person has made commitments to beliefs and a future without truly exploring the options

- Moratorium: continuously explore other options and experiment with identity and belief, but never really find something that makes them happy

- Identity Achievement: people have explored their identity and finally made commitments that make them comfortable and happy

James Marcia's Identity Theory deals with four steps, while the Looking Glass Theory says there are only three steps to discovering ones identity - "First, we imagine how we appear to another person... Second, we imagine what judgements people make of us based on our appearance. Lastly, we imagine how the person feels about us, based on the judgements made of our appearance."

Symbolic Interactionism

Definition: We develop our identities by hanging around others, or by our social interactions

Founders or Theory: George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman

Elements of the Theory: When we hang around people we pick up traits and sayings which eventually build our identity.

Both Symbolic Interactionism and the Looking Glass Theory discuss how society affects how our identity is shaped, as the Looking Glass Theory says that "...we form our identity based on how others see us."

How do we form and shape our identities?

Each one of our theories suggest that this is done in different ways:

- The Looking Glass Theory suggests that we shape our identities based on how people view us.

- James Marcia's Identity Theory suggests that we shape our identity over time and through four states, and by the end of the stages we are happy with who we are.

- Symbolic Interactionism suggests that our identity is heavily influenced by who we spend time with.

In a culture where we are bombarded with ideas and images of “what we should be,” how does one form an identity that remains true and authentic for her/himself?

The Looking Glass Theory suggest that most of the time we will try to be "what we should be" because how of much we let the opinions of others affect our identity, and the Symbolic Interactionism Theory suggests that an authentic identity might be impossible because of how much we are influenced by those we spend time with. James Marcia's Identity Theory suggests that once we have experimented enough and discovered our true identity, we will be happy with ourselves and will not need the approval of others.


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