Your Relational Self

A Summary of Core Identity

Identity was hardwired in each of us by our Creator who made us in His image. Like our Creator, we can say, “I am who I am” asserting our existence and being.

I call that sense of Identity, your Core self. Creator God endowed each one of us from Adam and Eve with unique talents, abilities, traits, and qualities. These are unique to you as your fingerprints and are intimately known by your Creator. Even before Creation began. your Creator knew that you would exist. You are His handiwork.

The Five Nouns

Existence and self-awareness is only one aspect of the Creator’s image in which we were formed. In the last post, we explored adjectives, descriptive words, by which you could define your sense of being or your Core Identity.

The second huge likeness of the Creator’s image observed in humanity is that the Creator is a relational being. He desires humanity to know and love Him. As your Creator, He made the whole of the Universe for the pleasure and dwelling place of humanity, a setting in which you and I can express our creativity, another aspect of the Image of Creator God evident in humanity.

The use of nouns allows you to define your identity based on what others know of you. Nouns characterize our actions by which we express our Core identity or by which we others what they want to see in you. Make your list of five nouns that describe your jobs or hobbies others would see you engaged in.

My Five Nouns as an Example of My Relational Self

Husband and father start the list. Others know that about me. But the list of nouns includes five other descriptors of what I do: amateur photographer, teacher, researcher, presenter, and counselor. Each of these nouns is observable by others when I am relating socially. A summarizing statement would be I am a husband to Terry, my wife. I have two adult daughters, one is single who enjoys her niece and nephews and one is married and mother to my four grandchildren. I love being a photographer who likes to catch people in the moment just being their real self. I am a retired clinical mental health counselor who taught other professionals how to counsel trauma survivors effectively. As a researcher, I was able to satisfy my thirst for knowledge and to find answers to difficult situations in which people felt trapped.

If you compare my use of nouns versus adjectives to describe who I am, you will find one describing my nature and being in contrast to my interactions with others. Both express identity first regarding my existence, the second regarding my interactions with others. My relational identity is an expression of my Core values, qualities, and gifts.

When the Relational Identity Becomes a Problem

Your Relational identity is a product of your environment. The family into which you were born, your parents’ families, the families in your neighborhood, your teachers at school and church among many other social contacts you have with people influence how you think and act around others. Even the best of families schooled you in certain ways to act and in certain expectations to meet. After all, parents want their children to reflect positively on them in public.

To not act as desired or to not measure up leads to authority figures correcting your social errors. The most common means of correction early on in the child’s development was to express disapproval which made the child feel shame. I remind you of a few examples.

  • The kindergartner has an accident with bowel or urinary control. Someone might say in a sing-song voice, “Shame on you.” All the while they are shaking a finger.
  • The imaginative child tells a story about a family member to impress peers. When later it is discovered to be false that child is told, “Liar, liar, pants on fire, nose as long as a telephone wire.”
  • There is always that kid in school or the family that reports the misdeeds of others. They are labeled, “Tattletale” and none of the peers share things with him/her.
  • If someone appears different in actions, color, intelligence, or status, children treat that child like their parents might because of comments overheard at home.

The Manipulative Power of Shame

Shaming is a powerful means of controlling others who might act or believe differently than you. The Archie Bunker Show in the 1970s illustrated this perfectly. Archie labeled anyone who was racially, economically, socially, emotionally, or intellectually different. He would justify his reasons for his beliefs to whoever disagreed. But as he failed to enlist others to act like him toward those who threatened him, he became more self-righteous and bitter becoming more convinced he was right.

Shunning is an even more powerful tool that brings shame into play by making the nonconformist to feel invisible. The simple example is the “bad child” being sent to bed without his supper. For the dismissed child to hear the family continuing to relate without being included can bring the child to say he is sorry and plead to be included again.

When a family or a church disapproves of a member’s behavior that does not conform to the group’s expectations, the whole group physically stands and turns their back to the person. Consider this scene, a family gets together for a meal. Johnny had not been doing his chores for two days. Johnny sits in his usual seat but finds no place setting on which to eat. As food is passed around the table Johnny is not given any. Everyone treats Johnny like he is not there. Food is handed past him. If he reaches for a dish, another family member takes it away from Johnny. If Johnny speaks, no one answers him or even looks at him.

This silent treatment will be directed by an authority figure and the family conforms because it knows the rules. Until the authority figure is satisfied that Johnny has learned his lesson, everyone follows the authority’s lead. If another family member tries to sneak food to Johnny, that one joins Johnny’s plight.

The power of shame from one’s social group can be very strong. This is how our Relational identity becomes established. The usual outcome in these extreme cases of control leads the individual to not show others his or her Core identity.

Normal Socialization

The book by Robert Fulghum illustrates normal socialization of the child. His title states the premise quite clearly–“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” While our Core identity is unique, our relational identity learns the rules for interacting with others.

Our Core identity is not bound by heavy, restrictive, social codes. Most of society tries to teach the child what is socially appropriate. There may be punishment when rules are defiantly broken. However, most social expectations can accept that a child may have unique qualities and differences that are to be enjoyed. We can exist holding the integrity of Core identity while relating to others.

However, if you have to suppress your Core identity to fit in, you may not be relating to a healthy group of people. To extract yourself may require some professional help. Examples of unhealthy environments are families with violence and addictions, churches or corporations with rigid rules and roles to which one must comply at the expense of Core identity, or situations that entice the person to embrace a materialistic lifestyle for acceptance at the expense of Core values.

In the next post, we will explore the Persona identity.

Thank you for reading my musings.

Lowell Routley





Photo by quinn.anya

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