Identity: fixed or fluid?
How can one link the recent referendum in Scotland with narcissism? In a name: Sigmund Freud. In a famous phrase, ‘the narcissism of small differences’, he pointed out how we establish our identity by emphasising not only what we consider we are, but also what we are not. And he instanced the Scots and the English by way of illustrating how – in his opinion – these differences are in reality often very slight, but need to be accentuated to give us the comfort of a clearly definable self: part of the task of healthy narcissism. (He might also have referred to the narrow doctrinal issues between extremist political parties which to the outsider appear to have much in common.)
Perhaps the point is that our identity is to some extent a fiction, even if rooted in certain facts. We create a self-view from our impressions, how we are described by others, our behavioural history. And our personality provides a filter through which we interpret this data: for example, optimists may cherish an idealised version of themselves, while pessimists have a darker view; some may hold to a rigid self-image whilst others can tolerate a shifting picture. For Lacan, much of identity derives from the structures of society, including language, nationality and roles, so our ‘selves’ are also shaped by cultural and other influences.
Crucially, if there is an element in identity that is negotiable, open to interpretation, a story…………then identity can be changed to some extent. There may be ‘anchors’ of the self, but they can be re-interpreted and evaluated and new aspects discovered, much as an actor has to discover the less salient parts of him/herself in order to perform a role.
A coach has the opportunity to explore the issue of identity, all in the service of helping her/his client to redefine what a role, profession, leadership style, mean to him or her; whether his or her self-descriptors are accurate, all-encompassing and helpful, or whether they fail to do the client justice and inhibit performance; and to see if there are other internal resources to be aware of. We don’t have to follow Nietzsche to the point of believing that ‘there is no such thing as truth, only perspective’ but a moderately flexible self-image allows us more freedom to manoeuvre across different roles, in a fast-changing environment.
James Mackay, Course Co-Director, Coaching for Leadership and Professional Development 2015
Certificate in Coaching 2015 – applications are now being invited for the next course beginning in January 2015. The closing date for applications is 27 October.
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