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Authenticity: Identity and Adaptation

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Identity is part of the answer to the questions: Who am I? and Who are you? It is what distinguishes one member of a species from another or a number of similars as a subset apart from others. Questions of identity are central to psychotherapy. The statement, “I haven’t been feeling like myself lately,” may be a reflection of a psyche in distress or transformation. 


Identity may be understood as a rational set of facts about an individual. It may be conceptualized as an objective collection of data points. Or it may be thought of as a particular confluence of sociobiological constructs. However, most people, I think would agree that who I am and who you are cannot fully be answered in such ways because no matter how many identifiers are included to authenticate an individual’s identity, a whole person cannot be defined or described rationally. 


To the degree that identity is subjective, it may be understood as complex information that arrives through your senses. When you interpret this information through historical and cultural systems that you share with others, you feel both a sense of personal individuality and either belonging or alienation. The information that informs this subjective identity is processed in brain body interactions that are not linear and are often in flux and irrational. Identity emerges as creative fiction in the sense that it is reconstructed from our personal and collective narratives, memories, and images. Such new construction lends to a sense of individual wholeness, which may be experienced as a feeling of  “true self.” But who is the source of the images, the author of the narrative? How does a person's identity cohere in a satisfying way?


Identity may also be understood as something experienced across multiple dimensions of our lives. Integral sensations and emotions and projections that arise from these feelings include interpretations of both homeostatic mechanisms and psychosocial stressors. Engagement with environments may be understood as field interactions that increase or decrease uncertainty and thus the solidity of our experience of identity. Time seems to play a part in solidifying identity. But over time aspects of identity may become more fluid, appear, disappear, or reappear. One’s identity may change in order to distinguish experience in one particular affective state relative to another state. Or it may change from one state to another because you as an individual have adapted a behavioral pattern in some way to meet environmental contingencies. 


As individuals we require some degree of predictability about both our external and internal environments in order to take the small steps of our everyday lives as well as the leaps that define us. Most of this prediction happens unconsciously, guided by neural maps and unseen organizing factors, such as evolving cognitive schema, cultural trends, genomes, and archetypes. 


Adaptation as change in energy and material patterns may both respond to and reshape environment, for example when a river changes course due to climate changes. In human learning similar change happens both in recognition of collective evolutionary stress and as a contributor to population behavior.  

Psychotherapy clients may have an opportunity to hone prediction skills, clarify and recreate self - other narratives, and become energized and motivated. Such individual changes may in turn revivify family, organization, and community.

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