Numerous sources, from government funded reviews to newspaper stories, reflect the relationship between troubled childhoods and poor life results. Unfortunately for kids who grow up in difficult family environments and don’t get some sort of support or helping hand out of the situation, life starts with a deck of cards stacked against them. This is known, and fairly well understood. What’s considered less is the part that identity plays in those results; and also how any childhood adversity that impacts identity (not just the severe, obviously traumatic type of adversity) can impact what happens to you in later life.
In the clinical world, strong links have been found between early childhood adversity and a tendency to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Like most things in psychology, there’s not a simple cause. There’s certainly a biological element to this, caused by the effects of stress on the developing brain. But looking at psychological causes, stressors causing disruption of identity development are a factor that can have negative consequences going forward.
Disruption to identity development can lead to an unclear sense of self.
In terms of what that means for us in the real world, we end up with an unclear story about who we are, what we’re capable of, what our value is, what our role is in relationships with others. This makes us turn outside ourselves for external sources of validation; it also makes us more vulnerable to societal pressure to conform to expectations. Or, if we’re unable to conform, to throw off those pressures and label ourselves as outsiders.
I’m not a counsellor or clinical psychologist, so I don’t work directly to support clients to deal with anxiety and depression. But in my daily work, I constantly see the impact of identity disruption. And a lot of what I do is around providing self-concept clarity.
Self-concept clarity is a well-defined, coherent and stable sense of self. It’s the thing that allows you to say confidently to the world: This is who I am.
Psychological research is starting to find that self-concept clarity sits between early childhood adversity and mental health issues. The stronger the sense of self, the more the effect of the adversity is reduced.
In both my research and my coaching work, I believe that identity is a critical factor in getting the results that people need. In my research, I look at identity in relation to mental health. In my day to day coaching work, one of my main functions is to ensure that my clients have clarity of self-concept. This can have a huge positive impact on their results.
I believe that “Who am I?” is possibly the most important question that you’ll ever need to be able to answer confidently.