The Formation of Personal Identity: Environmental Influences and Opportunities that Affect Self-Definition throughout Adolescence
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Human beings appear to be the only species that anguish over the question, ‘Who am I.’ In order to make sense of personality characteristics and behaviors and find some kind of fundamental sense of our being, one uses personal identity to find meaning, purpose, and direction in life. Once an individual learns his or her personal identity, he or she can find a way to contribute to the world. The journey of self-discovery, however, cannot be accomplished alone. It involves taking into account various influences and opportunities experienced throughout life. Life experiences continue to transform one’s self-definition, making identity fluid, easily influenced, and ever changing. This research explores general theories of identity formation that incorporate personal and psychological traits as well social influences. In this way, understanding identity and its formation means understanding personal traits (ethnicity, personal choices, behaviors) and environmental circumstances (socioeconomic status, geographical limitations, family dynamics, peer group) and their influence on the individual’s route to self-definition, identity, and well being. I use this background to argue the period of adolescence is crucial in the path to self discovery. In order to demonstrate how experiences and opportunities of these years help mold an individual’s personal identity and role in society, I focus on how identity development applies to low income, inner city youth.