Get to know factors that shaped your identity

Toddler holding a red balloon in front of a cartoon figure sitting in a chair

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

What made you the person you are? Could you list all the factors that shaped your identity? If you do, you may be surprised at the length of the list.

In our society, we tend to think we’re in control. That our success or failure in life is largely up to us.

But that’s not true.

Hundreds of factors played a part in influencing your development. Dozens of people interacted with you when you were young. And home, school or other environments also affected you.

Knowing how many factors played a part in your life is important. Understanding the past can help you understand yourself.

Below is a list of possible influences on your early life.


As you read the list, ask yourself these questions:

Were any of these influences helpful or positive?

Were any unhelpful in some way?

Did you have any control over the unhelpful factors?

How did these affect you when you were younger?

What challenges did you face?

Write down responses

Jot down any thoughts or feelings that arise. You can think about these in more detail later.

Make sure you give credit to the positives as well. Too often we dwell only on the negatives in our lives.

Possible factors that shaped your identity

General factors:

Other caregivers
Wider family – aunts, uncles, cousins etc.
Friends of the family
Preschool teachers
Primary and high school teachers
College/university lecturers
Managers or bosses
Work colleagues
Leaders of extra-curricular activities
Sports coaches
Religious leaders
Class mates
Team mates
Younger/older kids at school
Your group of friends
TV, DVDs, radio, internet, podcasts
Social media and influencers
Computer games
Books, comics, graphic novels
News reporting
Fake news
Political leaders, parties
Blogs, internet articles
Economic health of your area, state, country

Factors related to parents or caregivers:

Quality of their relationships
Parenting knowledge, beliefs and skills
Emotional maturity
General outlook on life, beliefs and attitudes
Past trauma or mental health issues
Ability to put needs of children ahead of their own
Ability to resolve conflict
Problem-solving and decision-making skills
Cultural issues or language difficulties
Employment situation
Economic hardship
Accommodation issues
Health and fitness
Organisational skills; general life skills
Family rituals, customs and expectations

Your own issues:

Health and medical history
Bullying or harassment issues
Learning difficulties
Disrupted schooling
Social exclusion
Migration from another state, country
Language difficulties
Sibling health issues
Lack of space, resources to study
Lack of encouragement
Poorly funded school system
Lack of choice in subjects, courses

So many factors!

Now you’ve read this list, were you surprised? There are so many factors that shaped your identity. 

They helped make you into the person you are today. So if you thought you’re solely responsible for who you are, think again.

You weren’t brought up in a vacuum. Hundreds of small interactions with dozens of different people influenced your development. And you took a tiny bit of information from each one.

This went on for many, many years. In fact, it’s still happening today. However, keep the following in mind.

1 Information gathering

You’re just uncovering interesting information. And you’re seeing if this information explains patterns in your current behaviour. For example, does it explain successes or problems you’ve had in life?

2 Not a blame game

But this isn’t an exercise in passing blame. Your circumstances may have been difficult. People around you may not have been positive. And they may have been hurtful or negligent. Even now, it may be difficult to have much contact with them. 

But usually they were doing the best they could. It’s not an exercise in finding someone to blame. And it’s not excusing the past either.

3 Stop replaying hurts

True understanding allows you to see more clearly. It can help you free yourself from the past.

You gain power by stating the facts of your situation without bitterness.

Acknowledge if you were hurt and angry as a child. Note your feelings and accept their reality for you. And then remind yourself to stop replaying these hurts.

Ask yourself instead: What can I do to improve my situation?

4 Take responsibility for your life

So this exercise isn’t designed to be a cop-out.

It’s not an excuse to say, “It’s all their fault.” And it’s not an exercise in self-pity. Or getting caught up in resentment and anger. It’s an honest, realistic review of your past. An acceptance of difficulties you faced.

And it’s done in the interests of building a better life.

5 Feel compassion

So acknowledge how you felt when you were younger.

Feel compassion for your younger self. Let that part of you know you’ve survived. And that from now on, you’ll take good care of yourself.

It’s your choice

No matter what the past, you’re in charge now. You have responsibility for your life from now on.

It’s up to you what choices you make. Whether you allow anger, worry or sadness to rule your life. Or whether you learn to manage emotions and thoughts.

So  learn to identify what’s important to you. Take steps to move towards those goals. And be kind to yourself. Knowing the factors that shaped your identity can put the past into perspective. And it can help you understand why you’re the person you are.

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