"Inā kei to mohio koe ko wai koes, I anga mai koe I hea, kei te mohio koe. Ke te anga atu ki hea"
If you know who you are and where you are from, you will know where you are going.

Who am I?

Identity helps us define and acknowledge who we are, what we believe in, and where we've come from. Knowing who we are helps us to live with purpose and develop satisfying relationships. When you're unsure about your identity, or your identity is unsupported, it can cause you to feel discontent - even if you can't quite put a finger on the source of your unhappiness.

The values and ethos you chose to live your life by, and have chosen to hold at the centre of your actions and behaviours, play an important role in determining who you are. They are a representation of what holds significance to you. The connection and role you play with whānau/family, iwi, friends, your job and community also influence and shape your identity and, in turn, how you relate and communicate with others.

Our identity shifts and develops over our lifetime, as we learn and grow. It's shaped by not only where we've come from, but also what's important to us now. Sometimes early experiences or later significant events in our lives can suppress or confuse our identity, especially where our attempts at self-expression and learning were discouraged or punished. The good news is you have significant influence over your identity and the values that underpin it.

Here are some signs that you may benefit from spending time further developing your sense of identity:

  • Do you feel flat or unfulfilled?
  • Do you feel disconnected from people or communities that matter to you?
  • Are you unsure what helps you relax and enjoy yourself?
  • Are you unsure what makes life meaningful for you?
  • Do you find yourself saying yes to things that make others happy, when those things are not consistent with your values?
  • Do you make choices when you're with others, that are different to the choices you'd make if you were alone?
  • Are you unsure what your strengths are and how you can use these to achieve your goals?
  • Do you lack a clear picture of what values you hold dear (such as honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, and so on), and that guide what's important for you and what you expect in others?
  • How to Find your Identity... Rediscover Yourself
  • Our cultural identity as New Zealanders
  • Being a fair-skinned Māori | Working through my identity struggle

Tips for building your identity

Try these tips to help you build a stronger sense of your personal identity. Some of these have been developed from ideas outlined by healthline, while others take a more holistic approach.

  • Define your values. Your belief system shapes what matters most to you, and where you stand on important issues. For example, if you value honesty you might make it clear you can’t maintain a relationship with someone who lies to you. Read more about values here.
  • Make choices for wellbeing. You should make decisions that benefit health and wellbeing, in ways that are consistent with your values. While people will vary in the actual decisions they make, these decisions should for the most part benefit your health and wellbeing, and other important people in your life. The choices you make shouldn't involve neglecting yourself.
  • Spend time alone. When you want to get to know someone, you spend time with them, right? SO it makes sense that getting to know yourself better will involve spending some quality time alone. It might feel strange at first, but it’s healthy to take some time apart from others - even your family or partner. Use this time however you want. If you’d really like to maximize self-exploration, try experimenting with new hobbies, volunteering, reading more booksmeditating, or keeping a journal.
  • Spend time with people that matter. Another core part of your identity is your presence in connection with others. Spend some quality time with people who matter to you and who enhance your well-being, such as whānau/family or friends. Humans are relational creatures, and few of us thrive alone. We learn a lot about ourselves when we mindfully relate to others.
  • Consider how to achieve your ideals. Once you have a more firmly defined sense of self, consider what you can do to better align the various parts of your life with your identity. For example, you might ask yourself what changes you can make in your professional life or interactions with others.

When to get help

It might feel pretty overwhelming to begin defining your sense of self, especially if you’ve never given your identity much thought. Likewise, sometimes when we have a life crisis or when our thinking about an important aspect of life changes, it can feel like the foundation of our identity itself has unexpectedly been eroded.

If you feel stuck, or if you feel like things are at risk of coming crashing down, consider reaching out to an NZDF chaplain or health professional for guidance. They can offer support with emotional distress that relates to your sense of self, such as low self-esteem, persistent unhappiness, and workplace or relationship concerns.