Although there may be no clear description of identity in specific psychological terms, there is a consensus that it refers to a subjective experience. Unlike character and personality, which are observed and defined by others, identity refers to an individual’s inner working model—this person, not an outsider, senses and experiences it. Erik Erikson, one psychoanalyst who focused on identity, first used the term “ego identity,” and then dropped the word ego and used simply “identity.” He described it as “a persistent sameness within oneself . . . [and] a persistent sharing of some kind of essential character with others” (Erikson, 1950, p. 57). In everyday life, an adult individual typically refers to his or her social or professional status as social or professional identities. If a person’s career identity is threatened, the individual may or may not experience anxiety. Anxiety is more likely to occur if the threat is connected, mostly unconsciously, to an internal danger signal such as losing a loved one such as a mother (or her love), a body part (castration), or self-esteem.
Imagine, for example, a man who habitually plays golf suffering a leg injury. He can no longer play golf and loses his “golfer identity.” He may not experience much anxiety and may become a painter and develop a “painter identity.” But if the leg injury unconsciously becomes connected with his castration anxiety, this man will feel anxious about losing his “golfer identity.” My focus in this contribution is not on a person’s surface identities; it is on the person’s core identity, the subjective experience of his or her self-representation.
Vamιk D. Volkan
Play and Track II Diplomacy
Play and Playfulness Developmental, Cultural, and Clinical Aspects