on Identity and Authenticity

Personality quizzes are fun.

I haven’t met a single person who , upon mentioning a certain quiz, were not instantly compelled to try it out for themselves ,  hurriedly sharing their results with a pride that implied ” I knew this about myself already, but I just had it reinforced by an algorithm” ,  casting upon our interaction a subtle layer of connectivity which came from that of the juxtaposition of our results . All those qualities I knew about myself actually had a single name which reunited them !  how great is that?!

My own experience with personality quizzes came in waves , matching the tides of my evolution : the biggest  had been in adolescence ,  the time where my first encounters with myself were born . The next, at the onset of motherhood as I struggled to reconcile different aspects of myself into a single package.

Why do these quizzes , with their generic grouping results ,  satisfy the curiosity generated by trying to figure out identity ? Of what use is this cataloging , this reducing of an individual with all the complexity and randomness of a human being into a list of defining categories ? Is it easier to navigate life with these clearly established boundaries of behavioral patterns?

There’s a certain satisfaction which comes with the quantitative nature of cataloging identity into tiny rubrics of ” agree , disagree ” – with the occasional “slightly” for the hesitant ones whose lack of a clearly defined model upon which to reflect self-behaviors circumscribes their decisiveness – generating the supposed shared characteristics with a particular group .

” That’s soo me!” I often said to myself as I read the implications of my results , smiling as I felt the tug of camaraderie with an imaginary group of potentials who shared my identity, with whom I could relate , validating my existence and excusing – no glorifying- my odd behaviors . A feeling of security and a sense of self acceptance were soon to follow , numbing the uncertainty which came with the revelation of my alienation and loneliness on this planet .

I’m not so alone after all , if these questions on quizzes are any indication .

The latest excursion into the world of personality quizzes came in the shape of the autism quotient quiz, naturally .  And not  surprisingly- to myself at least-  the results reinforced my previously suspected status as an individual with autistic tendencies.

What does that mean for me , exactly ?

Should I identify with autistic people now,  appropriate this newly named characteristic  to the spectrum of roles I play  ? should I assume the catalog of behaviors that the quizzes spoke of , which I had checked as ” agree” , and which up to the moment of reading the questions , I  had no awareness could be anything more than the status quo of typical being ?

If the existence of nationalism,  gender groups, age groups, race groups etc. is any indication, subgroups of identity are a staple of human existence . When asked to state who they are , a diverse group of adult college students in a class I once attended all responded with a concise list of  ‘nationality’, ‘age’, and ‘gender’, respectively . The roles they assigned themselves within that setting . The facades they chose to assume for that particular occasion . A metaphorical first layer of identity which one encounters at the introduction.

After  personally meeting a few of these students later on and forging a slightly deeper connection  than that afforded by the setting of the classroom , their roles evolved to contain “mother” , ” nurse” ,  ” gay” and “psych major”, among other things , as the initial layers were peeled away , spawning a network of sub-identities for each which  I used to maneuver interaction . It was as such that when I met someone who shared my nationality, I activated  that sub-identity within myself to enable a more fluid interaction , or when speaking with an individual of the female gender , the initial common ground before getting to know anything else about them became what I believed were the shared characteristics of that gender.   Identity became a navigation tool on the quest towards belonging , a game show in which characteristics were nominated and sub-identities dropped in an effort to find that one matching element to unite , upon which conversations could be built and initial impressions made.

Recent events found me deep in the game of interaction , switching roles as fast as you could say  ” inauthentic”  to match my many opponents in the game of socializing , where I actively sought the help of Identity to determine the smoothest course of behaviors and actions in different settings . What struck me the most regarding this particular exercise , which I assume most people engage in whether consciously or unconsciously, is the inauthencity it entails. I scoffed at myself on multiple occasions as I found the need to censor a deeply rooted characteristic of my being in the face of opponents with clearly opposing views . Somehow , the aspects deemed offensive to the progression of smooth interaction got neutered as only the shared characteristics became evident to support the exchange . Later , when I was alone, I felt an unease  stemming from my lost  true self as it got obscured by the condensation of the soup of all the different roles I had to play .

Is my unease justified, or is it the outcome of useless speculation? The term “Identity” comes from the latin  word “ident” , meaning sameness . Identity is the common ground, the sameness shared with others , the tool by which we belong and by which an illusion of not being alone is created ,   yet it does so at the expense of the authentic self , reigning in the characteristics deemed detrimental to inter-social well-being . If the U.N. is at the macro scale of social interaction , then identity is its equivalent on the micro level .

This process of identifying reminded me of the behavioral exercises that I do with my son with regards to social scenarios , where social stories are constructed and told to the autistic person to teach them how to react to different settings , how to act in different scenarios, which roles to play. Example, after playing with a dog, my son took himself to be one and started licking people . The social story involved my son and a dog and delineating the differences between humans and canines to alter my son’s behavior to be more similar to that of humans .

I had to teach my son on multiple occasions, just like every child is taught in his youth , to quell certain behaviors which perhaps come naturally  and which manifest his authentic being in favor of the socially acceptable roles assigned- and assume other behaviors , no matter how unnatural they might feel . With time and repetition, he will learn to assume them automatically as the action becomes learnt.

But is this something that only autistic people do? Don’t neurotypicals use the same technique of social navigation , albeit in a more implicit/unconscious way ? Perhaps the models of identity they use is generated by the literature, movies , and television series they are exposed to ,  which they emulate and use as filters to guide their understanding .

My unease with this process probably arises from my previously held and applied belief that identifying with one group stops personal growth and evolution as it limits exploration and understanding of other sub-groups of identity, reinforcing illusions and simulacrums as reality gets filtered by artificial constructs .  Identifying as a woman will stop me from exploring and appreciating things which I believe to be targeted towards men . Identifying as being a certain nationality  will stop me from claiming humanity in all its shapes and cultures as being completely part of myself .  Identifying as anything in particular stops me from being whole and places me a step further from experiencing true authentic purely objective reality .

But is this possible? is it truly possible for someone to be completely authentic at every moment of their waking life , and assume every single sub-identity which exists so as to be truly complete ?  Someone once told me that there’s a correlation between happiness and the feeling of belonging . Is the question of authenticity an adolescent dream which I have clung to erroneously ,preventing me from connecting through identity and possibly limiting my happiness?

Maybe my beliefs are dated.

Maybe therein lies the reason for this post . Trying to reconcile myself anew to the opposing beliefs and actions as I try to justify to myself that identity is perhaps necessary , that what i’m doing with my son in the early intervention program and in altering his behavior and forcing identities on him isn’t so bad , in fact , its  quite necessary .

That my previous beliefs need updating in order to bypass a cognitive dissonance .