Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity

Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity

Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity

Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity

Excerpt

Identity as a concept is fully as elusive as is everyone's sense of his own personal identity. But whatever else it may be, identity is connected with the fateful appraisals made of oneself -- by oneself and by others. Everyone presents himself to the others and to himself, and sees himself in the mirrors of their judgments. The masks he then and thereafter presents to the world and its citizens are fashioned upon his anticipations of their judgments. The others present themselves too; they wear their own brands of mask and they get appraised in turn. It is all a little like the experience of the small boy first seeing himself (at rest and posing) in the multiple mirrors at the barber shop or in the tailor's triple mirrors.

Identity is not a new word, any more than is ego or self; and like these latter terms its referents are, as Erik Erikson has pointed out, admittedly vague. But the notion of identity has served me, as it so brilliantly served him, as an agent for organizing materials and thoughts about certain aspects of problems traditionally intriguing to social psychologists. (I shall name the problems in a moment.) In thinking about those problems I experienced, as perhaps does everyone, a kind of partial paralysis that seizes one when he operates with conventional concepts (such as role and status and reference group). By deliberately choosing an ambiguous, diffuse term like identity I sensed that I could better look around the corners of my problems, and be less likely . . .

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