We all have our an identity, a persona we have built up in our heads. Our identity may be built around our profession, our passion, our hobbies, our physical location, the place we went to school, the sports team we cheer for, the vehicle we own, our gender, our sexual orientation or preference, our heritage, our role in our family, community, or job, or any number of things. We need to build on these things in order to have the foundation for our identity and our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
But what do you do when that identity comes under threat? When someone is racist, homophobic, or just cheers for the wrong football team, how do you respond? How do you deal with what you perceive as “hate speech” or “hate crimes”?
An article on Psychology Today gives an interesting breakdown of the way we humans respond to an attack on our identity:
Constructive Action – We try to overcome the threat to our identity by engaging in productive behavior, but we don’t address the threat directly. It’s sort of an “ignore it, be a good worker, and it will go away” mindset.
Concealment – We try to hide or tone down the identity under attack in the hope that the attack will stop. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Identity Exit – We completely discard that part of our identity that is under attack. Instead of fighting, we choose to “flee” the attack.
Derogation – We denounce or criticize the person or thing attacking our identity, hoping to discredit or humiliate the attacker and thus stop the attack. We “strike back”.
Ignore – We simply ignore the person attacking our identity and move on with our lives without addressing the attack. This is common in situations where we feel “powerless to do anything”.
Importance Change – We make a conscious shift of how important the identity is to us. Perhaps it stops being the thing that “defines us” and becomes “just one more part of what makes us us”.
Meaning Change – We make a conscious shift of how we perceive the part of the identity and its significance to us. It may decrease in its perceived value, and we rank it lower than other parts of our identity.
Seek Assistance – We turn to others, perhaps those in authority, for help in dealing with the attack on our identity. We all need “reinforcements” to get us through the tough times.
Positive Distinctiveness – We try to change the attacker’s opinion of our identity by arguing the values and virtues of that particular identity. Try to “bring them around to our side”.
In this modern day and age, it feels like EVERY part of who we are is being attacked, criticized, or mocked by others. Our response to those attacks can affect the outcome—not only for the attacker, but how WE move on from the attack. Consider your instinctive reaction to attacks on your identity, and see if there is a better, more productive way to respond.