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Recently, friends of mine finished a very complicated puzzle we had given them as a Christmas gift. When they were done, they sent a picture of the finished product, including one puzzle piece the manufacturer had allowed to slip through quality control that wasn’t part of finishing the puzzle as designed.

 

We are all trying to “puzzle” our way through life, particularly in the context of figuring out “who am I” and “where do I fit into the bigger picture”. It’s almost as if there are two puzzles – the “me” puzzle and the “things around me” puzzle. Very often the “things around me puzzle” is trying to get me to include puzzle pieces in my identity – how I see and value myself – that aren’t necessarily part of me or who I eventually want to become.

The description of this phenomena, where the bigger puzzle (the social group, society or community) is trying to shape the individual, is called “social identity theory” and is rooted in the concept that there are forces that can shape us to see ourselves more as part of a group than as an individual.

You can accept input, suggestions, and ideas for improvement from the bigger puzzle as you build your “me puzzle”. But it’s important to realize that my identity – the picture of me – is ultimately mine to control and I ought to have the final say in whether each piece of the puzzle that makes up “me” is really me.

For more information:

Ellemers, N., & Haslam, S. A. (2011). Social identity theory. Handbook of theories of social psychology2(2011), 379-98.

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