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Image vs Identity - What's The Difference?

By Stephen C. Schultz


Over the last 25 years, I have noticed a shift in the youth that my organization works with and some of the struggles these young people encounter. What I am seeing is not merely symptomatic of a rebellious teen or the burdens that accompany a mental illness.



It seems many students and families are headed down a track with very few options for changing course. What I am sensing is that our society in general is struggling in many ways. What I see happening with our youth is symptomatic of larger social ills. In this political season, what I perceive goes beyond “Republican and Democrat” or “Conservative and Liberal”. What I’m sensing touches on the very heart of “Identity”; the essence of who we are. It is the question of who we are as a society and who we are as individuals.

As I work with teens who find themselves involved in dishonest behavior, unhealthy relationships and “entitled” attitudes there is one common thread that runs through every family situation. Throughout the teens stages of childhood and adolescence, these kids have moved away from life’s tasks that contribute to the development of an “Identity” and they have slipped into the world of developing an “Image”. It is important to note that “Image” and “Identity” are two very different things.



As each of us moves into adulthood, it is through the accomplishment of life’s tasks that we gain competencies. These tasks include mastering school, work and family relationships. As this mastery happens, we develop a set of social skills that include determination, courage, honesty, trust, integrity, insight, loyalty and knowledge. It is through this developmental process and the practice of these particular skills that an “Identity” is developed.

“Image” has its foundation based in perception, not competency. Image is more about how one appears than who they are.

So, as I look at myself, my community and my nation, I wonder where that tipping point is. Are we a nation of self centered people only worried about the next “selfie” and our image? Or, are we grounded in a quiet confidence based on a solid identity?



As I work to develop a healthy sense of identity, I become less concerned about the image of others as well as myself.

What are your thoughts? 

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