Here is a short definition of the term self-identification by Roberto Assagioli:
“… everybody has some kind of self-identification—and yet very few people have ever stopped to ask themselves what it really means, what it implies, how it can be more consciously experienced and what are its effects. Self-identification is a rather ambiguous term, and we must distinguish three different meanings.
The first meaning —which is the one currently and generally accepted —is that of the individual identifying himself with that which gives him the greatest sense of being, of aliveness, with that which constitutes his greatest value, and to which he gives the most importance. This type of self-identification can be the predominant function or focus of consciousness and, on the other hand, the main function or role played in life. For instance: a girl who enters beauty contests identifies herself with her body and its beauty. There lies her focus and her point of self-identification, and she bends every effort to its improvement and conservation. A successful athlete also has his point of self-identification in the physical body, but in terms of his muscular strength and control. Others identify themselves with the emotional life, their so-called love-life. A smaller group —that of the intellectuals—identify themselves with their minds or brainpower and consider themselves to be fundamentally thinkers or —in right or wrong self-estimation — geniuses.
In others the self-identification with a role is more evident. Many women find their self-identification in wifehood, and even more so in motherhood—they consider themselves, function and live only as the mother. This kind of self-identification does not give the experience of the pure self. The latter, the “I-hood” or the sense of personal identity is closely bound to, and almost merged in, the focus of valuation or the role. This has very severe consequences:
First, the individual does not really know or realize himself.
Second, the identification with one part of his personality excludes or diminishes greatly the ability of self-identification with all the other parts of his personality, and therefore constitutes a stumbling block in psychosynthesis.
Third, and this applies to both “role” and “predominant function” types of self-identification, the life process itself renders their continuance impossible; e.g., the aging of beautiful women; the loss of athletic strength; the disruption of the mother role through the maturity or death of her children. All these may produce very serious crises; the individual feels himself or herself lost, and this is a tragedy in many lives, which in not a few cases may lead to the extreme self-denial of suicide.
The second meaning which can be given to “self- identification” is the inner experience of pure self-awareness, independent of any content or function of the ego in the sense of personality. Curiously, it is a subject which has been neglected, and the explanation is that the experience of’pure self-identity — or in other words, of the self, the I-consciousness, devoid of any content—does not arise spontaneously but is the result of a definite inner experimentation. Those who have tried have been able to reach a state of pure I-consciousness, self-identity, realization of oneself as a living center of awareness. This is well known to psychologists in the East, because they are interested in the experience, value it, and therefore use the techniques appropriate to achieving it.
The third meaning of “self-identification” is that of the realization of the higher or spiritual Self. This experience requires a further technique or techniques. It is different from the other experience of pure self already described— but it is not completely separate from it. Let us remember what was given in Chapter One, page 20, i.e., that there are not in reality two independent selves. There is one Self —but there are very different and distinct levels of self-realization. Therefore, between the self-identity of the ordinary or normal level of functioning and the full spiritual Self-realization there are intermediate stages or levels, ever wider, clearer, fuller.
The first experience of the self, the personal self, as a point of pure self-consciousness, is extremely important. No one experiences it spontaneously, and this explains the strange phenomenon that many people are apt to deny the very essence of their being.
Since we are speaking of the essence of Being, it is very important to point out that this is, of course, a central idea in existential analysis; many existential writers talk and write about Being, and the meaning of the word varies from writer to writer; and very often with the same writer the meaning shifts from Being as a totality of the personality plus some kind of spiritual center, to Being as a center for the personality, to Being as a spiritual center, something that may be referred to as the “essence of Being.”
It is important to achieve clarity on these points and to experiment with the specific techniques for the achievement of the experience itself, not only by patients but also by therapists — which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers—because no one who has not had the experience can really help other people to have the experience themselves.
The experience of the point of self-awareness on the personality level is the first step toward the experience of the Self, or in existential terms, the essence of Being. To some extent it has some relationship to what Erik Erickson refers to as the search for self-identity. This problem of finding one’s self, experiencing one’s self , and from the center of oneself directing one’s life, is a problem basic to our times where a great tendency towards conformity is present.” (Assagioli in Psychosynthesis, 1965, p. 111-113)
See also the glossary term Conscious “I”, and self.