It has been said by many people that a person does not begin to really shape their identity or become self-aware until late in the toddler stages. The way they start to communicate with others, be it screaming when upset, or giving high fives when they meet someone new, are what people say are the early stages of developing one’s identity. As these toddlers grow up, and interact with other toddlers, they will meet those who will want to continue being with them, who enjoy their company. They call this special relationship between humans friendship. This connection called friendship can deeply affect a person’s identity and sense of self over the course of their entire life.
From a young age, all humans are very impressionable. When their little minds start working and understanding the world around them, it is first up to the parent’s to teach them right from wrong. Parents’ end to mold their kids to think and act like them; like a mini-me of sorts. They can teach them to think like them, and act like them all throughout their life. Parents have a big effect on their child’s identity. This effect, however, can become completely reversed as their child begins to form friendships.
Once kids become teenagers, even tweens, they hold their friends’ opinions on a much higher threshold than they do their parents’. Teens will often go against the ways they were taught by their parents in order to be more like their friends and peers. Why is this? Everyone, every human being, has the unconscious desire to fit in, to be liked. This desire is present the most when a kid is in school, because of concepts such as peer pressure. Peer pressure can be both harmful and beneficial, at all ages. These friends may change as the child gets older, but the effects they may have on that person’s identity will be just as impactful. A person’s friends, teenagers especially, are closer most of the time than that person’s family to them. Their opinions often matter more, and they can usually have a greater influence and impact on that person’s life and decisions. Why? Well, people, and again, teenagers especially, like to ‘fit in’. Everyone, despite it being a conscious thought or not, longs to feel like they belong somewhere; to be accepted and loved by the people around them.
I know, from personal experience, that people will often change parts of themselves in order to satiate that need for acceptance. These changes can be as simple as using new slang, buying a new lipstick color, to more extreme cases such as drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Now, obviously, all of these cases vary in extremity, but that brings up very important questions related to how friends can affect a person’s sense of self and their identity. Does it make it okay to change who you are if the changes are minor? Does the variety of change outweigh the broken morals? In my opinion, and according to many others, no, it is not okay to let someone, anyone, change your identity.
Upon doing a lot of research on this topic, I found everything from personal experiences to psychology theories. Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote an article for WebMD titled 4 Ways Your Friends Shape Your Future. In this article, Phelps writes, “Friends influence each other’s personal preferences and lifestyles. When friends share music and see each other’s clothes or decorating, their tastes can rub off on each other. This influence might be relatively trivial, but it might also have a more significant impact. For instance, it can affect how you choose to spend your money, such as buying more things, going on more vacations, or saving for a rainy day. It can also affect how you spend your time, like choosing to do charitable work versus spending more time chilling out with a glass of wine. And friends can influence each other’s lifestyles, such as their eating habits and how they prioritize exercise. These kinds of decisions can directly affect your health and happiness.” I agree with her and can relate to this quote.In my experience, I have changed so much about myself- my hairstyle, the makeup I wore, and the way I spoke-just to fit in with people who, in the end, abandoned me and hurt me. I did so much, lost who I was, just for those five seconds of middle school popularity and fame. Many people prioritize their friends opinions and will often change themselves if their friends think their current self is lackluster. A lot of people can be sensitive to suggestion. If they see a friend they trust and consider close spend a lot of money on clothes, they will most likely trust their judgement and want to do the same. They will often do this despite maybe not being able to afford it or using their parents’ money without their permission. These decisions and changes may seem small, but can affect a tween for the rest of their life. Those small decisions can change their identity well into their adult lives.
All of the ideas and questions that were discussed all come back to one simple claim; Friends and relationships in a person’s life can greatly affect their identity in their future both for better and for worse. Speaking for myself, I can easily confirm this idea. I have changed my identity and the way I present myself countless times just to get a small taste of what it’s like to fit in, only to be left in the dust, hurt and lost. Those changes helped me realize my true self; pushed me to become a better version of myself in the future. I let the hurt caused by those lessons remind me to stay true to myself and not change for anyone but myself. I changed for myself because I realized it wasn’t worth it to change for others. My identity is my own to create and express. It is mine, and no one else’s to decide; and neither should yours.