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Having become the person I am today, I really appreciate my experiences. I believe that my identity as a person is shaped by experiences, surroundings, personal attributes, and values that I have been exposed to since childhood. As suggested that identity formation is a continual cycle of confirmation and reappraisal across the lifespan (Arnold, 2017). In relation to my childhood experience, my personal and professional identity will be evaluated from psychosocial theory and attachment theory.
As a child, I was anxiously attached to my parents due to mistrust and insecurity.
When I was a child, I was not approachable and would cry or shy away when approached by strangers. I mistrust anyone around me except my parents. I learned to assess my surrounding based on my parents’ behavior toward them. Most of the time, the presence of my parents made people easier to approach me compared to when my parents were not around. I always thought that my mom was my comfort zone and if anything happened, I always look for my mom.
I always cried on the first day in new school till I was primary three. The fear of abandonment by my mom reflects my attachment anxiousness (Carnelley & Boag, 2019). While my dad spent most of his time working to provide a living for us. His love is shown by providing us comfortable life but not emotionally attached to me. This causes inconsistency between my mom and dad’s attitude which leads to fear of attachment (Carnelley & Boag, 2019).
Further, social experiences made me feel insecure.
My parents always told me to be a good girl and obey teachers. When I played with my friends and they are not being good, I reminded my friends that certain behavior is not good. However, my friends started to left me behind when playing. One time, I was playing in the school playground with my friends after school. I went to the toilet inside the playground and when I went back to the playground, I did not see my friends and the playground had been locked. I could not go out of the playground until the people from the canteen beside the playground noticed me and helped me out. I felt sad, lonely, and eventually, I doubt if I could trust my friends. Unfortunately, the mistrust stays throughout my life till now. I always have a negative image of future events (Goodall, 2015).
Being told to obey the rules has shaped me into someone who is restricted and always fear being embarrassed. This is reflected in Erickson’s autonomy vs. shame/doubt phase and initiative vs guilt at the same time. My parents educated me to value manners and appropriate behavior which emphasizes on avoid embarrassment. As a child, there are a lot of things that I want to explore but sometimes ended up being punished. When I was 5 years old, I saw my brother doing homework and I was curious. My brother told my mom that I disturbed him. Then, my mom locked me up in the bathroom and turn off the lights. I felt scared and guilty when I was locked in the bathroom. More than that I felt ashamed to be punished. From there I learned to internalized my parents’ expectations of me in order to avoid punishment and the fear of being rejected by them made me look for their approval in whatever I do. Now, I realize that it was also partly cultural values where children should obey their parents to be perceived as good. If children are not perceived as good, they bring shame to the family. Yet, the fears and shame followed me through till now, though it has subsided significantly.
During my primary school years, I was struggling between industry vs inferiority as I focus more on academic achievement. I had to repeat my primary two classes that made me feel inferior compared to my friends. Learning from the embarrassment of repeating class and fear of parents’ rejection made me took pride in academic achievement and worked for academic recognition. However, I had no confidence in myself to improve my academic achievement and perceived myself as incapable. I remember that I often self-blame to the extent of destructive negative self-talk such as telling myself that I am fat, worthless, and useless. It happened most of the time especially when I made mistakes. Hence, my anxious attachment, negative self-talk, and experiences destroyed my self-esteem even more (Vahedi & Yari-sis, 2016).
In high school, the process of self-discovery was challenging. The sense of belonging to a certain group was very important as it gives a sense of identity. Yet, it was not easy some people even meaner and more frontal in body-shaming comments. It was further encouraged by peer pressure and people’s expectations of girls to be thin to fit in. I was anxious that if I did not fit in then I would never belong and may never figure out who I am (Arnold, 2017). Hence, I tried many diet techniques and pills to lose weight that my mom suggested. Till I struggled with an eating disorder. I tried to throw up food and took laxatives after eating. My confidence was at the lowest. Socially, I was scared of seeing new people because of their comments and jokes. I was excessively self-aware of negative thoughts that my friends may have in mind when seeing me. I always thought that if my own parents could not accept me due to my physical appearance, who would? That made me live in my negative thoughts most of the time. Reflecting back at that moment, the need for approval from my parents influence my negative perception toward myself (Carnelley & Boag, 2019).
At the same time, I questioned the meaning of my existence. I wondering the purpose of my existence and felt incapable of doing anything. I had the irrational thought that all my issues were because of my physical appearance. All I wanted was to be accepted and yet people implicitly and explicitly told me that being fat is not acceptable. I stuck between blaming myself, negative self-talk, and hating myself for everything that I thought was wrong with me. Till I was tired of hating myself and embarked on a journey to self-love and acceptance. I learned to see a different perspectives, values of knowledge, intelligence, self-compassion, and empathy. That made me believe that identity is formed through the interaction between individuals and the environment (Vahedi & Yari-sis, 2016).
I found my healings partly from my religious belief. Growing up in a Buddhist family, I believe in being compassionate and karma. Which helped me to release my grudge and anger by understanding their behavior. From there, I learn to treat others the way I want to be treated. To further deepen my understanding and enable self-healing, I decided to study psychology.
Studying psychology was an eye-opener for me to understand myself. I reflected upon myself from psychological perspectives. I learned how actually my experiences resulted in projection of fear toward new people, being guarded when someone talked about my need to lose weight, adaptation of negative self-talk that results in depression, and people surrounds me used to determine my sense of identity. However, now I have chosen to develop and integrate my self-understanding into my confidence (Eichas, Mecca, Montgomery, & Kurtines, 2015). I believe that my sense of identity is still developing and fear of rejection/abandonment is still work-in-progress, however, it has become more positives as it takes into account my current independence in decision making for now and the future (Vahedi & Yari-sis, 2016).
Upon completion of my study, career-professional identity is an essential part of my identity as an individual. Career is one big part of my life which indicates my life progress (Praskova, Creed, & Hood, 2015). Hence, vocational fitness is an indication of professional identity.
At the beginning of my career, I have always wanted to become a counselor. I was so happy to finally start my career with my dream job as a counselor and teacher. Having an identity that allows self-actualization of one’s interests, values, and meaningful enable a positive self-concept (Kroger, 2015). Thus, being a counselor positively impact my sense of identity as being a useful person and mitigate anxious-attachment to people. I felt that I was capable, passionate, caring, and kind. I value others’ feelings as I do not want to hurt them. However, being new in the field and has no supervisor, I was confused about how to do my job as a counselor. I had the passion but was not clear on the practical approach to counseling. I never questioned my passion, caring, and warm attributes of myself but, I started to question my capability of being a counselor. Till I decided to not renew my contract as a counselor and teacher. I lost my dream, my goal, and myself. I lost my purpose and meaning which I thought was already aligned.
Trying out another type of job was even more challenging. When started to work in the accounting and taxation field, I kept telling myself that I needed the job to make living. Four years being in the job, I never identified myself with the job. Despite all the training and workshop that I had attended, I felt a lack of confidence whenever meeting clients. I could not integrate myself into the job. Inconsistency of identity development may disrupt psychological well-being (Kuiper, Kirsh, & Maiolino, 2016). There were times when I wanted to quit but I kept reminded by friends and family about the future prospects of the job and how potential it is for my success. I had the future figured out in that job, but I did not recognize myself anymore. I never found passion in that job, I made careless mistakes, felt restless regardless of 8-hours of sleep, and dragging myself to work every single day. However, I learned that actually, I am persistent, hardworking, open-minded, and capable to learn new things despite my dislikes of the job. As I reflect back, I also learned that I really value knowledge as I was willing to learn courses to help me understand the job better. If I never been in this job, I might not realize what I really wanted to do. Thus, I decided to study counseling to be a better counselor.
Personal and professional identity for me is a mixture of complex experiences and my personal quality that has shaped me into who I am today. The transition back to counseling was easier for me as I have my personal resources for this career. Personal resources help the process of career identity (Praskova, Creed, & Hood, 2015). If I was asked about my identity as an individual, I would say that I am a resilient person who developed into a caring, sensitive, and empathetic individual inspired by knowledge and compassion to help others.
Reflecting upon my experiences and self-identity, there are some strengths and weaknesses that I discover. Having to experience what I experienced, some strength that I acquired is to be non-judgmental to a group of minorities and understanding of children/adolescence. One major weakness for me is to work with aging people.
In some societies, being different in terms of sexual orientation, gender, and certain appearance may add more pressure that leads to developmental issues that one must overcome with. Having been in that position before, I believe that my empathy, sensitivity attitude could be helpful and provide non-judgmental counseling for them.
Having experienced some obstacles growing up, made me understand myself better. I reflect on my behavior and feeling a lot during childhood and adolescent time to eventually come out to self-love. I may be able to relate to more adolescents who are struggling growing up due to family issues, peer pressure, and negative self-concept. Been in that phase and understand how it feels, I could bring myself to their level to provide the comfort level that they need. I believe that my genuine understanding, compassion, and empathy towards them could be helpful in building therapeutic relationships with them.
Lack of attachment and relationship with my grandparents may become my weakness in counseling. The distance between me and my grandparents was because they keep nagging me about losing weight, which makes me uncomfortable around them, and also, we never made effort to build communication. Thus, I always have preconceptions that aging people are insensitive and offhand. I may not feel comfortable and that may hinder my understanding toward them. Also, due to a lack of closeness with my own grandparents, I may not know how to connect with them on a deeper emotional level for therapeutic purposes.
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