“Man is originally characterized by his “search for meaning” rather than his “search for himself.” The more he forgets himself—giving himself to a cause or another person—the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Ultimate Meaning
One of the psychology books I’ve enjoyed most reading is Peter J. Burke and Jan E. Stets’, Identity Theory. Peter J. Burke is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Riverside; and Jan E. Stets is currently Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Social Psychology Research Laboratory at the University of California, Riverside. I heavily referenced their work in my book, and credit them for having a great impact and influence in my thinking and eventual conclusions that shaped Meaningful Purpose Psychology (Logoteleology) theory.
I learned from Drs. Burke and Stets that there are three identities: person, social, and role. Learning about identities can help you better understand yourself. It can also aid in strengthening your ability to determine your own life’s course, maximize your strengths, and fulfill your potential. Let me share with you these three identities.
In simple terms, your person identity expresses your unique self. No one has your exact biological DNA nor do they have your unique history and potential. You are the only version of you that has been or will ever be. That makes you extraordinary, unique, and special. As I wrote in my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose:
“Your distinct and unique identity with all its potentiality cannot be duplicated. Fortunately, because you are unique, you are not expected by life to be an impersonator, or worse, an impostor. This is what makes life priceless, the fact that no person can take another’s place or fulfill the duty that life asks of him or her to fulfill. Think about it: there is and will only be one model of each human being – past, present, and future. There is only one of you. What you are called to do by life no one can do in your stead.”
So, it begs the question, what is it that life calls you to do that no one can do in your stead? In a nutshell, life is asking you to use your strengths and maximize your potential for noble greatness in order to do those things that make life meaningful to you and others.  For those interested, I facilitate Meaningful Purpose Laboratories (www.bostonimp.com), one that assist people reveal their strengths, potential, and unique meaningful life purpose.
Social or Group Identity
Humans are social beings with social or group identities. For instance, some of my group identities include my American citizenship, being a member of the Marrero clan, the fact that I’m Latino, and that I am a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I am also a member of the International Positive Psychology Association, the International Network for Personal Meaning, and the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. Thus, we all have group identities.
It might be a helpful exercise to list a few of your own group identities.
Some of my group identities are voluntary, because of my own free intrinsic choice to belong. Other group identities are by default, like being a member of the Marrero family. Finally, there are obligatory identities – as when a boss require an employee to represent the firm in a professional association (which the employee might or might not like to participate in). Do you know anyone who actually experience her or his job as something obligatory they must do to support themselves, even though they find the work experience meaningless? If that is the case, the membership is experienced and self-described as obligatory, not voluntary. What about you?
Understanding that we have social or group identities can give us greater control in deciding who to be with, and why or why not invest time and energy to be with them. Let me go back to a previous post where I described what is meaningful and meaningless:
“…the meaningful builds, improves and edifies. On the other hand, meaning-less behaviors and actions harm, deflate, demean, and subtract.”
So two questions for you to ponder: Of the groups you listed above, which associations, friendships or group identities
- build, improve and edify you; and which do not?
- do you invest on to build, improve and edify others; and which you do not?
Meaningful Purpose Psychology encourages people to bring their person identity to their groups in order to do meaningful things. If you are not respected and edified by your associations, then leave and go elsewhere to seek the company of people who will. If you are not respecting and edifying others, then you have some work to do at the person identity level. Successful people are constantly learning and growing in order to do meaningful things.
Once a person joins a group, generally he or she will have an assigned role – even if it is only “member”. Roles are always written in noun form. There are role identities such as manager, wife, husband, son, investor, principal, supervisor, CEO, Sergeant, pastor, friend… you get the point. People can and do have multiple roles as members of their groups.
With a role come expectations or duties, required competencies, assumptions, norms and boundaries. The role incumbent is expected to contribute to the group’s purpose. Operating in a role explains what it means to be part of someone’s life and role(s). Role members also have the responsibility — like in a jigsaw puzzle — to ensure a complementary and meaningful fit amongst members. Hence, Meaningful Purpose Psychology helps people answer existential questions such as:
- What is the meaning of being a husband or wife in a relationship?
- What is the meaning of having a child?
- What is the meaning of being a member of my family?
- What is the meaning of a family?
- What is the meaning of my leadership style?
- And at a broader and institutional level; what is the meaning of my company?
Meaningful Purpose psychologists, coaches and consultants help individuals, groups and organizations answer such questions in a meaningful way and for a meaningful end. Based on our experience, few people have answers to such and similar fundamental concerns; which help explain why people suffer and face difficult challenges in life. We find the same symptoms within many organizations; which explains why we have a problem with leadership and leadership development.   This is what Gallup’s Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, wrote: 
“Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses from hell that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent. The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers.”
Understanding the repercussions of this quote can explain when the role of “leader” is meaningful and meaningless.
Let’s come closer to home: What can we conclude about the meaningfulness of our homes’ experiences with statistics as these?
Divorce Statistics in America for Marriage
Divorce statistics (in percent)
45% to 50% marriages end in divorce
60% to 67% marriages end in divorce
70% to 73% marriages end in divorce
* Source of this Divorce Statistics: Jennifer Baker, Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, Springfield
And in the United Kingdom? According to Daily Mail “Britain has the highest divorce rate in EU”.
Those are clear outcomes of meaningless role commitments and relationships. I can cite more statistics, but you get the point.
On the other hand, there are people doing wonders, such as those honored as CNN Heroes, organizations such as The Greater Good Science Center, The Leadership Learning Community” and many other unsung heroes – too many to mention here – whose members are in roles committed to take meaningful actions to better the world.
What is “Identity”?
Any time you state “I am _____” you are expressing your identity. As we learned, it can be a person, social or role identity. According to Meaningful Purpose Psychology, an identity can also be meaningful-oriented or meaningless-oriented. The aim of life is to allow and support the development of healthy and meaningful identities – our own as well as others. Learning and practicing the development of healthy and meaningful identities is how we become.
It is important to understand that in Meaningful Purpose Psychology the starting point is the person identity who willingly self-determines to fulfill a meaningful purpose in life. With that understanding, the individual then seeks associations (social or group identities) where the collective group nurtures, builds and respects all members, and where each member is encouraged and allowed to contribute competently through the fulfillment of her or his meaningful life purpose. Finally, to build a robust, meaningful and healthy identity, we need to find ways to serve and meet the needs of others’. A meaningful identity is one that does the meaningful by allowing, cooperating, and transcending or practicing altruistic acts in the service of others. When you serve in a meaningful way, you plant the seeds for self-discovery, and to become your best.
It is my hope and desire that through this understanding you will strengthen your determination to courageously take your place in society as a powerful, responsible and meaningful person. This post can only briefly explain who you are and how you become. You can learn more from my book.
For more information on how to leverage Meaningful Purpose Psychology, please refer to the following links:
You can also contact me by leaving a reply below.
 Burke, Peter J and Jan E. Stets, Identity Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
 Read my post, “What is Meaningful? And why knowing matters? https://authorluismarrero.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/what-is-meaningful-and-why-knowing-matters/
 Also known as logoteleologists or logoteleotherapists [teleotherapists as a shorter version]. Logoteleotherapy means healing through meaningful purpose.
©2013. Luis A. Marrero, MA, RODP. Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose.