Which objects do you identify with, and how strongly does your sense of self depend on them?

For example:

  • When you pull up to school, work, etc. in your car, do you feel proud of it? Or ashamed? A little or a lot?
  • Do you own the latest smart phone? If so, why? Does it have anything to do with social status?
  • Where do you live, and would you feel comfortable inviting friends or strangers to your home?
  • Do you enjoy using your possessions even when all alone, even if no one else knows about them?
  • When you chat with friends or strangers, how much time do you spend discussing your possessions?

On the other hand, how much do others’ possessions influence your reaction to them?

  • Are you attracted (romantically or otherwise) to people with nice things?
  • What does it say about you when your significant other buys you flowers/ chocolate/ food/ etc.?

You may be thinking:

  • Objects have nothing to do with self! They’re outside and separate!
  • Anyone who thinks that way has a very shallow sense of self.

You have a valid point, but not the only valid point. On one hand, you’re right:

  • Your possessions are not actually you, no matter how strongly you relate to and through them.
  • Externalities can be fickle. Your good looks won’t last forever. You could crash your nice car on the drive home, and then where would you be?
  • Many of the above examples may not be talking about sense of self at all, but rather self-esteem (or, to be precise, other esteem, if your sense of value depends on how much others value you). These concepts are related but not the same thing, and if you lack self-esteem, then strengthening your sense of self will help it develop.
  • Do you really identify with the object, or is actually a matter of competition with others to have the best things?

But on the other hand, you’re wrong:

  • If you derive some sense of self from your possessions, that may provide clues about your deeper nature, and can make you feel more secure, even if only in the short term while you strengthen your deeper sense of self.

The important point is to not ONLY identify with these relatively shallow aspects of self. Enjoy them as much as you choose, but balance them with intermediate and deep aspects of self.

For Discussion

Discuss these questions with friends to get to know yourself and them better. Also feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below!

  1. How do your possessions help you express who you are?
  2. Who would you be without your phone, car, home, or other possessions?
  3. How well do objects and possessions reveal who you compared to other aspects of self.

Homework Experiences

Increase your awareness of how objects and possessions enhance your sense of self with these exercises:

  1. Make a list of several items that you identify with (ie: that reveal who you are and which help you express yourself, whether to yourself or to others). Write a sentence for each one explaining what it says about you.
    Example: my expensive car shows that I care about quality and can afford the best.
  2. If you don’t typically identify with objects or possessions, pick something and try it out.
    Example: observe how you and/or others react to or interact with your car/ phone/ etc, and how other people handle such things differently. Don’t judge, just observe.
  3. If you identify strongly with a particular object or possession, find out who you are without it. Don’t bring it with you when you go out. Don’t bring it up in conversation. What happens? Do you replace it with some other object/possession, or does this help you increase awareness of more inherent traits? After trying this for at least a day, write a page about your experience and share it with someone you trust.