Three things to know about your core identity

woman with a question mark instead of face

Self-esteem is defined on Wikipedia as ‘an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth’. Valuing yourself, knowing your core identity and believing in who you are is a key issue that underpins many problems in life. I have written on this subject before.

There are many ways in which we can work on our self-esteem. There are habits we can cultivate. We can change our self-talk – the way we tend to talk about ourselves to others and in our own minds. There are journaling exercises, and many Neurolinguistic Programming inventions. We can see a hypnotherapist or a Timeline Therapist and we can get some coaching.

In terms of the building blocks of self-esteem, it can be important to know who the ‘self’ in this actually is! You can try to find out more about who you are. Not so much your background and your life history, but you core identity. If you want to think better of yourself, start with getting a better understanding of exactly what makes you…well…you!

Three aspects of your core identity to focus on, are:

  • values;
  • beliefs;
  • metaprograms.


Understanding your values is about knowing what is fundamentally important to you in your life. These are usually the powerful, big-picture concepts that drive you. Often they are single words such as trust, love, family and generosity. There will be many of them, and some will be more important than others.

Values are behind everything you do – both positive and negative, and because they are part of your core identity, you may not be consciously aware of them.

Values guide your choices in life at every turn. Sometimes they do this in a good way, and sometimes they are unhelpful. If you value love, you may pride yourself on being a great lover. On the other hand, you may find that you go out of your way to please your significant other, to the detriment of your own self-worth. If you value excitement you may be constantly on the lookout for new adventures and new experiences. You would be an interesting person to be around, but if excitement is a top value you might struggle with long-term commitment in a relationship.

We have many values and some are more important to us than others What our values are, and how they play out in our lives is a fascinating journey of self-discovery.


We all have a set of rules that we live by, even if we are not aware of them on a daily basis. We need these rules to help us make the decisions that create the life we lead. Rules can include things as varied as, ‘do unto others, as you would have them do unto us,’ and ‘always clear your plate, because there are starving millions in Africa’. These rules, or beliefs, are formulated through our experiences throughout our lives and they become part of our core identity.

Some of the beliefs we have are formed by imitating the beliefs of others in our life. Some of them are even created in rebellion against the rules of others. The key to these beliefs is that they are not necessarily true, or even logical. We just choose, often subconsciously, to believe them.

Knowing what your beliefs are can be very enlightening. Beliefs are the reason ‘why’ we do the things we do. Sometimes they serve us well, sometimes they don’t, but they make us who we are.


Having a set of values and beliefs filters your experience of the world. You see the world the way you expect to see it based on those core traits. If kindness is important you will notice kindness and unkindness more that some other things. If you believe people are out to get you, you will tend to focus on those moments when people seem to have that attitude to you.

As well as these, you have another set of filters through which you make judgements and which affect your behaviour. These are metaprograms. They are your ways of experiencing and interacting with the world that do not rely on any actual content. For example you may tend to live your life avoiding bad experiences, while another person may tend to focus on actively finding good ones. You have an ‘away from’ metaprogram, as opposed to a ‘towards’ one.

You may be the sort of person who acts on impulse, based on how you ‘feel’ about a thing, rather than being logical and thinking things through. This would be the difference between a ‘thinker’ and a ‘feeler’ metaprogram.

As you can imagine, some of these traits can have a significant effect on your life experience. There are a number of these metaprograms, and we tend to be somewhere on a scale for each one, rather than it being an either/or. Again, knowing more about how you process experience and make choices can really help you understand more about who you are.

Mataprograms are the stuff of personality tests, and I’m not a huge fan of these. In my view, anything that places a person in a ‘type’, limits their ability to be themselves. However knowing our tendencies and our default responses can be very useful in understanding our core identity.

Is your core identity fixed?

These three aspects of personality are great to understand in yourself. Whatever your values, beliefs and metaprograms, knowing what they are will hopefully enable you to recognise why you do the things you do. They will also give you a strong sense of being your own, unique and valuable individual.

Also, once you understand a bit more of the ‘why’ of your life, you can begin to choose what to do about it. We are not immutable, and if there are aspects of who we are that don’t work for us, knowing that means we can choose to change or adapt. None of these characteristics are set in stone. You can change the things that don’t work for you. You can adjust your values, change your beliefs, and manage or adapt to your metaprograms.

In terms of your self-esteem, you can value the reason behind what we do, understand our core identity and we can learn to have greater respect for yourself.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.