Possessions and Identity

“Who am I?” – I’m sure you’ve asked this question to yourself at least once. Self-identity is something that is ingrained in every single one of us, yet the answer to this question is far from straightforward. Great thinkers, philosophers, scholars and scientists have all tried answering this age-old question.

Of late, many research studies have pointed out that material possessions relate in some way to self-expression and identity. As someone who has always loved home décor, I find this to be intuitively true. We buy décor items according to our individual taste and sense of style. Now, if anything, our material possessions reflect our sense of expression and they have a strong relation to our identity.

Many of you may not entirely agree to what I’ve said. It’s true that there are many other factors which influence our purchasing decisions. What we may want may not be what we end up purchasing. So, how do our possessions accurately depict our identity and sense of self? Well, we’ll take a deeper look at this today.

The Curious Case of a Portuguese Woman

ScienceDirect recently published an interesting and astonishing study which shows some definite correlation between material possessions and identity. In the study, a 65-year-old Portuguese woman suddenly declared that she felt absolutely no sense of ownership to her belongings. All these belongings were decades old and very dear to her.

This was indeed a very unsettling experience for the poor old woman. Fortunately, this remarkable condition only lasted for three days, after which she claimed to be feeling the same attachment to her belongings as earlier. Everyone has been baffled by this curious case and nobody has been able to pinpoint a particular medical condition.

However, if anyone has become wiser from this incident, it is the psychiatrists. Many psychiatrists have stated that this case demonstrates the importance of material possessions. Without our material possessions, our feeling of self-expression and identity diminishes. This is pretty much what had happened to this woman. Her lack of ownership to her belongings created a void in her identity.

A 2011 Study on Neuroimaging

Melissa Dahl from the New York Magazine wrote that most people express their idea of self-identity through material possessions. She also stated that neuroscientists and psychologists are increasingly finding evidence to back her claim.

This is very much true. Several research studies have proven that there is enough empirical evidence to correlate our identity with our material possessions. A 2011 study on neuroimaging proved that there are certain regions of our brain which are devoted to our sense of ownership. In this study, researchers exposed participants to many material possessions, some of which belonged to them. As the participants looked at their own possessions, certain regions of their brain lit up. This effect was not present when participants looked at other people’s possessions.

This goes to show that certain areas of the brain are linked to self-concept and identity formation. In technical language, these brain areas correspond to “self-referential memory and encoding”.

You’ve probably noticed it too!

I know that you may still not convinced about the correlation between possessions and identity. But what if I tell you that you’ve probably noticed it yourself, just that you haven’t paid much attention?

If you have kids or toddlers in your home, then you’ll definitely see this correlation. Children often claim everything as “mine”. This concept of self develops in all of us from a very early age on. According to Melissa Dahl, children simply use possessions to inform themselves about their sense of self. And, this is something which keeps developing and does not disappear even with age.

And, to convince you further, you can always try looking at any curated home décor collection. Every curated collection is designed to reflect a particular personality. You’ll soon find that the products that you like are part of the same collection, meaning that certain people will be more attracted to them than others.

I’m sure that things are beginning to make more sense to you now. Our identity and our very sense of self is expressed to the world through our material possessions. Maybe that’s why we strive to own possessions that are unique – possessions that actually mean something to us.

So, the next time someone makes a comment on your endless shopping trips for home décor, don’t feel bad. Rather, you should proudly explain to them that by shopping for possessions, you are only enriching your identity and sense of self.

Do you agree with me or do you think I’ve just unloaded a ton of gibberish? Either way, do leave your comments in the section below and I’ll be more than happy to have a discussion with you on this topic.


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