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How do social surroundings shape a person's self-identity? Each of us is at the center of our own world. Each individual experiences his or her own life more fully than anyone else can. No one else knows what our life is like each day, minute by minute. For each of us, our own tapestry of highly personal and unique experiences influences how we perceive ourselves.

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Carter Westfall eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

bookB.A. from University of the Western Cape, South Africa

calendarEducator since 2014

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This is an intricate question for which there are no clear-cut, definitive responses, since individuals respond differently to the same circumstances and in other instances individuals may act and respond in a similar manner although they come from different circumstances.

If one takes the lead suggested by your excellent thesis statement, the suggestion is that we are the masters of our own identity and we fabricate our personalities based on what we deem essential, either consciously or unconsciously. Since each of our perceptions of the world is unique, we will each respond differently. We each possess a free will and should therefore be able to make our own choices.

What complicates matters, though, is that we are continuously bombarded with conditions, images, ideas and perceptions from which we have to choose. These perceptions are not our own, but it is how we relate to them which influences our perception of self and therefore our identity. In this regard, then, it is still our choice. If for example a person is born into impoverished circumstances, he or she may choose to either accept his or her destiny and remain poor or decide to live beyond those circumstances and become successful. In such instances, the social circumstances in which the person lives may condition him or her either positively (change) or negatively (acceptance). In both instances, the perception of self forms the core motivation for either acceptance or change, but the social conditions, ultimately, are not the sole determining factor.

Furthermore, the question delves into the conundrum of whether we are products of nurture or nature. Are we the products of our own free will (inherently inclined to be what we are) or are we formed by our circumstances? If our self-perception is based solely on our circumstances, it should then be obvious that if we come from the same circumstances, we would all perceive ourselves in the same way. And if our self-perception is based entirely on free will (we decide to see ourselves as we see fit) despite our circumstances, then we'll obviously have different opinions of who and what we are.

Also, one should consider that our self-judgment is often based on the comparisons we tend to make between ourselves and what we perceive. Others' perceptions of us may also influence our self-esteem only insofar as we allow ourselves to be affected by their judgment.

As you can see, there is no clear-cut argument which entirely supports either point of view. One should rather consider the idea that our self-perception is influenced by both our circumstances and our nature. History is too profoundly littered with a rich tapestry of individuals who literally "rose out of their circumstances" and imprinted their unique identity on the world for us to simply believe that our social surroundings, ultimately, are the sole influence on our self-perception.  

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Social surroundings can have a tremendous impact on how we perceive ourselves.  Let us look at two examples.

Here in the United States, we are constantly bombarded with messages about what our lives should be like.  We see advertisements and TV shows that seem to show us what “normal” people’s lives are like.  If, for example, a child grows up knowing that his family does not have all the things that “normal” people have, he may develop a self-identity that is based around the idea that he is poor and deprived.

In addition, the way we are treated by others helps to define how we see ourselves.  A child who is constantly praised by her teachers for being smart will often come to define herself in that way.  Meanwhile, another child who is praised for her athletic ability will define herself very differently.

In these ways and many others, our surroundings can help to create our self-identity.

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johnsmith12321 | Student

Oh wah, beta wah!

gsenviro | Student

Social surrounding have a profound influence of how one perceives oneself. Whether it is the interaction with family or friends or neighbors or at school/workplace/etc. or through the media, all of that helps us prepare an image of ourselves.

For example, there is a great debate raging over the perception of white color as beautiful and black as non-beautiful. It is accentuated by skin care products that actually show the skin turning fairer and whiter when the product is applied. This instills a superior feeling in someone who's fairer and inferiority in someone who's darker. Similar is the argument with malnourished models being considered more attractive, leading teenagers to follow in the same steps to achieve a particular body type. These are just some of the current examples of what society perceives as desirable traits and how they influence people's perception about their own features and identity. 

Similarly, in today's competitive world, we (unfortunately) tend to judge students by grades, professionals by salary, women by beauty, etc. Anybody who is consistently judged better than his peers by these sets of socially accepted parameters may tend to think of him/herself as superior to others, while others may tend to suffer inferiority. 

Thus, our social surroundings affect our identity tremendously.

suzannah304 | Student

According to me,social surrounding has a deep impact upon's one's identity. What the society and the people think about you is you. If they think good of you, you'll be good but if they perceive you as a worthless person you'll be so. And this will have an effect towards your habits, behaviour, attitude,...AND ultimately you'll be the one the people think you are.