Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world.

Mentally, I don’t want to have such a strong identity-affinity to Egypt. I have serious issues with the place. But it’s not only that. I also happen to think that human beings should be able to belong wherever they feel safe and at home. That would mean I should also identify as American. But I don’t. It should also mean that I’m beginning to identify as British. I don’t, simply because I’m not British. I haven’t been given that as a choice.

My dad was a staunch Egyptian. He criticized a million things about the country, its leaders, and many of its people. He did so until the day he died. Yet he refused American citizenship. He didn’t want to be anything but Egyptian no matter what the country did to him and it did a lot. My dad’s example has left something inside of me that I can’t remove no matter what I do.

But if I removed myself from my Dad’s teachings, what would I identify myself as? If I was raised somewhere else by different parents? If I lived for a longer period of time somewhere else? If I was born into a different religion? If I was exposed to different experiences? How different would I be from the Nadia I am now? Where is the core essence of Nadia irrespective of all the influences? Have you ever wondered that? I wonder about that all the time.

So I’m constantly trying to scratch beneath the surface and find my core.

In my core, there is always motherhood.

But I’m not sure I’m Egyptian in my core. I think my core is much more universal than having a belonging to one single piece of land.

In my core, I think I am a person who doubts rather than a person who believes. I am a person who has more questions than blind-faith-like answers.

In my core, I don’t even really find a woman as such. I just find a human being. I’m a human being who happens to be a woman and who happens to be comfortable in her skin as one.

Perhaps those are the values that a Nadia minus the influences would hold. Those are, at least, some of the values that I try to steer myself towards these days. And if ever I find myself going in a different direction I stop, I hold a pow-wow with my many selves, and we ask each other if we’re who we all really want to be.

Who do we really want to be? Is something holding us back? If so, what? I find that the only thing ever really holding me back from being the person I’d like to be is me.


  1. This article is _as I think_ consederd one of the most important approaches to recognize the importance of self_esteem & self_confidence … Assures that getting into the circle of Integrity is more important than what you do or what are you belong to … “Identify yourself as you are the Whole not only part of it” …. great job 👍

  2. In your list of how people identify, you didn’t include the C word – class. We are always told that the British and particularly the English are class obsessed. Personally I’ve never really noticed this but, as an incomer, have you observed this? And yes, I know that I often have a gentle dig at “oop north” that is only in fun.

    1. Oh but I did mention class. You’re SKIMMING! I don’t think I’ve mixed with enough people in the UK to be able to judge if they classify themselves according to class. I suppose I see it on TV shows. I think class distinctions are even stronger in developing world countries. It’s almost a superiority complex sort of thing – or the opposite: some members of the upper class in the developing world continue to feel inferior to other members of the upper class in the world in general so they act out in a superior sort of way on those “beneath them”.

  3. I think that the most important part of this post is your saying: “I am a person who has more questions than blind-faith-like answers.” To me this implies continuing personal growth. If we fail to question, or be sceptical of what we experience, we often miss the opportunity to adapt. If we don’t adapt, we die – mentally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. My hope is that the younger generation, in MENA countries especially, will continue to question until, in time, they can effect change for the better.

  4. I would definitely like to learn mine.. What kind of a life should i be living in order to feel satisfied? Should i listen to my inner music or the teachings i happen to know from environment.. Which way i ll be happier, beneficial? Which way the Creator would be content with me? Is my happiness the priority? Should it be? Or is it all about suppressing, pressurizing? Are my wishes, my ideas, priorities, longings there for a reason or just to be ignored? Should i listen to them? Are they compatible with the divine plan? Dont wanna leave this life in an unsatisfied position, dont wanna have a second life in a miserable condition.. Recently im feeling like doubt and questioning should be a good thing for all the humanity, without that we can not widen our visions, our worlds.. The problem is that while its getting wider it swallows some parts that without those parts u only feel in chaos.. Chaos frightens, but settling back to ur previous position feels silly.. Hope to find answers.. Hope to have a satisfactory journey which is actually a victory..

  5. Hmmm. We strongly identify different things at different times in life.

    I probably most strongly identify myself as a Canadian of Asian descent. It creeps into my blog without me planning it much.. Since a personal blog often may reflect what the person likes the most to talk, show to others. I actually can’t seem to shake the core of how I centre my world based where I was born and have lived all my life.

    2nd one would be as a woman mid life (well, more than that) as partner, daughter and sister.

  6. Dear Nadia, once again o was pleased to read your thoughts and wish that more people would once in a while ask themselves similar questions. Not to doubt themselves but to at least question their exsistence.

    Best Regards

  7. I love your post. It’s important to talk to yourself and think about who you are. And I have a lot left to cover, but at 28 I’ve realized that it’s not about figuring who and what you are to the smallest detail. It’s about, at least for me, letting myself change and rediscover my identity. Letting myself be me.
    I also believe that if more people would express similar thoughts as yu have above, there would be far less suffering and hurt caused to others. If we dealt with our identities, we wouldn’t care as much about that of other people.

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