What Is the Difference Between Identity and Personality?

Some might think that the terms “identity” and “personality” are interchangeable, but there is a big difference between the two.

People have personalities that they display publicly, but their true identity is a secret waiting to be revealed only with time as you get to know them better.

To better understand the distinction between these terms, we asked experts to share their insights:

Stefanie Juliano

Stefanie Juliano

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Stefanie Juliano Therapy & NM Wellness Center, LLC

Our identities are formed through the choices we make

When thinking of identity, it may be easiest to think about what one relates to self-esteem, self-image, and individuality. Aspects such as:

  • Gender or racial identity
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • Occupation

It might even extend as far as role behavior.

Our identities are formed through the choices we make. They are made up
of both external and internal factors and things such as appearance, self-expression, interests, family/friends/coworkers, and life experiences. Also, likes, dislikes, personality traits or abilities, and a belief system helps contribute to your unique and distinctive identity.

Personality has been said to develop and change throughout our life

Personality is more personal behavior. When looking at personality, think about the concepts of feeling, thinking, or behaving/behaviors. It can also affect how one presents themselves or communicates with others.

Personalities can form based on a myriad of reasons; it tends to be recognizable and consistent and influences our behaviors and actions. Personality is not just behavior but rather encompasses relationships, thoughts/feelings, and interactions.

Personality has been said to develop and change throughout our life. It is both squired and inherited. Personality type also plays a role in various other aspects of one’s life, such as coping with stress and health/wellness.

Related: Why and How Do Men and Women Handle Stress Differently?

Human behavior which encompasses both identity and personality, has always been of interest to us and will continue to evolve as well an interest in personality tests and theories.

Dr. Brenda Wade

Brenda Wade

Clinical Psychologist | Relationship Advisor, Online for Love

Identity is composed of what drives you, your principles, core values, and philosophy

Identity is genuine and is composed of what drives you, your principles, core values, and philosophy. It is who you are physically and legally. Think ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, etc.

We have a choice to shape our identity in a positive way.

A good example is Willie Turner, a teenage gang member who was convicted of murder and was on death row. While on death row, Willie Turner had a major transformation of identity from an abandoned, hopeless, and severely acting out teenage gang member to a leader, mentor, teacher, and advisor to other teenage gang members.

He helped teens get out of gangs and form new identities. He saw the harm he had done when he was a teenager and made a choice to become better and be a role model for change. Sadly, despite the good he did in the world, he was still executed.

Identity can be shaped through our experiences for good and ill. True cultivation of positive identity can be a great challenge. It is a lifetime of work, but once the intention of having a positive identity is formed, then that identity continues to grow and evolve along that path.

Personality is the way that someone presents themselves

Personality is a compilation of all of their attributes (behavioral, temperamental, emotional and mental) that characterize them as an individual. Your personality is not you; your personality is how you act. You can and will change your personality during your life.

Think of identity as the seed of who you are and personality as the leaves and branches, all of which may be shed or renewed over time. Your personality can change; it may shed, flower, or ripen. Identity is the seed that may grow but is essentially the same.

Katie Ziskind, LMFT

Katie Ziskind

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Wisdom Within Counseling

Identity is how someone sees themselves

Identity and personality are two different things. Identity is how someone sees themselves. For some people, this can be fluid and change over time; for others, their identity is more constant and reliable.

Someone might identify in relation to their culture as an Italian, or someone might identify as transgender in their gender identity.

Identities can be based on culture, gender, expression, ethnicity, family, work, or really any aspect of who we are. Someone might identify as a dog lover, and someone else might identify as a cat lover. Identity can more easily be changed.

Personality is very dynamic and can impact our friends and loved ones in various ways

On the other hand, personality is something that someone has to really work on to change. Someone who has a narcissistic personality may naturally be more self-centered, have a tendency to blame others, and have a challenging time empathizing.

Someone who has narcissistic personality traits can work with a therapist to build empathy skills to emotionally validate their family members and start to change their personality for the better.

Also, someone’s personality might be kind-hearted, gentle, compassionate, courageous, friendly, humorous, or playful. Our personalities might change depending on the given situation or environment.

At work, you might bring out a different side of your personality to lead a meeting than when you are at home playing on the floor with your children and being silly. We can use our personalities to reach different goals in our life such as in a new job interview when you are bragging about your best qualities.

Personality is very dynamic and can impact our friends and loved ones in both positive and negative ways.

If someone has an intense personality, it can feel challenging for you to influence them, making it really hard to be around them. Other times, we need to have someone around us who has a more direct personality and has a more leadership-oriented style.

Margaret J. King, Ph.D.

Margaret King

Cultural Analyst | Director, The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis

Identity is a social construction

As a cultural analyst who studies human behavior driven by shared values (culture), I would say that identity is a social construction – who you are to other people by category:

  • Gender
  • Class
  • Context
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Language speaker, etc.

For example: Female, educated, urban, middle-aged, European-ancestry, English-speaker, and probably upper-middle-class.

This is your identity as projected to other people, consisting of categories already known. It also determines whether you are viewed as dominant (relatively powerful) and a member of an upwardly-mobile occupation (professional).

Personality is a construction that takes into account temperament

Personality is a construction that takes into account temperament, introvert v. extravert, mood, and sociability traits like verbal, amiability, conscientiousness, health aspects, etc.

This concept operates within the identity construct as a variation of individual taste and temperament, reflecting how easily you can operate socially with others. It might determine how eligible you appear as a team member, partner, or intimate partner in a romantic context.

People have relatively more control over their moods and personality expression than they do over their identity.

Sandy Grigsby

Sandy Grigsby

Personal Branding Image Expert

Your identity makes up who you are and how you present yourself to the world

I believe your identity is tied to how you see yourself – your beliefs, passions, job, interests, core values, and what you stand for. Your identity makes up who you are and how you present yourself to the world; it’s the core of your being that shapes your decisions, choices, and actions.

Your identity sets the stage for how you interact with the world, what you participate in, and what you defend or support in life.

For example, I identify as a creative person who uses my gifts and talents to empower others. I inspire people to create change in their lives, take action on the things they once feared, and use their personal brand to spread their unique message to the world.

I also identify as both black and white (being that I am biracial). I don’t exclusively identify with one group over another. This gives me autonomy as I can flow from one group of people to the next. I become ethnically ambiguous and can blend into any situation, in turn making me more dynamic, appealing, and interesting to people.

Identity is the foundation where one can govern and manage the choices made in life. Your identity gives you strength, allows you to create a framework from which you define the direction you are headed, and it keeps you on track when you feel lost.

It’s everything tangible about you, the story you tell, and who you are.

Your personality is the face you show to the world

On the other hand, your personality is the face you show to the world, as in how you present yourself, the way you create a mood, stir up feelings, and persuade others. It’s the expression, communication, and delivery mechanism for your message.

Your personality demonstrates traits such as being bubbly, playful, funny, serious, sarcastic, or stoic. It’s flexible, fluid, and adaptable.

You can change your personality at any given time, with your mood, thoughts, attitude, or even the realization of a new identity. A great personality can be influential, powerful, transformative, and alluring. A bad personality can be misleading, repulsive, and off-putting.

No matter good or bad, both deliver a message, so be certain that your personality is delivering the message that you want the world to know about you.

Over the years, my personality has shifted depending on the circumstances. However, deep down, my identity has always been consistent and has ultimately guided me to my success today.

Overall, your identity is your foundation, the heart of who you are, like the dense and delicious cake underneath the frosting. Your personality is the decorative frosting on top, the beauty you showcase to tell your story while giving others a glimpse of the spectacular foundation that makes up your cake.

Both identity and personality are imperative to each other, as your identity supports you and your personality attracts others, sparks interest, and influences the life you seek.

Dawn Taylor

Dawn Taylor

International Trauma Specialist | Life Coach Strategist, The Taylor Way

Your identity is your defining factor, while your personality is what makes you unique and quirky

When someone says, “tell me about yourself,” what do you say?

  • I am a coach
  • I am a wife
  • I am a gardener
  • I am a volunteer
  • I am an aunt
  • I am a sister
  • I am a woman
  • I am a friend
  • I am kind
  • I am hilarious
  • I am resilient
  • I am strong
  • I am motivated
  • I am driven
  • I am silly
  • I am stubborn

What a strange time we live in where we have lost what and who we are. Have you ever asked someone “tell me about yourself,” and their response was their job title? We have somehow become a society where our title has become our identity.

I remember asking a friend one time, “Who are you?”
Her response was, “I am a nurse.”

“But who are you?” I thought to myself.

  • Who are you outside of your job?
  • Who are you outside of the expectations you have of yourself?
  • Who are you outside of your paycheck?
  • Who are you outside of the expectations others have of you?

Your identity is your defining factor—what you or society has labeled you as. It is often how you want to be seen. Your identity is the list on the left above. But is this really who you are? Or is it just what you do? What labels do you have in your life? I am not saying that owning your identity is bad, but is it everything?

Your personality is what makes you unique and quirky! It is your sense of humor, level of vulnerability, drive, and motivation—all of the feels.

What if we put more focus on those instead of our identity? What if we intertwined them more? Instead of being just a label, you combined them. Every time someone tells me I am hilarious, or crazy or resilient, or so strange, I say, “Thank you.” Thank you for seeing the real me.

Some ways you can incorporate these:

  • Your identity? Homeowner. Your personality? Paint your walls with fun colors; step away from the greige color. Have a little fun with it. Break all the rules.
  • Your identity? Head of cooking at home. Your personality? Make it fun! Crank some music, have a dance party, try odd ingredients, have fun dishes. Make it you and not what you see on Pinterest or what your parents did.
  • Your identity? Life coach. Your personality? Label yourself the “ass-kicker, hope giver” as I did. Ok, not actually my label, but find one for you. Add your personality to it.

I see the struggle all the time with individuals when they have owned their identity so hard with no personality incorporated. But then, when their kids move away as adults, they lose their job, get divorced, or life just takes them down a different path than the one they were planning on, and they are destroyed.

How can you add a little more personality to your life? How can you change up your identity to be more than just the list above?

Natalie Maximets

Natalie Maximets

Certified Life Transformation Coach, Online Divorce

Personality is how you describe yourself, while identity is the qualities that set you apart from others

The question of identity and personality is important for a better understanding of yourself, your behavioral patterns, and your needs. At the same time, identity and personality are not the same things.

Personality is how you describe yourself; it is your sense of humor, your emotions, and how you react in different situations. In other words, this is who you are.

Identity is the qualities that set you apart from others, what makes you unique. It also implies self-determination and self-esteem; this is how you see yourself and the prism through which you look at other people.

Identity and personality are two very interesting concepts, and the line between them is very blurred. Both of these meanings can differ in the context of social and psychological aspects. But if we consider it from a psychological point of view, the personality is part of the identity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can identity and personality ever overlap?

Absolutely! In fact, they often do. Our personality traits and behaviors can contribute to our sense of identity and vice versa. For example, someone who strongly identifies as an introvert may exhibit personality traits such as shyness or reserve.

Can identity or personality be influenced by external factors?

Yes, identity and personality can be influenced by various external factors, such as social norms, life experiences, and cultural values. For example, someone who grows up in a highly competitive environment may develop a more competitive personality.

In contrast, someone who experiences discrimination or marginalization may have a stronger sense of identity tied to their social group.

How can it be helpful to understand the difference between identity and personality?

Understanding the difference between identity and personality can help us better understand ourselves and others. It can also help us navigate complex social situations and communicate more effectively. 

For example, if we know that a person’s behavior is determined by their personality rather than their identity, we may be more empathetic and understanding when interacting with them. 

Conversely, we can be more respectful and mindful of someone when we know that their identity is important to them.

Is one more important than the other?

Neither identity nor personality is inherently more important than the other. Both contribute to our sense of self and shape our behavior and interactions with others. However, depending on the situation, one of the two traits may be more important or have more influence than the other.

For example, personality traits such as confidence or teamwork may be more important in a job interview than identity factors such as race or gender.

How can I improve my understanding of my own identity and personality?

There are a number of ways to improve your understanding of your own identity and personality, such as:

• Engaging in self-reflection and introspection to better understand your values, beliefs, and priorities.
• Seeking feedback from others to gain insight into how you’re perceived and how your behavior affects those around you.
• Engaging in activities such as journal writing or therapy to explore your thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

How can I use my understanding of identity and personality to better connect with others?

Understanding your own identity and personality will help you better connect with others by:

• Allowing you to identify and empathize with shared experiences or perspectives.
• Helping you recognize and respect differences in your identity or personality.
• Improving your ability to communicate and collaborate effectively.

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