Self and identity

The self and our identity refer to the conditions that make us who we are. It is characteristics such as personality and ability, but also beliefs and qualities. The combination of all of these distinguish us from others. The self mostly refers to how our internal, reflective life exhibits itself in our external environment. Identities refer to social roles such as being a student or being someone’s child. While we may associate with many forms of identities such as race, gender, nationality or social status, our self boils down to the choices we make and the behaviours that we exhibit. A lot of what we get from life is not our choice, but who we want to become is.


Transitioning into university

University can be an amazing chance to expand the self. It offers a lot of freedom to create new identities by learning new things and widening personal horizons. For many of us it is the first time that we are living away from home and this can provide many opportunities to choose how we shape who we will become. Our selves and our identities are dynamic – they are always subject to change, especially when we are transitioning into life as a student in university.

There are many ways to shape our identity in a positive way at university. A fundamental way to do this is by finding likeminded people. Through our accommodations, sport clubs, societies, or simply through the unions, university offers a wide range of opportunities to meet and engage with all sorts of people. It is likely that there are plenty of people that share similar beliefs, values and interests to you. You need only go out there and find them. While it can be daunting at first it is truly worthwhile for you to approach people at every opportunity, you never know what may come of it! The potential new affiliations that we may gain by stepping out of our comfort zone will always add something to our self. The smallest interactions can turn out to be life changing. Have fun, be kind and be open to try out new things. This way, your potential for personal growth may be boundless.

However, if you are happy the way you are then that is great as well. As amazing as the opportunities are at university, it is important to always show our selves some compassion. Be kind to your self and realise that there is no pressure for you to change who you are. You shouldn’t let yourself be pressured if, for example, you feel as if you have to to fit in. This may just mean that you haven’t found the right people yet. Staying true to ourselves and not letting our path to self-discovery be guided by external forces is just as important as acknowledging the many opportunities for personal growth.


Top Tips

  • Compassion – Remind yourself to be compassionate to yourself. We may often feel as if we are not enough and that we have to achieve something to be of higher value. While a drive to achieve is healthy, our self-chatter can sometimes be negative. It is important to realise that we are who we are for reasons often outside of our control. Be aware that there is always room for improvement – where there is a will there is a way. Be patient with yourself and show yourself some compassion along your path of development. Showing yourself some compassion may include things like taking time out from studying to do something you love by yourself. For example, going for a walk in the park, drawing, cooking. It could be anything!
  • Reflection/awareness – While at university many changes can occur within ourselves while we are developing and maturing at a fast pace. Reflecting on these changes and being aware of them can be really helpful to put the positives and negatives into perspective. Try keeping a diary or keep your friends and family up to date on your progress.


Helpful reading, websites and videos

  • Paul Gilbert The Compassionate Mind
  • Helen Jenkins and Melanie Fennell Building Self-Esteem
  • Russ Harris The Reality slap: How to find fulfilment when life hurts
  • Teena Selig What I wish I knew when I was 20
  • Hetain Patel – Who am I? Think again


Internal university services

The Students’ Representative Council – Advice Centre

John McIntyre Building, University Avenue Glasgow G12 8QQ

Tel: 0141 330 5360



Counselling and Psychological Services

67 Southpark Avenue

Glasgow G12 8LE

Tel: 0141 330 4528



Glasgow University Nightline

Nightline is a confidential telephone support and information service run for students, by trained student volunteers run by the Glasgow University SRC. Available every night of term from 7pm to 7am contact them on

+44 (0)141 334 9516.


Peer Support

Peer support can best be reached over the Peer Support section of the CaPS website . Check for their weekly drop-in sessions during term time or approach one of the peer supporters in their purple hoodies.