Articulating S-f-Identity (WRITTEN IN 2014)



    Before we do anything regarding a rationale, we need to consider the meaning of self-identity. The meaning is quite complex and therefore difficult to communicate. We are not describing something that can be recognized by simple observation or a laboratory test based on a blood sample. Self-identity is a hypothetical construct rather than a physical entity, which means that it is not subject to direct measurement by objective instrumentation. This explains why there are not psychological instruments published to measure self-identity.

    Even though we can’t expect to obtain objective measurements of self-identity, that does not mean that the use of the construct, or concept, is unlikely to contribute to psychological understanding and improved practice.

    I am proposing that it is useful to facilitate the articulation of self-identified strengths, which can be considered indications of that person’s self-identity. I would also propose that self-articulated weaknesses could be helpful for indicating aspects of a person’s self-identity.  However, I am not interested in articulating weaknesses at this time, so in this rationale statement I am limiting it to the articulation of strengths.

    Unfortunately, the validity of these subjective articulations of strengths is difficult to demonstrate using standard psychometric procedures. Yet, I have observed that such self-articulations can provide new insights into the ways that individuals experience themselves, which seems similar to having insight into their self-identity.

    What I am proposing is that systematic guidelines for articulating statements of self-identified strengths do enable a participant to articulate part of his or her self-identity. I base this proposal on my own experiences, where I observed and studied the reactions of over 400 participants engaged in workshops taking place between 1988 and 2013. In these workshops, participants have articulated their strengths following systematic guidelines for engaging in the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process (DSAP). These workshops were held on the campus of the University of Washington, and evaluations clearly demonstrate that participants felt they had articulated their strengths and felt very positive about their experiences. The DSAP guidelines have also been incorporated in the book, Articulating Strengths Together (AST), which I authored in 2009.

    Because of the experiences mentioned above, combined with forty years of reading psychological literature on positive self-identity, I am proposing that coaches, and other practitioners who are facilitating the development of people seeking such assistance, use the DSAP/AST guidelines for articulating self-identified strengths.


    The benefits of having a positive perspective and being aware of one’s strengths have been clearly documented by research, most of which has been done by professionals identifying with Positive Psychology. There is little doubt that people benefit from articulating their strengths. What is less clearly known, are the optimal methods for learning about your positive identities. Which instruments or which techniques enable a person to articulate his or her most meaningful or “personally felt” strengths?

    There are many ways to learn new things about yourself. One of the ways is to respond to a carefully constructed instrument that was designed to compare your responses to those of other people, so that certain patterns or scores on well-designed scales can show you how you are different or alike other well-known types of people who serve as norm groups. This is called an objective approach to identifying traits or characteristics previously studied and categorized for comparison purposes. In contrast, a subjective approach asks you to remember a number of memorable past experiences, and identify how the experiences might have been alike or different, and then to articulate the names of the qualities that differentiated some experiences from other experiences.  The primary difference between the two approaches, is that in the (1) objective approach, the names of the qualities or characteristics are predetermined by studying large groups of people and finding well-identified themes or patterns which have been found over and over again; while in the (2) subjective approach, the individual identifies ways in which different personal experiences were alike and different, and then articulates his or her own name for those ways.  In other words, in the subjective approach the person is using his/her own words to describe the traits or characteristics (in this case, personal strengths) that s/he recognized; while in the objective approach, the names of the strengths are provided by the people who designed the inventory.

    The advantage of the subjective approach is that the participant articulates words s/he used to differentiate among personal experiences, thereby anchoring the articulated strengths within the locus of previous experiences, which can be, remembered when the strengths-words are used to describe personal characteristics.  Such personalized words can provide meanings that are tied to real personal experiences, so that such words are closer to the person’s self-identity. This process of self-articulation is more meaningful than getting a list of strengths represented by words often unfamiliar to the person taking the inventory.

    Since, self-identities are usually created or developed in close relationships with others, it is advantageous to articulate these personalized descriptions of strengths in small group interactions. During these interactions, others in the group suggest names for the qualities that differentiated among different experiences, which had been described by the person attempting to articulate his or her strengths. The DSAP/AST guidelines were designed to be used when 3 to 5 people taking turns describing previous good experiences and each articulating their personalized strengths.


    While the complete self-identities of participants cannot be identified or articulated by DSAP/AST methods, partial self-identities, such as descriptions of a few prioritized self-identified strengths, can be articulated using these methods.  These partial self-identities, which are articulated by participants in small groups, are especially useful because the self-identified strengths are described with words that come from the actual vocabulary of the person who is differentiating among personal experiences. These are experiences s/he has recalled and described while in small groups of fellow participants who are also articulating their own personalized strengths. This subjective approach taps the personal experiences and the words used to differentiate among those experiences, thereby getting closer to each participant’s self-identity.

    It is recommended that every coach, or professional trying to help clients reach their potential, start with a process like the DSAP/AST, which enables each client to become more articulate in describing his/her positive self-identity.    

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