The philosopher Owen Flanagan puts it this way: “We are born into families and communities with an image of persons already in place. We have no say about the location in space of images into which we are born. The image antedates us, often by centuries. . . . Once we reach an age where we do have some control, we work from the image, from the story that is already deeply absorbed, a story line that is already part of our self-image.” We can become stout defenders of that self-image even as it becomes less and less about ourselves and more and more about an externally imposed image…..
……We hear a lot about identity theft when someone takes your wallet and pretends to be you and uses your credit cards. But the more serious identity theft is to get swallowed up in other people’s definitions of you. You get so immersed in the external agendas, the cultural story, the political and social pressures, that you lose the sense of who you are and what you could do in life. I call this “the real identity theft.” This identity theft is very real and going on all of the time simply because people do not distinguish between their own mind and the mind of the culture.