I could not "define" myself for a long time. I even went on a journey to Morocco to find myself.


Did you know?

Each identity is unique and is constantly evolving. During adolescence, you will have many opportunities to discover your values, goals and interests. Learning to figure out your own values, goals and figures takes time and is a quest. Healthy identity development results in a strong internal compass. Young people who are confused about their identity find it difficult to see which direction they want to go in life. This can lead to stress about choices.


Questions such as "Who am I?" and "What do I want to achieve in life?" are part of healthy identity development. Nobody can be reduced to one characteristic or role. For example, you may be simultaneously Belgian, Flemish, a resident of Bruges, a son, a brother, an artist, sporty, social, sensitive and attracted to men.

Your identity consists of several layers that are interwoven. Your roots, your character, your sexual orientation, your personal values, interests and goals are all part of your identity.

A dynamic process

Identity is also very dynamic. Your identity develops throughout your life. The importance you attach to something may also shift. Your identity takes shape at key moments in your life.

Puberty as a boost


During puberty, you start a strong search for your own values, interests and goals. You attach great importance to the opinions of friends and often experiment with these. By trying out different styles of clothing, for example, you discover more about yourself. Or you try out different hobbies to find out where your interests lie and what relaxes you.

The transition to higher education also offers you many opportunities to further develop your identity. Choosing a course, career, partner and housing are all key moments in your identity development.

No end point

Identity has no end point. Even adults continue to shape their identity. Certain life events, such as a divorce or the loss of a partner, can also lead to a (forced) reshuffling or redefinition of existing identities.

And sometimes we are assigned an identity. For example, we do not consciously choose to be the daughter of, the victim of, or to contract a disease such as cancer. These roles and life events play a part in how we develop and view ourselves.

Your environment has an influence

Identity is also social. You form your identity by relating to others. Others shape your identity by how they look at you and treat you. It is not only people you like who help shape your identity; the people you dislike also have an influence on you.

During adolescence, you attach great importance to what your friends think and feel. Are your friends positive about something? Then the chances are that this new choice will become part of your identity.

Your internal compass

Your internal compass brings together your personal values, goals and interests and helps you make new (identity) choices. It also supports you to assess new challenges on your path, to adjust your choices where necessary and to be resilient in difficult situations.

Search for yourself

Being who you are is important. It is also okay if you do not yet know who you are or want to be. It is normal that sometimes you do not feel so good about yourself because you do not know what or where. Getting to know your own values, goals and interests takes time.

The search is different for everyone:

Some young people actively seek out information on the various options and discuss them with those around them, which offers the chance to make convincing choices that you really support and feel good about.

For other young people, the search is confusing. Think of themes for which there is less information available or which may still be taboo to talk about, such as the search for your sexual orientation. You may worry about what those around you will think about this.

Sometimes, those around you also put pressure on you, which can lead to you making the choice that parents, family and/or friends want you to make, or to you displaying a kind of contrarian reaction and thereby adopt the opposite identity that your parents hope for.

Sometimes you really don't know which way you want to go in life. You experience choice stress and avoid making relevant choices, which can lead to an inner emptiness.

It is worth investing that time. By considering your own internal compass, you feed your basic psychological need for autonomy and you can more easily set your course, stick to it and react resiliently during difficult periods.


Seek help, and do something. If you stay in the station and don't take a train, you won't go anywhere.


Inspiration for your search

Take control of your search and explore the different options.

  • Explore: research the different options and weigh them up against each other. You do this by first looking widely at what is possible. Then you explore in depth what the choices imply
  • Commit: make a choice and actively commit to it. This means that you always assess new challenges on your path in relation to this choice.

By first exploring before committing to a choice, you make choices with a lasting positive outcome. If you have not yet explored all your options, but already know what you want, you end the choice process prematurely. This can cause you to come back to that choice later in life because you only realise later that this choice was not necessarily in line with who you really are.

Make conscious choices

Choosing is not losing. Choosing is building in rest and providing yourself with anchor points, which make it easier to assess the choices on your path.

Find a community

When your identity or a sub-identity is under pressure, for example from a stereotypical reaction from people around you about one of your sub-identities, a network can be of great importance. In a community you find like-minded people, and feel more able to be yourself, so you can look at yourself in a more positive light.

Place yourself centrally and put on your ABC glasses

Discover how you can fulfil your need for autonomy (i.e. I can be myself), belonging (i.e. I am connected) and competence (i.e. I can develop myself). These three basic psychological needs drive your motivation and development. By paying more attention to how you can nourish these needs, you take the reins of your life more firmly in your own hands.

Take control of your life: LifeCraft

LifeCraft is an online self-help programme that teaches you to pay more attention to your ABC needs. The tasks it sets allow you to discover how to spend more time on what you feel is truly important. Through your choices you can give direction to your life, recharge your ABC battery and feel more energetic.

Talk about it


Don't feel good about yourself? Do you keep struggling with who you are or what you want to do?

Talk to somebody you trust and feel good around, preferably someone you know, like a good friend, your parents or your siblings.

If you struggle to talk to someone in your immediate surroundings, try to approach a person who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student advisor at your college or university.

Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always contact Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or tele-onthaal.be). For questions about suicide, reach out to the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be)

Worried about a friend?

Do you notice that a friend is searching for himself or herself, or can be difficult? Then you may not know what to say. Discuss the problem – don't judge and talk from your concern. A sentence like "You are quieter than I am used to you being" can open the door for your friend to acknowledge the situation.

Standing stronger: students and expert sharing experiences

Host Carola talks to student Mathias and Maarten Vansteenkiste, professor in developmental psychology at Ghent University. The topic of this episode is the ABC of psychology. The ABC of psychology is a framework that revolves around the three basic psychological needs for mental well-being.

Keep to learn, read or hear more about this topic?


Self help

TED Talks


Books and articles

  • Vansteenkiste, M. & Soenens, B. (2015). Vitamines voor groei. Ontwikkeling voeden vanuit de zelf-determinatie theorie. Acco.
  • Vandenkerckhove et al. (2016). Het noorden kwijt? Het intern kompas als houvast bij het studiekeuzeproces. Caleidoscoop, 28(4), 26-34.