Many identities are simply false.
Identity is subtle because it takes no thought. By osmosis you absorb one influence after another, until the voices in your head, the opinions you automatically spout, the list of likes and dislikes that are stored away in memory, all become second nature. It takes thought and intelligence to scrape away these encrusted judgments, for they are judgments born of choice.
An infant may have no choice but to absorb influences as if by osmosis, out of the air, so to speak. But by a very early age we all formed a critical faculty; the choice-maker inside us has been a conscious mechanism ever since.
For me as an individual to be free, I have to confront myself with questions about who I really am, and this is done in large part by examining the layers of false identity that I mistakenly call me. The practical side of this process comes down to one very simple question that happens to grow a thousand arms, like a mental octopus.
Am I thinking for myself?
Or am I thinking like: a typical Indian; a typical doctor; a typical Californian; a typical American; a typical middle-aged male; a typical person at my income level.
Like it or not, we are all typical. We attach some part of our identity to external groups and status. We identify with money and possession, success and failure. These are the outer layering of the false self, the typical reactions that I think are my own but really belong to a whole type of person.
Adapted from: Peace Is the Way, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2005).