Core Ideas of IRC

Identity Renegotiation Counseling focuses on a few key ideas. Counselors/therapists working from this perspective view their clients as competent and capable of making change, but at the same time experiencing issues created by the challenge of coordinating their identities with others. This renegotiation of identities is seen not as a simple task, but rather as a lifelong challenge. Those who succeed find greater support from others and are more comfortable and effective in their lives. Core ideas include:


A person does not have a single identity or a “true” identity; instead we all have many identities. We are not separate “selves,” from this perspective, and we don't have "personalities." Instead we have intertwined “relational selves” and we share group identities of many kinds. Our identities are not permanent features of who we are because we are influenced by the situations we are in—-including the people around us. 

Individually and in groups, people have a universal desire for recognition and validation (positive identities). At various times in their lives, however, people can become overwhelmed by negative identities, with overlays of shame and doubt that lead to withdrawal and manipulation. Changing those identities is not something they can do independently because identities are interpersonal and change is a collaborative process.


Identities are often embedded in people’s individual and shared narratives—-their tendency to focus on certain events in their lives and their interpretations of those events. Rather than focusing on people's “thoughts”, this approach focuses on the shared meanings that they create as they live. 

Stories of all kinds (narratives) are essentially interactive, in that every audience influences the storyteller. In the case of identity stories, they are developed, told, and retold in “discourse communities” which are social groups with shared meanings and realities.


When we talk about renegotiating identities, we are referring to two kinds of negotiation: collaborative renegotiation of the identities we have worked out with others, and internal renegotiations--power struggles--among the identities that show themselves in different situations. 

The term “negotiation” is often heard as “fight” or “struggle,” whereas it more accurately refers to coordination. A complete approach to negotiation includes: acceptance of limitations (You can’t ever gain control over the world), understanding of power (there is no such thing as power-free interactions between people), awareness of influence (people are always trying to change each other), and enhanced influence strategies (better processes produce better outcomes). 

Negotiation is interactive, and the process is easier when people are aware of its pitfalls. For those who share advanced negotiation skills, conflicts are not crises but opportunities for growth.


Human behavior often makes sense when understood in context. Humans are specialized in adapting to our circumstances. Because no two situations are exactly the same, in different situations we can expect to find different thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

As relationships change over time, they become new contexts for everyone involved and new behavior is a natural result. Whereas a climate of rejection, competition, and punishment may have called forth defensiveness and aggression, a climate of acceptance calls forth cooperation.