Hunter is a Clinical Psychologist M.A. (PsyD 2023) who specializes in mood, anxiety, and trauma disorders.
Forming Our Identities
A person’s identity really starts to form during adolescence because this is when we form the ability to think about ourselves in abstract terms.
- Who am I?
- What can I become?
- How might my life be different if I was black instead of white, male instead of female?
Adolescence is also the time when we have the chance to enter the world and be on our own. Mandatory schooling ends during the teenage years and people have the chance to get a job, go to college, join the military, or just explore the world. Family, friends, and teachers begin to encourage adolescents to think about their lives in more abstract and long-term perspectives.
- What are you going to do with your life?
- What kind of life do you want to have?
Adolescents have the freedom to explore different parts of their identity and decide which parts they want to keep and which they want to replace. Forming one’s identity can be a long, exhilarating, and sometimes challenging process that in the end results in a person knowing who they are and the road that they want to travel.
Although identity formation is an important and necessary task that all people must complete, it can be more challenging for some. Sexual identity is an important part of one’s identity that can cause someone to experience anguish and self-doubt.
Although today’s society is much more open and accepting than it was in the past, people still have trouble finding and accepting their sexual identity if what they identity as is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. These types of sexual identities are not as well received by most people because some people believe that the only true sexual identity is heterosexual, and that homosexuality is an illness that can be cured. However, there are also people who are accepting of all sexual identities and believe that all love is real.
An issue that can occur when an adolescent is trying to figure out his sexual identity depends on whether or not his family and friends are accepting of alternate sexual lifestyles.
If a boy grows up in home where there are strict traditional values of how men and women should behave, and his father uses homophobic slurs then it will be a lot harder for him to accept that he identities as gay then another boy who grew up in a less traditional, more progressive home where his parents taught him to accept everyone. The boy who was made to feel ashamed of his sexual identity is more likely to repress his feelings and stay in the closet which can lead to increased anxiety, depressive feelings, and thoughts of suicide. This could lead him to need future therapy in order for him to accept who he really is and alleviate the feelings of shame, guilt, and disgust that he has experienced for the past several years because he was taught to believe that being homosexual was wrong.
Another part of identity that can lead an adolescent to have contested feelings is racial identity. Most people are born into one race and therefore know exactly what race and culture they belong to. However, there are those who have parents of two different races and are considered biracial.
People who are from two or more races may have a more challenging time figuring out their racial identity.These are just some examples of questions a biracial person could ask themselves when trying to understand their racial identity.
- Do I belong equally to both groups?
- Is one race/culture more important than the other?
- Should I call myself one race (black) or the other (white)?
One way a person could work through this inner conflict is by taking the time to understand the races and cultures that both their parents came from. Learning the language, food, religion, and history of both races could help an adolescent better understand their parents and themselves. While this may be the ideal way of tackling one’s racial identity, it is not always so easy.
In countries such as the United States, some races are still considered better than others. People may not come right out and say it to another person’s face but there are stereotypes and biases that persist. This is especially relevant when it comes to Black populations. The US’s history of slavery and the current political climate have allowed the growth of a deep-seated and intense distrust of those who are black. This can be especially hard for a person of black and white ancestry.
An adolescent who is mixed with one white parent and one black parent may have a difficult time balancing their two races. The white side of their family may think they are not as good as them because they are half black and the black side of their family may think they act like they are better than them because they are half white. This can lead to an intense divide within the adolescent and may cause anxiety, depression, and even imposter syndrome to develop. Imposter syndrome occurs when a person feels as though they are a fraud and has a constant fear of being found out.
An adolescent who has not yet been able to form a strong definition of their racial identity may feel like they do not belong anywhere and can feel like a fraud when with those of either race. When with white peers they may feel like they are constantly on the verge of being outed as half-black and vice versa when they are with black peers. Feeling like an imposter can make it extremely difficult for an adolescent to learn to accept and take pride in their racial identity. This can have a detrimental impact on that adolescent’s mental health that could require future clinical interventions.
Importance of Identity
Identity is an important concept that shapes who a person is and how they choose to live. Accepting and understanding one’s identity is essential to the development of a person’s mental health.
Any doubts about a part of one’s identity could lead to the formation of anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders. Our identity gives us a sense of who we are and who we have the opportunity to be. Without it we would all be the same and there would be no uniqueness in the world.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Hunter
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 25, 2020:
Good analysis. Thanks.