Did you know? Identity affects us more than we realize! According to the University of Guelph-Humber, a strong cultural identity is a significant contributor to mental health. According to Montreal psychologists, not only a strong cultural identity is associated with a lower incidence of depression, but also a lower incidence of suicides.
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What Is Identity?
Psychologists define identity simply as a sense of belonging to a group with a distinct culture, such as a family, ethnicity, religion, musical subculture, or day-to-day activities like a career or the gym. Identity gives us a sense of belonging to a particular group or community and plays a major role in regulating relationships. Identity allows us to predict each other's behaviors, makes us reliable to one another, makes us conform to one another, and increases social trust. When our environment is not homogenous, an when we lack experience with adversity to the point that we are unable to find common grounds with people around us, we are unable to identify with those surrounding us; in turn, this can lead to feelings of being atomized, nihilistic, rejected, excluded, or - even worse - ostracized. Such feelings can cause emotional pain that lasts a long time.
Most of us are familiar with the “ugly duckling”, a little bird born in a farm in search for his family, identity, and need to belong. He joins different bird families only being rejected as “ugly” and “not one of us”. So he starts believing that he is ugly and not good enough to belong to any group or family. Until, to everyone's amazement, he grows up and matures into a beautiful swan. This story sends us many messages some of which are transforming for the better through growth, acceptance, but more importantly, self-acceptance that often takes place through social acceptance. We can see ourselves through the eyes of the people around us.
Thus, it is not surprising that often teens relate and gravitate more to their friends than their family and parents. Once teens identify themselves with a certain group, they then conform to the group’s beliefs and behaviors only because they want to be accepted as they are looking to find their identity, sets of beliefs and behaviors, that most of the time, family tend to be critical and not approving of. So the “ugly duckling” needs to go out and mature into a beautiful self-accepting person at ease with his identity, before he can find acceptance and identity within his own group and family. Again, as mentioned earlier, this group and community that instills a sense of belonging in us can be anything from our own family, cultural group, musical or sport activities.
1. Pride & Identity
Taking pride in our identity and our people's achievements can instill a sense of self-confidence that motivates us to achieve even more than we otherwise would; in addition, identity can inspire us to think of our people and take care of them. Psychologists attribute this to an ability known as pattern recognition; when our people exhibit certain behaviors, we naturally tend to associate ourselves with those behaviors, and thus, the ability to achieve similar things. Identity serves as an inspiration to look up to our people's heroes, and in turn, such heroes can serve as excellent role models for our children and a guiding force for future generations. Cultural feats that many people take pride in include:
- Science & Math
2. Social Cohesion & Identity
With identity comes social norms, rules, and a common set of values; the benefit of homogeneity is that these social conventions are known in advance, and thus, we can interact with people within the same group without having to re-discover what activities are acceptable for every new person we meet. Furthermore, researchers with the Harvard University and the University of Cambridge have found that "in-group favoritism is a central aspect of human behavior". An example of “in-group favoritism” can be seen in the behaviors and patterns of integration of new (and old) immigrants. While thriving to integrate within the new culture, we connect and even somehow gravitate to people from our native culture. This helps us create a balance between “new and familiar”, “scary and safe”. The creation of cultural neighborhoods such as “Chinatown” and “Little Italy” is an example of the need to belong and feel safe within our own group. Although we should try our best to be cordial to those who do not share our identity, we also tend be cognizant that no one can truly understand us and stand up for us as well as our own people. As such, psychologists do not recommend having the same social standards or expectations - that we have of our own people - for other peoples, as it can be disrespectful and can even lead to conflict. For instance, eye contact in one culture is a sign of respect, while in another is considered lack of respect. Being able to predict (recognize behavioral patterns), instills a sense of safety, whereas not knowing and uncertainty can lead to anxiety.
3. Family Dynamics & Identity
Identity greatly affects family dynamics, as well. When we all share the same identity within a locality, we are more comfortable allowing our children to play with the neighborhood kids in a free and unstructured environment; researchers have found that unstructured play with minimal intervention makes kids better at managing themselves and their resources. Psychologists believe that this is due to the fact that when children are deprived from the ability to use parental authority as a means to exert their will over their peers, children are left with no other choice but to learn how to negotiate with their peers and navigate social pressures. However, when our neighbors do not share our identity, our children are more likely to feel rejected or excluded, and thus, we tend to be less comfortable allowing our children unstructured play; in turn, a lack of homogeneity effectively deprives our children from developing negotiation skills and social skills that would be of great benefit, later in life. When faced with such situations, avoidance only enforces ignorance. Show curiosity, get to know your neighbour, find a common ground with them as to help you identify with one another in at least one aspect, being music, sport, parenting etc. This not only helps you assess the safety of your children letting them play outside by themselves, but also teaches various skills to your child and helps them face adversity and enhances adaptability.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not to be misinterpreted as medical, clinical, or any other professional advice. The views expressed are opinions and / or ideas founded on research and clinical experience. These views are meant to provoke awareness and inquiry into various issues, and thus, create an open-minded dialogue, civil discussion, and respectful debate among our readers. Any claims made are subject to change should new studies be conducted that disprove these claims.
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