How does the identity change happen | Psychology today


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Personal identity connects who we are, have been and could become. Although apparently fixed, the identity can be changed. Indeed, identity transformation is sometimes necessary, even therapeutic, for example to facilitate the modification of unhealthy behaviors (overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, drug addiction) or to adapt to new circumstances (life after the loss, diagnosis of ‘a serious illness).

When successful, identity change helps overcome new problems and challenges. Failure to do so may result in fragmentation or identity confusion.

So how do people change identities? What are the mechanisms associated with identity change?

In this article, I summarize an article in press in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, which reviews the potential mechanisms of identity change interventions.

A model of identity change

Many of the interventions examined in the paper were based on a theory of identity change called the Social Identity Model of Identity Change (SIMIC).

SIMIC suggests that successful adaptation and adjustment to stressors often requires a change in social identity. For example, a man who decides to permanently reduce his working hours to care for his sick child may identify less with the role of employee than with the role of father and caregiver.

The theory places particular emphasis on the role of shared identity and purpose in enabling successful adaptation in response to good or bad stressors (e.g., graduation, marriage, becoming a parent, winning the lottery, retirement , chronic disease). The likelihood of successful adaptation, suggests SIMIC, is higher for those who stay in touch with old social relationships, establish new relationships and remain members of more than one group.

Imagine that a young woman decides, after years of medical school, not to become a doctor. This means that she is now faced with the stressful task of redefining who she is. SIMIC suggests that the identity change and transition will be easier and less stressful if the person is a member of more than one group (e.g., volunteer organization, tennis club, church) than if their entire identity is tied to being a student or a future doctor.

And if she can stay in touch with family and friends since college while also establishing new relationships with others (for example, with employees at a new workplace), she will benefit from social support, d ‘a shared identity and a sense of continuity during stressful times. transition period.

Research on techniques used to change identity

With this background in mind, we turn to the review article by Barnett et al. on the mechanisms of identity change. The qualitative synthesis included 22 surveys, such as a group cognitive behavioral therapy treatment, self-help groups (for example, to quit smoking) and an exercise program for the elderly. The most common model used in the above surveys was SIMIC. Analysis of the data revealed a list of eight mechanisms.

1. Greater self-awareness. Identity change often begins with recognition problematic behaviors and their negative consequences. Such recognition is an essential part of the 12-step recovery programs for addiction and alcohol abuse. Self-awareness and acceptance are also necessary to integrate a disability identity or manage chronic illness. Recognizing, rather than ignoring or denying, the specific needs related to a health problem or disability is the first step towards agency and empowerment.

2. Social networks. In most studies, there was a link between identity change and the development of social bonds or a sense of belonging. For example, a self-help group for people with mental illness facilitated the formation of a new social identity by “encouraging, providing opportunities and reinforcing actions that adhere to the values ​​of the group. [i.e. mutual help]. “

3. Behavior change. Another mechanism of identity change involved promoting behavior change, for example by teaching relevant skills, modeling healthy coping strategies, encouraging helping behaviors, encouraging exercise or training. committing to behave in a manner consistent with the desired identity. The change in behavior appeared to alter perceptions of self, “leading to a perception of self as more worthy, worthy, competent and capable”.

4. Improved self-efficacy. The change of identity was also linked to the development of a greater sense of agency, control and mastery. For example, participants in a narrative intervention for chronic aphasia felt that improving communication skills and recalling past abilities and accomplishments allowed them to see themselves in a new way (as more competent and in touch). control).

5. Reduced stigma. Other results showed that reducing shame and stigma could motivate or facilitate identity change. Reducing the shame and stigma associated with, for example, mental illness, chronic illness, disability, or a history of crime or prostitution enabled participants to integrate these aspects of themselves or their lives. personal story into a richer and more positive self-concept, allowing them to feel more confident in their own goodness, abilities and worth.

6. A greater sense of purpose. A healthy identity change has also been facilitated by engaging in meaningful and socially useful activities, such as providing instrumental or emotional support (including to those struggling with the same issues as the individual), dealing with problems affecting the community, contributing to society as a whole, or the protection of the environment.

7. Access to resources. Better access to social support, psychological support and practical resources seemed to facilitate identity change. For example, in a study of people with chronic illness, family support helped patients come to terms with their diagnosis.

Tumisu / Pixabay

Source: Tumisu / Pixabay

8. Reject counter-normative identities. The less common theme was the view that rejection of socially unexpected or unwanted identities motivates identity change. This conclusion emerged from research on the rejection of the identities of “smoker” and “prostitute”.

Based on the above review, some key mechanisms of identity change likely involve one or more of the following: Self-awareness and acceptance, bonding and creating a sense of belonging, behavior consistent with identity desired, reducing stigma, developing greater agency and self-efficacy, and finding a deeper sense of purpose.

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