Early adulthood is a time of identity exploration and formation. For individuals with generations of American heritage, there is usually only one culture to which they ascribe, thus making the identification of cultural values, goals, and career aspirations relatively uncomplicated. But for immigrants, the search for their cultural identity and personal identity can be an arduous task. Second-generation immigrants may find it particularly hard to blend their cultural and personal values as they search for their place in the world. To better understand how this process unfolds in young adults with a varied cultural heritage, Seth J. Schwartz of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Miami recently led a study that assessed how heritage affected identity development in 2,411 college students who were either first- or second-generation immigrants. The participants were selected from 30 universities to further diversify the sample.
Schwartz found that several identity statuses emerged, reflecting different methods of acculturation. The most prominent were the searching moratorium and achieved statuses and the carefree diffusion status groups. The searching moratorium and achieved groups exhibited the highest levels of cultural influences from America and their country of origin. Therefore, it is possible that even though personal and cultural identities are viewed as two separate dimensions of identity formation, they may overlap considerably. “Exploring personal identity might also mean exploring cultural identity, and vice versa, especially for individuals from immigrant and ethnic minority backgrounds,” Schwartz said.
For the individuals who held carefree, diffused statuses, there was little or no association to either American or cultural identities. This could reflect the carefree attitude held by these individuals or could indicate a confused identity orientation. Individuals who are unsure of where they belong, culturally and socially, may feel rejected by both their heritage and their receiving country—in this case, America. This could create a sense of nonidentity and lead individuals to struggle with their place in the world. Additionally, having no compass by which to navigate, individuals in this group may find themselves unable to make critical moral, ethical, professional, and relational decisions. Understanding these unique identity classifications could give clinicians insight as to why some immigrant clients struggle with identity development and important life decisions.
Schwartz, S. J., Kim, S. Y., Whitbourne, S. K., Zamboanga, B. L., Weisskirch, R. S., Forthun, L. F., Vazsonyi, A. T., Beyers, W., Luyckx, K. (2012). Converging identities: Dimensions of acculturation and personal identity status among immigrant college students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030753
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.