According to the “identity process theory” (Breakwell, 1986), identity is concerned with the impact of events, and particularly ‘threats’ on identity. Identity can be seen as made up of several factors:
- 1-Continuity – which implies that people will attempt to reconcile changes in themselves with their past history.
- 2-Distinctiveness –which distinguishes one individual from others and also serves to put people into groups (e.g. gender or ethnic groups, social groups). We tend to seek positive ways of being distinct.
- 3-Self-esteem –which can be viewed as motivation to sustain and improve a positive self- concept.
A satisfied and well-adjusted individual would have a strong sense of continuity, moderate distinctiveness, and high self-esteem. People often do not fit this profile, either because they have not developed these characteristics or because ‘threats’ such as loss of employment have affected them. Such threats to identity can cause extreme distress.
We have a number of coping mechanisms to deal with these identify threats:
- 1-Intrapsychic mechanisms – which may take the form of denial or of mental preparation
- 2-Interpersonal mechanisms – which may occur as social withdrawal or as social deceit (not informing others of changes)
- 3-Inter-group mechanisms – which may involve gaining social support from a different social group.
An understanding of such issues can enable the counsellor to deal more effectively with identity issues and ‘threats. The counsellor may need to work on creating more positive coping mechanisms to replace maladaptive ones.
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