A Desire to Belong: Navigating Cultural Identity
Identity is comprised of many characteristics that function to help give meaning to our sense of selves. Some of these characteristics include but are not limited to: professions, education, ethnicities, and relationship status. Aspects of culture include our social behaviors, place of birth, languages we speak and so on. As members of our respected society, we accumulate identity markers, or characteristics that give us meaning and make up integral components of our self-concept. These can be broken down into three categories: personal, social and cultural identities (foundations of culture and identity, 2016).
- Personal identity refers to one’s preferences and interests. Think about hobbies you enjoy and the music you listen to, for example.
- Social identities include our affiliation to social groups and our involvement in group activities. This can involve the sports teams you may be in, the social circle you identify with, and communities or organizations you are a part of.
- Cultural identities are based on categorizing individuals on their societal norms, values, and expectations.
(foundations of culture and identity, 2016)
Unpacking the meaning of cultural identity is a very personal experience. You may find that you are an inbetweener, juggling one or many cultures at once or you may find that you no longer resonate with the culture that you were brought up in. You may feel a sense of social or emotional displacement while navigating the layers of your identity. This phenomenon illustrates that identities are evolving constructs, contingent on our experiences and perceptions. Moreover, the beauty of cultural identity and its diversity encourages one to reflect on how we can connect and appreciate each other while honoring our similarities and differences.
A sense of belonging is an integral part of our life’s journey that bolsters our mental health. As a collective society, regardless of the variabilities in each of our stories, what we all have in common is a strong desire to feel connected to those around us. Without secure connections, feelings of isolation, sadness and loneliness can arise.
Here are some ways to increase cultural awareness:
- Reflect on your lived experiences with more acceptance.
- Discover cultures that are different to yours to build appreciation and open-mindedness.
- Join support groups that will help you create meaningful connections.
- Connect with your local community to establish accessible relationships.
- Participate in intercultural dialogues in order to discover new perspectives.
- Acknowledge your subconscious biases in order to reduce the impacts of stereotyping.
- Learn from others by asking open-ended questions.
- Exchange stories to connect with others.
[Author removed at request of original publisher]. (2016, September 29). 8.1 foundations of culture and identity. Communication in the Real World.
Kapil, R. (2019, July 23). Five Ways to be More Culturally Aware - Mental Health First Aid. Mental Health First Aid.
Guest contributor: Fajr Nishat
Fajr 2023 graduate of Nickerson Institute's Integrative Mental Health Coach Training Program. She works as a social-emotional counselor for middle-high school students. Additionally, she teaches a class called Mindfulness and well-being. As someone who has struggled to fit in, she finds that appreciating and learning about cultural awareness and identity can help raise compassion and build connection. Her main incentive is to empower others to find a sense of belonging by appreciating differences and similarities with those around them. She is currently pursuing her certification as an Integrative Mental Health Coach.