Understanding Identity Expression and Self/Body Esteem

The body is interactional in our daily experience with ourselves, our environment, and with others. How our bodies move, interact, and appear to others is informed by personal identity factors (such as race, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, etc.). These factors usually influence our self-esteem. Through our body and its movement, we come to be known, and hopefully understood, by others. Our body image stores information about how we internalize rejection or acceptance.

When issues of race, gender, culture, sexual orientation or other identity factors become important for a client to explore, therapy is an excellent way to unpack the complexity of identity. Familial or societal oppression can cause silence, struggle, or conflict within our authentic selves and trauma to our self-esteem.

Identity conflict can have serious side effects. Pain, shame, and other negative internalized thoughts can become trapped in our minds, and affect our ability to see ourselves clearly, to feel well in our daily lives, and influences our feelings, behavior and choices.

As a therapist who specializes in issues of self-esteem and identity, I have to take a careful look at the issues of race, gender, culture, sexual orientation, and other identity factors that could be at play. Therapy can be a safe space to explore and unpack the complexity of identity. Research supports that cultural oppression induces the following negative internalized thoughts more often in Black, African, African-American, Afro-Latin, Native Americans, Asian and Asian-American and other minority groups.

Signs of a internalized racism or cultural oppression include:

1. Worrying about body features including skin color (light/dark skin; being “too dark”), hair texture or length (having “nappy”, “good/bad hair”), eyes (“too narrow” or “too Asian”) nose (“too big” or “too ethnic”)

2. Worrying about how others interpret your movement or changing your movement when you are in spaces with racial or cultural groups other than your own (taking up “too much space”; being “too aggressive” or “too angry”; or “sneaky” or “up to no good”)

3. Being hyper-aware of one’s choice of clothing, jewelry, etc; (not wanting clothing to appear “too Black”, or “too ethnic”)

4. Worrying about or displeasure about one’s voice quality (being “too loud and ghetto” or “overly emotional” or ”too quiet and not assertive” )

5. Feeling insecure about one’s cultural or class. Feeling shame for being “too ghetto”; “too stupid”; “always late—on ‘CP’ time (colored people time).”

If you experience thoughts like the one’s above (and/or worse, a body based approach can help you to restore body-esteem, body-acceptance, and body-pride. This type of therapy can also help you understand how these kinds of thoughts influence your selection and success in relationships, parenting, academic pursuits, and your career.

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