National Center for Cultural Competence
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Cultural Awareness

V. Culture and Personal Identity

=Usually each of us draws a major part of our sense of self from the cultural group in which we grew up and were socialized. As we are able to demonstrate that we have integrated the cultural lessons of our group and behave and think accordingly, we are accepted and integrated into the group.

Being accepted, identified with, and supported by a cultural group is essential to our sense of security. Research has demonstrated that social support and a sense of belonging have positive effects on mental and physical health while social isolation has negative effects. The link between health/mental health, and cultural integration remains strong throughout our lifetimes.

Just as cultures are not static, neither are our personal identities, which are derived from cultural conceptualizations. A woman may be a wife, a mother, a divorcee, or a grandmother at different times in her life. She may be a factory worker, a refugee, or an immigrant. Each of these statuses carries with it a set of cultural norms and expectations. Additionally, if a woman moves from one culture to another, she may adopt some of her new culture’s ideas about the role of wife while still keeping some of her old culture’s ideas. As individuals move through life, their personal histories interact with their cultures in a dynamic complexity.

Because much of cultural learning takes place out of consciousness, we are not always aware of the manner in which culture shapes our personal identities or that we all have a cultural identity that is an integral aspect of our individuality. However, if we develop cultural awareness, we begin to see how aspects of our culture have shaped our beliefs and behaviors. Individual characteristics such as gender, age cohort, and race, as well as physical and intellectual abilities and disabilities, interact with cultural and subcultural factors such as class, education, religion, and occupation to produce our unique identities.


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