How Embracing Your Cultural Identity Can Help Your Mental Health

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Cultural identity refers to an individual’s personal connection and subsequent identification with a cultural group. While much research tethers cultural identity to one’s ethnic identity, there is more to the term. It can also include religion, gender expression and sexual orientation, regional traditions, and ability.

Our personal identity is essential for our sense of self and having a strong identity can result in enhanced mental health.

This article will expand on how embracing one’s cultural identity can lead to enhanced mental health outcomes as well as considerations to keep in mind along your journey of embracing your identity. 

The Importance of Embracing Your Cultural Identity

As human beings, we are interconnected and require social relationships for our overall health.

Our personal identity is essential for our sense of self and having a strong identity can result in enhanced mental health.

Research shows that isolation and lack of social relationships are connected to shorter lifespans. This illustrates that how we connect isn’t just important for our mental health—it can even determine the span of our life.

Culture Creates Community

A way in which we can connect to one another is through our cultural identity. Our culture provides a community in which we can feel seen, heard, and connected. It accounts for a set of shared experiences that also shape our perspectives. 

Examples of Cultural Identifiers

To understand what cultural identifiers are, first reflect on the various groups you consider yourself a member of.

  • Racial groups, like identifying as Black-American or Latino
  • Linguistic groups (which refer to having a shared language like Spanish or French)
  • Geographical groups are another example—consider how different West Coast states are from Southern states within the U.S.
  • Gender expression and sexual orientation can account for another group.
  • Religious affiliation is another community to consider.

These group memberships all account for various cultural identifiers. Cultural identity factors can go beyond group memberships and include the color of one’s skin, level of education, profession, income, and political party.

This speaks to the nuance of cultural identity, proving that it is a layered and multifaceted aspect of ourselves. 

How Cultural Identity Impacts Mental Health

When considering how our culture shapes our perspective, think about the different takes on mental health various identities hold.

Not only does our cultural identity account for our sense of self and self-esteem, but it may also provide a community of support. 

For example, the stigma surrounding mental health treatment can lead some members of the African-American community to avoid therapy altogether. This is just one way our cultural identity is connected to our mental health. 

Connecting with our culture can also lead to increased mental health outcomes. In fact, a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health focused on the connection between cultural identity and mental health outcomes for Indigenous Māori Youth in New Zealand. It found that those who experienced a strong cultural identity had increased well-being.

Not only does our cultural identity account for our sense of self and self-esteem, but it may also provide a community of support. 

Confusion About Your Cultural Identity Can Lead to Poor Mental Health Outcomes

Research also shows that cultural identity confusion may result in negative mental health outcomes. Cultural identity confusion can occur when experiencing shifts, like leaving a religion or embracing your sexual identity. It can also occur after migrating to a new country.

Leaning into community support, like support groups, during major times of transition can help you weather the discomfort of cultural identity confusion and come out with an even stronger sense of self. 

Cultural Identity in Marginalized Communities 

Cultural identity is often embraced the most in marginalized communities. Dominant/privileged groups may not feel the need to embrace their cultural identity and may not crave that support as much since they are subject to less discrimination.

In contrast, marginalized communities are more likely to be sidelined from educational opportunities and financial privilege. Additionally, society's ills can lead disenfranchised communities to be harmed.

An example of this is how trans youth may be excluded from activities with their peers and experience discrimination from adults in their community. This can lead members of marginalized communities to band together, as they are likely to experience decreased othering and exclusion when with those who share similar identities.

Plus, there is a great relief to be had in being around others who can relate to your lived experience. 

Are There Downsides to Embracing Your Culture?

While embracing your culture can lead to enhanced health outcomes, provide communal support, and offset painful experiences of othering, there can be downsides that come along with it.

Embracing who you are shouldn’t come at the expense of others.

Embracing Your Identity May Be Dangerous

First, when part of a marginalized community, embracing your identity may be dangerous. This isn’t to discourage you from standing proudly in who you are but to remain aware of the risks. Those with bigoted beliefs may target you if they notice indicators of your race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. 

So, ensuring you have community support and safety plans should you end up in a dangerous situation is critical.

You Might Exclude Others

Second, some can embrace their culture to the extent that they begin to exclude or judge others.  For example, those who have embraced their religious identity may condemn those who do not share their faith. This can lead to prejudice and harm perpetuated against those who simply hold a different cultural identity.

Embracing who you are shouldn’t come at the expense of judging or degrading others. Remembering that you likely have felt othered at one time or another is important and the point of leaning into your cultural identity isn’t to try to convert others to share your culture or to assert that your culture reigns supreme over others. 

How to Embrace Your Identity

To reap the positive benefits of embracing your cultural identity, you can do the following:

  • Lean into the community and the support you receive
  • Honor the unique experiences that exist within your culture
  • Combat the stereotypes and stigmas that may arise within your group
  • Approach others with different cultural identities with curiosity and compassion
  • Read or watch educational videos about your culture
  • Follow influencers who embrace and support your identity
  • Join social media groups or clubs where you can meet other people with your identity
  • Consider going to therapy if you're struggling to accept and embrace who you are

What This Means For You

While who we are in the world varies widely from group to group, most of us crave a sense of belonging and community. Explore how connections can be forged across cultures—it just may strengthen your sense of self.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Meca A, Sabet RF, Farrelly CM, et al. Personal and cultural identity development in recently immigrated Hispanic adolescents: links with psychosocial functioning. Cultur Divers Ethnic Minor Psychol. 2017;23(3):348-361.

  3. Holt-Lunstad J. Why social relationships are important for physical health: a systems approach to understanding and modifying risk and protection. Annu Rev Psychol. 2018;69:437-458.

  4. Rivera KJ, Zhang JY, Mohr DC, Wescott AB, Pederson AB. A narrative review of mental illness stigma reduction interventions among african americans in the united states. J Ment Health Clin Psychol. 2021;5(2):20-31.

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  6. Groen SPN, Richters AJM, Laban CJ, van Busschbach JT, Devillé WLJM. Cultural identity confusion and psychopathology. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2019;207(3):162-170.

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.