In order to shed light on the relationship between multiracial identity and psychological well-being, the following variables were explored in this dissertation. Racial Malleability. Multiracial individuals often describe shifting expression of their identity depending upon contextual factors (Miville et al., 2005).
Sanchez and colleagues (2009) identified this concept as racial malleability whereby multiracial individuals differ in their self-identification based on context. Little is known about the context cues associated with how one might identify, but the experience of being malleable in one’s identity has been linked to lower psychological well-being, especially in people who have lower tolerance for self-inconsistency. Racial malleability has been posited on theory supporting the stability of self-concept. It was the purpose of this dissertation study to clarify the relationship of racial malleability and psychological wellbeing with regard to multiracial individuals. Identity Experiences. A multiracial individual may feel in a constant state of flux and not able to anticipate how others will perceive them in social interactions.
Salahuddin and O’Brian (2011) operationalized the experiences of external perceptions and internal understanding as multiracial challenges and resilience experiences. Some examples of challenges and resilience experiences have been linked to external messages from family and larger society, as well as internal perceptions of one’s identity or human appreciation overall. For multiracial individuals, who have families of varying racial backgrounds and a variety of experiences that communicate messages about racial identification, experiences where they are perceived differently based on the context may be particularly stressful (Herman, 2004). This ongoing stress of whether one will be accepted or rejected for whom they believe themselves to be and identify with racially might lead to mental health and physical health issues similarly to how perceived every day racism and discrimination continually wear down on monoracial individuals. Therefore, it is important to gather information on the experiences of multiracial individuals and their unique experiences of racial identification and/or being confronted with situations where their identity may be regarded positively or negatively. Understanding more about the salient challenges and strengths for this population will aid in developing future interventions and preventative care for managing mental health and physical health issues that may decrease quality of life for these individuals. Additionally, this research will further existing theoretical models about the complexity of one’s identity and self-concept. Identity Questioning.
Many multiracial individuals are confronted with the question, what are you? Typically this occurs when someone is unable to easily racially categorize (Chen & Hamilton, 2011). When faced with this identity questioning experience, multiracial individuals must self-identify, where many implications are linked to their response (Renn, 2003; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). This experience is called identity questioning, identity denial or invalidated identity, and has been asserted to be a common experience among multiracial individuals where other people ascribe a racial identity based on the individual’s appearance or other contextual factors (Terry & Winston, 2010). In varying contexts an individual may be ascribed a different racial 10 identity based on a number of factors. The ambiguity of this process and the potential consequences of being perceived by others lead to a constant preparation for rejection or inclusion based on others’ assumptions (Miville et al., 2005). Similar to the process of preparing for perceived racism and discrimination, multiracial individuals have daily interactions that leave them wondering how they were perceived racially and what are the consequences of the potential misattribution of race (Townsend, Markus, & Bergsieker, 2009). In all venues, there is an ongoing effort to interpret people’s behavior and a concern of whether one will be accepted by others for who he or she declares to be racially.
This is similar to a concept described by Essed (1990), who noted that “to live with the threat of racism means planning, almost every day of one’s life, how to avoid or defend oneself against discrimination” (as cited in Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). Salahuddin and O’Brian (2011) described this experience as others’ surprise and disbelief at one’s racial identity as a subscale of their measure on multiracial identity experiences. There is a need to investigate how frequently this happens individuals and how distressing the experience might be as it may contribute to how one expresses their identity in a given context. Authenticity.
Authenticity has been defined as being true to oneself with regard to behaviors and self-expression (Sheldon, Ryan, Rawsthorne, & Ilardi, 1997). Sheldon and colleagues (1997) highlighted the relationship between authenticity and well-being such that psychological authenticity has been shown to be vital to one’s psychological and physical well-being. Additionally, many counseling psychology perspectives (i.e., Person-Centered, Existential, Object Relations) have shown that authenticity is the foundation of well-being (Rogers, 1961; Yalom, 1980). This study seeks to explore how authenticity is empirically related to psychological well-being and examine the ability to validly measure one’s sense of authenticity. Authenticity has been highlighted in the experience of multiracial individuals (Romo, 2011), such that multiracial individuals may feel that their authenticity or belongingness to a particular group may be questioned.
However, it is not clear whether the multiracial individual feels authentic in their expression of their identity. This study explored the construct of authenticity and whether individuals feel or view themselves to be authentic and true to whom they believe themselves to be. Authenticity may be related to the variation in how multiracial individuals express their identities across contexts; however, there is paucity in existing theory to account for the complexity of context and identity interaction. One attempt at clarifying the complexity of individuals’ self-understanding is Linville’s (1987) model for selfcomplexity whereby people understand their self-aspects as inter-related and accept that they have multiple self-aspects. Further, individuals who demonstrate self-complexity may be able to compartmentalize stressful events to one of their self-aspects. Research suggested that having self-complexity by holding multiple cognitive representations of one’s self-aspects, might serve as a buffer against depression and other stress-related illnesses (Linville, 1987). Despite Linville’s (1987) findings, a meta-analysis (RafaeliMor & Steinberg, 2002) suggested that the benefits of self-complexity remain unclear. Therefore, Ryan, LaGuardia and Rawsthorne (2005) investigated the relationship between self-complexity and authenticity as a way of clarifying the relationship between self-complexity and psychological well-being.
Specifically, they found that self-aspects might be authentic or inauthentic, which may impact one’s ability to manage stress in the way that Linville originally theorized. Given the relationship between authenticity within self-aspects and well-being, it is essential to observe this relationship with regard to one’s racial identity. Since multiracial individuals might be seen as having multiple selfaspects with regard to their racial identity, it must be explored as to whether individuals feel authentic when asserting a particular identity in a given context. Psychological Well-Being. Authenticity, racial malleability, identity questioning, challenges and resilience, as well as demographic variables and context have implications for how individuals manage the process of racially identifying. Some research suggested that there are less optimal ways that one may identify linked with psychological well-being (Binning et al.
, 2009; Sanchez, Shih, & Garcia, 2009). In studies with multiracial individuals, psychological well-being has been defined as increased life satisfaction, positive affect, decreased stress, high global self-esteem, and decreased scores on measures of depressive symptoms (Binning et al., 2009; Sanchez, Shih & Garcia, 2009). Sanchez and colleagues (2009) attempted to understand the relationship between multiracial identity and psychological well-being, yet called for future studies that examine the relationship of racial malleability and psychological wellbeing with other factors and contextualizing variables. Though the extant literature examines the difference between subjective wellbeing and psychological well-being (Ryff & Keyes, 1995), most studies have that focused on multiracial individuals have used these constructs as a way of assessing psychological well-being. Instead, this study focused upon measures of global stress and life satisfaction. Scholars raised concern about using measures of individual self-esteem as a way of examining psychological well-being with people of color as there is a tendency 13 for restriction of range in self-reporting high self-esteem (Verkuyten, 2005).
Therefore this dissertation focused on measures of satisfaction with life and perceived stress as a way examining of variation in psychological well-being.