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The Personal Identification Process

There is a great similarity among people as they go through the process of self-identification with a minority group. This can also apply to the “coming out” process in the recovery community, as well as the self-awareness and self-acceptance stages of people with psychiatric and substance disorders. A person usually moves forward and backward or “approaches” and “avoids” through a series of stages at different times depending on their personal life experiences. The personal identification process depends on the difficulty or ease a person has with their own identity, family values and beliefs, and the social, cultural, and personal acceptance of a particular group or diagnosis within the person’s social environment.

The Stages of Personal Identification

The pre-encounter stage is when a person identifies with the “majority” group and rejects or denies membership in their own group. For example, rejecting one culture and identifying with another culture, rejecting one cultural identity and living in the life of another cultural identity, denying addiction and trying to identify with the “non-problem drinking majority.” Next, the encounter stage rejects previous identification with the “majority” and seeks identity with one’s culture, sexual orientation, or recovery group. Then comes the immersion stage, which is completely identifying with the minority group.

Often, a person experiences intense feelings of rejection or even rage toward the “majority.” A person may also experience great pride in their new identification and exclude any socialization or identification with the “majority.” The internalization stage begins the process of internalizing culture, sexual orientation, or recovery identification. This process is one of personal acceptance where anger or slandering of other groups is not important in the self-identification process. Lastly, the internalization-commitment stage is confidence in self-identification with personal culture, sexual orientation, or recovery oriented emerges. Complete internalization of self-identity with commitment to work toward social change where biases, prejudices, or misinformation exist.

The Impact of Personal Identification

Although they have cultural themes which bond them, each ethnic group also has subcultural differences within the group. It is always important to ask questions and not make assumptions about another’s behavior. Individuals from a particular culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious preference have their own, unique individuality even within their group. Not all women are alike, nor are all men alike. Not all native Americans are alike, nor are all Catholics the same. There are similarities and differences among people. Treating a person as a stereotype of a particular group robs them of their right to identify themselves as they choose within a certain group. It also robs them of their personal individuality apart from a particular group.

Many people, at one time or another, stereotype others with statements or thoughts like, “Oh, she’s the complainer. He’s Mr. Negative. Here comes the Drama Queen. Roll out the red carpet for Mr. Full-of-Himself.” When there are preconceived ideas about a person, interaction with them is made through a ready-made filter. This means expecting them to say certain things, respond in certain ways, and pre-planning interactions according to stereotypes, judgements, or preconceptions. It is important to try to break down judgements and stereotyping others, especially when there are communication challenges. Listen to a person as if they were being met for the first time and be open to having a successful interaction with the person without preconceived ideas.

Personal Identification and Recovery

In recovery, people begin to know themselves for the first time. Individuals who have lived in the fog of chemical dependency begin to develop a relationship with themselves without the toxic effects of alcohol and drugs. This is also true for people who have struggled in the isolation and confusion of an untreated psychiatric disorder. With time, a person often begins to identify with their recovery group. This identification creates a bond that unites people in a fellowship based on the common ground of similar struggles and similar victories over adversity. This is not a new concept just for recovery. Veterans are just one example of people who share the common experiences of serving the country, often with great sacrifices. Most identify themselves as “vets” which provides a common identity within this group. The same is true with recovery groups. Identifying with a specific group is a personal choice of how a person wishes to be identified. Many people in a 12-step program like Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA), actually prefer to identify themselves as “alcoholics,” or “addicts” or “a person with an alcohol problem,” or all three. They say it reminds them of their primary purpose of being in recovery.

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