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  • Writer's pictureLola

Identity Development Models

Much of my own identity exploration began through discovering research about mixed people in my undergrad and graduate programs. I was so shocked and happy to find that people were thinking about race in similar ways to me, and I've always wanted to share that feeling with others who may be struggling alone. Though I tend to use these models in trainings moreso than therapy, I think they can be super useful to everyone. Here is a very general place to start, highlighting a few of the foundational theories for a variety of identities.


Let's start with the Stage Models, which essentially say that identity is developed in linear stages.


I always start with one of the earliest models, William Cross’s Negro to Black Model:

  1. Pre-Encounter - unawareness of race and its social implications, but identifying with white people and culture, devaluing Black people and culture

  2. Encounter - an experience that suddenly emphasizes the fact that we are racialized beings within a white supremacist society, forcing us to begin to come to terms with racial identity

  3. Immersion/Emersion - typically emotionally and defensively driven, that active choice to immerse oneself in Black culture and prove Blackness while divesting from and rejecting whiteness

  4. Internalization - beginning to resolve the internal identity conflicts, internalizing a sense of Black identity without the need to prove anything, and often ready to begin connecting meaningfully with people of other races

  5. Internalization/Commitment - an increasing level of comfort in your own Blackness as well as the racial identity of others, resisting forms of social oppression, participating in social activism.


Hardiman's White Identity Development (WID) Model followed, theorizing that racism must impact white people in similar ways:

  • No Social Consciousness of Race or Naivete: Whites have no understanding of the social meaning of race or the value attached to one race over another.

  • Acceptance: The White person accepts or internalizes racism and a sense of himself as racially superior to people of color, although this sense of dominance, privilege, or entitlement is often unconscious.

  • Resistance: An individual questioning the dominant paradigm about race and resisting or rejecting racist programming.

  • Redefinition: The White person begins to clarify his own self-interest against racism, and begins to accept and take responsibility for his Whiteness.

  • Internalization: Integrating or internalizing this increased consciousness regarding race and racism and one’s new White identity into all aspects of one’s life.


Kim's Asian American Identity Development Model added the nuance of the pressure to assimilate within Asian American cultures:


D'Augelli's Lifespan Model looked at how stages might translate to processes in terms of sexuality:


Bilodeau's Trans Identity Model adapted the sexuality model to consider the development of transgender identity:


These Stage Models definitely have their strengths. I'm especially curious about the events that cause people to reflect on their identities, and then to explore and affirm their identities further.


Context Models are another way to look at identity development, steering away from stages and focusing on the different contexts in which identity develops.


I resonated with Wijeysinghe's Factor Model of Multiracial Identity in terms of a model for mixed race, noting the different factors that contribute to how a person chooses to identify:


Latinx folks are so diverse among so many categories. Ferdman and Gallegos considered a variety of factors that influence Latinx identity, including geographic location and distribution, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, language use, gender, nativity, immigration status, generation in the United States, acculturation status, education, sexual orientation, intergroup relations, and chosen racial identity, if any.


Gender and sexuality evolved into scales when Trans Student Educational Resources developed The Gender Unicorn:

And finally I enjoy that Hays' ADDRESSING Framework created a model using contexts while acknowledging the power dynamics at play in identity:


I am grateful to all of these researchers and many more that have given us some structure and strategies to begin exploring our identities, and laying the foundation to find creative ways to further develop the way we think about ourselves.




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