Self-affirmation theory suggests that people can deal with threats to their self-identity by focusing on their self-worth and competence. This theory can be applied to many real life situations. I would like to describe the case of a friend of mine who used this theory to overcome threats to her identity and achieve success.
My friend comes from a very traditional Muslim family. Women in her family have always been limited to homemaking and child-rearing. However, my friend was inspired by feminist ideas and despised the notion that women have to be limited to private sphere, as her culture suggests. Therefore, she wanted to pursue a college education in law with a view of building a career and promoting the cause of gender equality in her work. Her family was opposed to her going to college, since they deemed it was inappropriate for a female.
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The family was well-to-do, so the girl would face no financial pressures in the future. At the same time, her desire for independence and self-actualization was very strong.
For several moths, she tried to avoid an open conflict with her parents and tried to persuade her that education and work are important for every person regardless of gender. However, her parents found a young man from the same cultural background for her to marry. At this point, the girl had to make a choice between family values and resisting the threat to her identity. The family told her they would not provide any financial or moral support if she decided to pursue education.
Knowing how competitive admission to law universities is, the girl was not sure if it was a good idea to start an independent life. However, she decided to focus on her strengths and competences in order to affirm her identity. She moved out, taken out a student loan and entered a prestigious law university. With the support of her friends and continuous self-motivation and affirmation, she was able to achieve her goal.
After seeing her succeed, her parents accepted her back. They have realized that pressure and blackmailing are not efficient in influencing their daughter’s decisions. The girl said that the most important lesson she had learned from that crisis was to follow her own dreams and fulfill her own ambitions rather than accepting authority unconditionally, even if it harms her interests. Positive thinking and confidence helped her a lot in those turbulent times when she had no one but herself to rely on. It is important to remember, however, that self-affirmation should take a realistic approach to one’s abilities. Self-affirmation should encourage continuous learning and personal development rather then discourage it. Expectations and goals should be realistic and achievable in order for this theory to work.
There are many situations in life when surrounding people try to enforce a certain identity and lifestyle on us.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of one’s own self and affirm one’s self through focusing on one’s self-worth that is derived from personal skills and strengths.
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