Role Expectations & Shifts in Thinking

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This section further develops the argument for why and how the present approach to studying this population is a valuable contribution to the existing knowledge base. Topics addressed include: Sexual identity development and the fluidity of sexuality; Religious identity development; and Identities in conflict.

Sexual Identity

The term sexual identity is a general concept referring to the way people think about themselves and express their sexual identity to others. Sexual identity is multi-faceted and, as explained by Yarhouse (2005), can be influenced to varying degrees by: sexual attractions to the same, other, or both sexes, biological sex (male or female), gender identity (how masculine or feminine one feels in relation to established societal norms), moral evaluative framework (one‘s values and beliefs about sexuality and sexual behavior – often linked to religion), and behavior (what one does or plans to do with sexual attractions).
Erik Erikson (1963) branded role identity vs. role confusion as the pivotal developmental task in psychosocial development for adolescents. Marcia (1966) later expanded on this theory suggesting there were four identity statuses: identity diffusion (no commitment to an identity, no crisis), identity foreclosure (non crisis-related commitment to identity – usually through suggestion of others), identity moratorium (identity exploration due to crisis), identity achievement (crisis overcome and identity determined). Multiple models have since been proposed, many of which have roots in the work of Erikson and Marcia, in attempts to explain the process of sexual identity development (i.e. Cass, 1979; Chan, 1989; Troiden, 1989; Yarhouse, 2001).
While adolescence seems to be a crucial period for sexual identity formation, research suggests there is more fluidity to identity through the life-cycle than previously thought (Diamond, 2003; Marcia, 2002). In the introduction to his seminal work on male sexuality, Alfred Kinsey (1948, p. 639) wrote: Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.
Based on interviews with over 5000 participants, Kinsey developed a 7-point Likert scale ranging from ―exclusively heterosexual‖ to ―exclusively homosexual‖, including a category for ―asexual‖ for those who experience no sexual desire. In addition to the above finding that many people fall somewhere between the extremes, Kinsey (1948) posited that male sexuality was prone to change over time. A complimentary study (Kinsey, 1953) found similar results for women (i.e. sexuality is non discrete and fluid throughout the lifespan).
More recent studies support Kinsey‘s findings about the fluid nature of sexuality. A 2003 study (Diamond, 2003b) following 80 women who claimed a lesbian or bisexual identity tracked participants for 5 years. Participants were interviewed at 3 points over the 5 years, at the end of which time Diamond reported over 25% had relinquished their lesbian or bisexual identities (half now claimed a heterosexual identity while the other half stopped labeling their sexuality completely).
Despite a growing body of research suggesting the fluidity of sexuality, the overwhelming majority of research on same-sex attracted individuals, including theoretical models of SSA sexual identity development, has the basic assumption that incorporating a LGB identity is the ultimate endpoint for people experiencing same-sex attraction (Diamond, 2003A; Diamond, 2003B; Yarhouse, 2001). For example, the pioneering work of Cass (1979) laid an often emulated stage model for sexual identity development wherein individuals experience identity confusion as they begin to question their sexual identity in light of experienced same-sex attractions. From thence one progresses through the stages of identity: comparison, tolerance, acceptance, pride, and ultimately, identity synthesis wherein s/he self-identifies as ―gay.‖ While individual rates of progress through the stages vary, there is ultimately only one endpoint for someone questioning sexual identity based on feelings of same-sex attraction. Various models have followed in the wake of Cass‘ (i.e. Chan, 1979; McCarn & Fassinger, 1996; Troiden, 1989), each with a unique explanation of the complexities of sexual identity development. While they differ on the finer points of how one gets there, they all agree that for one experiencing same-sex attraction, the eventual endpoint is the synthesis of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. As already noted, this author suggests that these models could be further developed to include new knowledge of the fluid nature of sexuality.
Diamond (2003) and others note the need to explore more fully the process of how individuals respond to SSA and why they respond the ways they do. A study of 28 same-sex attracted individuals, 14 of whom identified with an LGB identity and 14 who dis-identified with an LGB identity, comes to the ultimate conclusion that how and why SSA individuals come to identify or dis-identify with a LGB identity is a poorly understood process requiring more research (Yarhouse, Tan, & Pawlowski, 2005).

Religious Identity

Similar to sexual identity development, adolescence is seen as an influential time in the development of religious identity (Yarhouse, 2005). Early theorists argued that religious identity is strongly influenced by the culture, society, and relationships in one‘s life (i.e. Allport, 1950).
Such theories led to the rise of stage models of development (i.e. Fowler, 1981). Other theorists developed models based on Bowlby‘s (1969) work on attachment as applied to religion (Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 2003), suggesting that attachment to one‘s parents played a central role in the development of ideas about God.
Religious identity can be further clarified in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic orientation. An intrinsic orientation is often identified with the concept of spirituality, wherein persons are motivated to action more by an internal set of beliefs and values arrived at on a personal level than by any set of values maintained by outside authorities or institutions (Barret & Barzan, 1996). While intrinsic beliefs are developed on an individual level, it does not necessarily follow that said beliefs cannot align with one established religious view or another. Indeed, Allport and Ross (1967) described people with an intrinsic orientation as those who truly ―live‖ their religion (p. 434).
People of an extrinsic orientation fall on the opposite end of the spectrum and are said to ―use‖ their religion as opposed to living it (Allport & Ross, 1967, p. 434). These individuals find value in their religion in that it provides security, society, status, and self-justification and esteem lightly or selectively pick the religion‘s beliefs and values that best serve them (Allport & Ross, 1967). As is the case in most areas in life, individuals rarely fall squarely on one end or another of the intrinsic/extrinsic spectrum, but maintain a mix of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and religious identification (Allport & Ross, 1967).
As one might expect, religious individuals with a predominantly extrinsic orientation are more likely to shift in religious views while those of an intrinsic orientation are more likely to adhere to one set of values over time (Allport & Ross, 1967). How or if this phenomenon relates to sexual and religious identity salience is unclear.
As will be outlined later, evidence suggests that more often than not, for same-sex attracted individuals affiliated with conservative religions, the primary struggle is between perceived incompatibility between sexual and religious identities. Items 1-4 of the questionnaire administered in this study directly address conflicting religious and sexual identities.

Identities in Conflict

A 2004 (Beckstead & Morrow) study documented the experiences of 50 individuals, over a 5 year period, who had undergone counseling to change their sexual orientation. All 50 experienced same-sex attraction and were affiliated with a conservative Christian religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or ‗Mormon‘ or ‗LDS‘). All 50 participants report that previous to their counseling experiences ―they felt their sexual identities were peripheral to their religious identities‖ (p. 663). As the study progressed all 50 participants described a process of ―cycling between opposing needs and identities‖ (p. 665). In essence, they explain themselves as having a homosexual identity which needed to be expressed and experienced (including same-sex physical intimacy/sex) and simultaneously having a religious identity (which included the belief that homosexuality is wrong) which needed to be expressed and experienced. As they could not conceive a way to live both identities at once, they would ―cycle‖ between them, allowing expression of each for as long as the opposing identity could be contained. For all participants this cycle was unsustainable and led to increasingly more distress (i.e. depression, anxiety, self-loathing, suicidal ideation, isolation from family/friends). Most reached a point of feeling completely out of control, at which point they sought counseling, which led ultimately to attempts at conversion therapy.
As already noted, similar experiences were reported in a study of SSA Jewish participants (Coyle & Rafalin, 2000), namely, that they felt their core struggle was between incompatible religious and sexual identities. In addition, the authors found that this struggle lead to increased stress, depression, and suicidality.
Conflicting identities between individuals and groups is a well documented and researched phenomenon commonly viewed through the lens of identity theory. It will be interesting to discover whether some of the phenomena common to conflicting identities between groups/individuals are consistent with those observed within the individual. For example: One interesting study applied the constructs of identity theory to 30 Israeli and Palestinian adolescents involved in a coexistence program (Hammack, 2006).
Participants voluntarily spent 3 weeks living together in an intensive, structured setting focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similar to the above discussion of religious and sexual identities in conflict, Hammack describes the conflict between individuals in his study such that ―the acceptance of one group‘s identity…is often interpreted as necessarily invalidating the identity of the other.‖ (p. 328). Hammack found that individuals came to the program with highly salient ―in group‖ identities (i.e. the groups from which they originated – Palestinian or Israeli). By the end of the two weeks most reported a significant if not dramatic decrease in ―in group‖ identity salience and an increase in a more universal, philanthropic identity salience (i.e. a member of the human race). Year later follow-up interviews discovered that most participants had returned to pre-program identity salience levels. In some cases ―in group‖ identity salience was higher than before the program. Hammack concluded, among other things, that for most youth, the power of larger social structures vastly outweighs the influence of intervention programs in identity development processes.
Initial interviews with present study participants clearly demonstrate the power of larger social structures (i.e. Church and family). It will be interesting to note the long term influence of said structures on identity salience for individuals.
Other studies looked at identity salience and its influence on role performance. One particular study (Henley & Pasley, 2005) used existing data from 186 married and 93 divorced fathers to analyze the relationship between father involvement in their children‘s lives and identity salience. Results replicated findings of previous researchers (Minton & Pasley, 1996; Rane & McBride, 2000), namely, that father identity salience was not associated with father involvement. Interestingly, fathers reporting highly salient father identities were no more likely to be involved in their children‘s lives than were those reporting less salient father identities. On the other hand, identity satisfaction (i.e. the satisfaction experienced from behaviors consistent with the identity) was a strong indicator of whether or not a father was involved with his child‘s life.

Chapter 1: Introduction 
Problem and its Setting
Conflicting Identities
Identity Theory
Purpose of the Study
Chapter 2: Literature Review 
Sexual Identity
Religious Identity
Identities in Conflict
Chapter 3: Methods 
Design of the Study
Study Participants
Chapter 4: Results 
Relationship with Christ and God
Identity Conflict
Role Satisfaction
Family Influence
Chapter 5: Discussion 
Discussion of Themes
Symbolic Interactionism
Identity Salience
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Religious Orientation
Role Expectations & Shifts in Thinking
Clinical Implications
Personal Reflections

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