Identity Meaning Discrepancies and Psychological Distress: A Partial Test of Incorporating Identity Theory and Self-definitions into the Stress Process Model

  • Richard E. AdamsEmail author
  • Richard T. Serpe


Scholars have argued for integrating symbolic interactionism into the stress process model. Focusing on meanings associated with normative and counter-normative identities, we offer a partial test of one such integration developed by McLeod (2012). Based on a combination of McLeod’s integration of the stress process model and symbolic interactionism, discrepancy theory, and literature on identity-relevant events, we hypothesize that discrepancies in the meanings attached to parent and work identities by self and others in general (the Generalized Other) are more stressful for people with children and people who work, compared to the childless and unemployed. Additionally, as the self-evaluation of meanings attached to an identity shifts from higher than perceived evaluation of the generalized other to lower than perceived evaluation of the generalized other, stress increases for people holding normative identities. Using a web-based survey administered between October 1 and October 12, 2012, we collected data on parenting and work identities and analyzed the antecedents and consequences of identity-discrepant meanings using structural equation modeling (SEM). Results show that discrepant meanings for an identity, self-meanings compared to meanings others in general apply to that identity, operate differently depending on whether the identity is a normative or counter-normative one. Additionally, discrepancies in meaning are significant predictors of identity-specific self-esteem, mastery, and psychological health, but mainly for the normative identities of parent and employed. Discrepancies in meanings have little relationship to these outcomes for the counter-normative identities of being childless or unemployed. As expected from both identity theory and the stress process model, increased social connections, identity-specific self-esteem, and mastery are related to better psychological well-being, but, again, mainly for those with normative identities. We discuss implications for McLeod’s integration of identity theory and the stress process model.


Anxiety Depression Counter-normative identity Identity meaning discrepancy Identity theory Identity specific self-esteem Mastery Normative identity Psychological well-being Stress process model 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kent State UniversityKentUSA

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