Possible Selves: Influence on Psychological Well-being and Substance Use in Young Men Post-Incarceration
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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of the content and number of “possible selves” on likely correlates of successful transition to the community -- psychological well-being, and alcohol and substance use in recently incarcerated young men. Theoretical/conceptual framework: Possible selves are future-oriented aspects of the self one hopes to be, expects to be, and fears becoming. Because possible selves include future images of the self and strategies to achieve/avoid them, they powerfully guide behavior. Method: Recently incarcerated young adult men (18-29) were recruited from community-based organizations. Participants completed an established open-ended possible selves measure, the Ryff’s Scales of Psychological Well-being, and alcohol (AUDIT-C) and other substance use (ASSIST) questionnaires. Possible selves were counted, and content coded. The number and content of possible selves were used to predict psychological well-being and determine differences in alcohol and substance use. Results: Fifty-two recently incarcerated young men (mean age 22; 92% black; 94% non-Hispanic) participated. Participants generated 1-6 hoped-for possible selves (mean 2.9), 1-6 expected possible selves (mean 2.4) and 0-5 feared possible selves (mean 2.1). Marijuana use was prevalent (71%), but alcohol use was not (39%; most monthly or less). Having a feared delinquent possible self was associated with marijuana use and low sense of purpose. Having an expected possible self related to material/lifestyle was associated with marijuana use. Having an expected possible self related to interpersonal relationships was associated with high environmental mastery, and having many feared possible selves was related to low environmental mastery. Conclusions: The number of feared possible selves as well as the content of expected and feared possible selves have meaningful relationships with sense of purpose, environmental mastery and marijuana use in recently incarcerated young men. Addressing fears, particularly those related to future delinquency, and supporting interpersonal relationships may provide a sense of direction and effectiveness in mastering circumstances and challenges as they transition back to the community.