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Paradise Lost and Found: Sense of Purpose Attenuates Links between Derailment and Distress

Publication Authors: 
Anthony L. Burrow and Patrick L. Hill
Publication Year: 

Emerging adulthood is a transitional period marked by active self-explorations to gain clarity about one’s sense of identity, life direction, and personal responsibility. During this transition, some individuals experience derailment: an adverse psychological feeling of being “off-course” and unable to reconcile one’s past and current selves. Yet, recent theorizing suggests that a clear sense of purpose in life should confer protection against such identity-threats, mitigating the deleterious consequences that might otherwise arise. In the first exploration of this potential, emerging adults (N = 810) self-reported their levels of derailment, distress, perceived adult achievements, and sense of purpose. Regression analyses revealed derailment was associated with greater negative affect and perceived stress, and fewer adult achievements. However, the strength of each association was significantly attenuated by purpose, further illuminating it as a psychological resource.