Identity threat is diffuse—as I've said, like a snake loose in the house. Our bipolar student has to remain vigilant to her social world, combing over it for evidence of how people feel about people who are bipolar. Where will the snake be? How bad is its bite? Will she lose a job or educational opportunities, be shunned, and so on?
A diffuse threat is preoccupying. And it preoccupies one with the identity it threatens. . . . Identity threat, diffuse and Delphic though it may be, is nonetheless powerful enough to single out an identity and make it the center of a person's functioning, powerful enough to make it more important, for the duration of the threat at least, than any of the person's other identities—more important than her sex, her race, her religion, her being young, her being a Stanford graduate.Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010), pp. 70-71