What is an Identity Crisis?

identity crisis

One of the grandfathers of personality psychology, Erik Erikson, wrote an interesting article about this subject. Erikson (1970) found that identity crisis is one of the most important conflicts that an individual will face in its developmental course.

When you are in an identity crisis, you start to look at yourself in another light. You become more analytic and explorative about who you are as an individual. It is a period of searching for meaning and identity.

The identity crisis is considered to start during the youth. James Marcia (1980) found, on the basis of Erikson’s work on personality, that the individual typically undergoes four different identity stages when he or she attempts to commit to an identity.

The stages are:

  • Identity diffusion is when you are not currently committed to any identity, but you are not in an identity crisis either. The identity might be unresolved because you have not yet searched for one
  • Identity moratorium is when you are searching for an identity. This search often occurs in the youth, but it definitely happens in the twenties as well, depending on how well you have established an identity
  • Identity foreclosure is when you take on an identity before having explored it thoroughly. Children will typically take on their parents’ identities before having made their own identity choice
  • Identity achievement is the consolidation of an identity, i.e. you have undergone an identity moratorium and found your own identity

The constantly changing nature of our modern society may increase the likelihood that one ends up in an identity crisis.

The industrialization and technologization of contemporary Western societies, and the improved welfare,  has resulted in an cultural freedom that makes our identity choices more difficult. There are so many choices to be made because nothing is destined. In premodern societies, there was a tendency to follow one’s father’s footsteps, so to speak.

To be in an identity crisis is therefore a normal process that most people experience, and it is a crucial period of personal development. Who are we, and who do we want to be?

According to Kenneth Gergen, those who are stuck in only one role/identity don’t thrive in a modern society: the better you are to adapt to the circumstances and play different roles, the better you will handle the demands of a modern society such as flexibility.

I believe that we constantly reflect on our identity to make sense of the different roles we play. In this way, we form the meaning of our identity. We know that we act differently under different circumstances, however, we still have a sense of a core self, an observing self, so to speak.

What do you think?

Image: Bob May