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The stage of psychosocial development in which identity crisis may occur is called the Identity Cohesion versus Role Confusion stage. During this stage (adolescence), we are faced with physical growth, sexual maturation, and integrating our ideas of ourselves and about what others think of us. We therefore form our self-image and endure the task of resolving the crisis of our basic ego identity. Successful resolution of the crisis depends on one’s progress through previous developmental stages, centering on issues such as trust, autonomy, and initiative.
Those who emerge from the adolescent stage of personality development with a strong sense of identity are well equipped to face adulthood with confidence and certainty. This sort of unresolved crisis leaves individuals struggling to “find themselves.” They may go on to seek a negative identity, which may involve crime or drugs or the inability to make defining choices about the future. “The basic strength that should develop during adolescence is fidelity, which emerges from a cohesive ego identity”.
Erikson's own interest in identity began in childhood. Raised Jewish, Erikson appeared very Scandinavian, and felt that he was an outsider of both groups. His later studies of cultural life among the Yurok of northern California and the Sioux of South Dakota helped formalize Erikson's ideas about identity development and identity crisis. Erikson described those going through an identity crisis as exhibiting confusion.
They often seem to have no idea who or what they are, where they belong or where they want to go. They may withdraw from normal life, not taking action or acting as they usually would at work, in their marriage or at school. They may even turn to negative activities, such as crime or drugs, as a way of dealing with identity crisis. To someone having an identity crisis, it is more acceptable to them to have a negative identity than none at all.
Erikson felt that peers have a strong impact on the development of ego identity during adolescence. He believed that association with negative groups such as cults or fanatics could actually "redistrict" the developing ego during this fragile time. The basic strength that Erikson found should develop during adolescence is fidelity, which only emerges from a cohesive ego identity. Fidelity is known to encompass sincerity, genuineness and a sense of duty in our relationships with other people.
Erikson described identity as "a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image. As a quality of unself-conscious living, this can be gloriously obvious in a young person who has found himself as he has found his communality. In him we see emerge a unique unification of what is irreversibly given—that is, body type and temperament, giftedness and vulnerability, infantile models and acquired ideals—with the open choices provided in available roles, occupational possibilities, values offered, mentors met, friendships made, and first sexual encounters."
- Kendra Cherry, Identity Crisis - Theory and Research
- (Schultz, 216)
- (Schultz, 215-216)
- (Schultz, 215-216)
- (Erikson, 730)
- Schultz, D. & Schultz, S. (2009). Theories of Personality, 9th Ed. New York: Wadsworth Cengage Learning
- Erikson, Erik (Fall 1970). ""Identity Crisis" in Autobiographic Perspective". Daedalus 99 (The Making of Modern Science: Biographical Studies): 730–759.
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