What is Identity Crisis?

 Compiled by Naveed Ahmad 

Basically it a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society. In psychology, the term identity crisis (coined by psychologist Erik Erikson) means the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence.

The concept originates in the work of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson who believed that the formation of identity was one of the most important parts of a person’s life.

According to Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself.

Erikson’s own interest in identity began in childhood. Raised Jewish, Erikson appeared very Scandinavian and often 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 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.” (Erikson, 1970.)

Marcia developed the Identity Status Interview, a method of semi-structured interview for psychological identity research that investigates an individual’s extent of exploration and commitment across different life areas. Evaluating the material provided in this interview by using a scoring manual developed by Marcia and colleagues yields four possible outcomes.

The four identity statuses he distinguished were: foreclosure, identity diffusion, moratorium, and identity achievement. 

Identity foreclosure 

Identity foreclosure is one step in the process of finding a sense of self. It occurs when people think they know who they are, but they have not even explored their options yet. Identity foreclosure mimics identity achievement, but it isn’t actually a true identity. A person must undergo an identity in order to achieve a genuine sense of self. People in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon.

Identity diffusion

 It refers to a period when an individual does not have an established identity, nor is actively searching for one. In other words, it’s a time when a person’s identity remains unresolved, yet there is no identity crisis

Identity moratorium

Identity moratorium is the status of individuals who are in the midst of a crisis, whose commitments are either absent or are only vaguely defined, but who are actively exploring alternatives. Marcia notes that “moratoriums report experiencing more anxiety than do so in any other status. The world for them is not, currently, a highly predictable place they are vitally engaged in a struggle to make it so. 

Identity achievement

Once a crisis has been experienced and worked through, Marcia considered, a likely progression would be from diffusion through moratorium to identity achievement. The latter is thus the status of individuals who have typically experienced a crisis, undergone identity explorations and made commitments. Marcia found some evidence to support his theoretical description of students who have achieved an identity as having developed an internal, as opposed to external, locus of self-definition.

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