In its most simple sense, the concept of identity indicates whom you think you are. The development of an individual’s identity however is not as straightforward as the concept itself. Identities are either imposed upon people, or ideally constructed by the individual himself through a series of processes at different stages of his life. Even in most modern societies, there are moral and social rules that are individuals are expected to conform with.
Some people do not rebel against the roles their families or the society have chosen for them, while some go through a time of crisis at some point in their lives during the process of identity construction.
“As humans have attempted to adapt to modern and late modern forms of social organization, where choice has replaced obligation as the basis of self-definition, identity formation has become more difficult” (Cote, J. E. & Levine, C. G. , 2002, p. 1). Adolescent years are especially critical for the process of identity formation.
This paper will attempt to explore the concept of identity formation with a specific focus on my own life, using my personal experiences in education and career as examples. The concept of identity has been a popular research field for social sciences and psychology, and theories have been proposed. Erik Erikson and James Marcia stand out as two important figures in the field of psychology who worked about the concept of identity formation. “Erikson provided perhaps the most widely recognized theoretical framework for conceptualizing the transformation of the self during adolescence.
This framework provides for the development of a sense of one’s individuality (self-sameness) and continuity with significant others” (Allison, B. N. & Schultz, J. B. , 2001, p. 509). “Marcia’s paradigm has proved to be a very useful and productive way of looking at Erikson’s (1959) concept of ego identity development” (Flum, H. , 1994, p. 489). “Marcia operationalized the stage progression theory of identity development proposed by Erikson by identifying four identity statuses: diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement” (Allison, B. N.
& Schultz, J. B. , 2001, p. 509). “The main idea is that one’s sense of identity is determined largely by the choices and commitments made regarding certain personal and social traits” (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009). Now, let us go over Marcia’s stages by using the story of my journey for identity as an example. The first stage is Identity Diffusion; the status in which the adolescent does not have a sense of having choices; he or she has not yet made (nor is attempting/willing to make) a commitment (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009).
I recall this stage very well, during which you take everything for granted: your school, family and friends, and do not realize that these are not permanent factors defining you. I attended a very liberal junior high school though, and my teachers were always trying to teach us that we are responsible for our own actions and choices. It took me a few more years to realize that this was really the case. The second stage is Identity Foreclosure; the status in which the adolescent seems willing to commit to some relevant roles, values, or goals for the future. Adolescents in this stage have not experienced an identity crisis.
They tend to conform to the expectations of others regarding their future (e. g. allowing a parent to determine a career direction) As such, these individuals have not explored a range of options (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009). During my high school years, I studied hard to get into a reputable university. I had always been a successful and hardworking student, and I continued to fulfill the expectations of my family during high school as well. I never broke the rules in school, handed in my assignments on time, got along well with my friends and teachers. Everyone was proud of me.
The pattern was confirmed in my head: as long as you do your best to succeed, everybody would love you and everything would be fine. However, I would later on find our that this was a delusion. James Marcia’s third stage named Identity Moratorium describes the status in which the adolescent is currently in a crisis, exploring various commitments and is ready to make choices, but has not made a commitment to these choices yet (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009). This stage corresponds to the final year of my high period, when I realized that life and relationships are much more complicated than I thought.
I was seventeen, and had to decide about which university to attend. I realized that my family had certain plans for me. They wanted me to attend a university in the same city I was born in, and continue living with them. My father even offered to buy a car to convince me to stay. However, it occurred to me that I would not be independent and mature enough if I continued living with my parents and attended a university in the city I grew up and never left except for vacations. It was time to grow up and explore other options.
So, I managed to persuade my parents who luckily respected my choice, and I went to another city, where I spent fabulous four years in college and met my best friend in life ever. My college years is the period in which my character and identity started to take shape. Being away from my family and having the opportunity to live and make decisions on my own made all the difference. The fourth stage is Identity Achievement; the status in which the adolescent has gone through a identity crisis and has made a commitment to a sense of identity that he or she has chosen (Learning Theories Knowledgebase, 2009).
My final year in college was not as bright as the first three. The fact that I had to find a job as soon as I graduated weighed in on me. The job market was highly competitive and salaries were very low for entry level employees, due to lack of experience. Employers were not that much concerned with my high honor grades; in fact my friends who had much lower grades but did more internships got into better jobs. I began to question my pattern then: where did I go wrong or what was missing in my puzzle? I realized that my definition of “best” jobs was not actually my own; that is why I was not satisfied.
Everyone thought that working for an international company was the best career path, but I wanted to work for an advertising agency, as an editor, or I wanted to work as an educational consultant and help other people planning their futures. I worked in several jobs for short periods of time which were unsatisfactory both professionally and financially; but I had to gain experience. Then I finally found a consultancy position in a university which also gave me opportunity to pursue my master’s degree at the same time.
All of these experiences taught me one one thing: Nobody but you can decide whom you want to be, and even though life is full of ups and downs and crises; there is no better way than to learn through pain. In conclusion, having the freedom to choose what type of person to become and in which direction to go might be a heavy responsibility. Most individuals stick to predefined roles by their family and society, since it is easier and less risky to follow a tried and tested pattern, rather than starting from scratch.
Difficulties with identity formation processes include people being: unsure about what they believe in; uncommitted to any course of future action; open to influence and manipulation; and unaware that they should pass a sense of meaning on to their children. (Cote, J. E. & Levine, C. G. , 2002, p. 2) However, people who are brave enough to construct their own identities through hardships and setbacks develop a sounder identity and personality. They do not care what others think of their actions or ideas and do what they believe is best for them.
Even if they do not always make the right decision, they learn from their mistakes and and bear the responsibility for their own actions. After a few trial and error stages, they finally reach a point of satisfaction regarding whom they are and what they do for themselves and the society. This is the point where they develop a mature and sound identity. References Allison, B. N. & Schultz, J. B. (2001). Interpersonal Identity Formation during Early Adolescence. Adolescence, 36 (143), 509-518. Cote, J.
E. & Levine, C. G. (2002). Identity Formation, Agency, and Culture: A Social Psychological Synthesis. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Flum, H. (1994). The Evolutive Style of Identity Formation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 23(4), 489-497. Learning Theories Knowledgebase. (2009, March 23). Identity Status Theory (Marcia). Retrieved March 23, 2009, from http://www. learning-theories. com/identity-status- HYPERLINK “http://www. learning-theories. com/identity-status-theory-marcia. html”