Are you unsure of your purpose in life? Do you feel you do not know who you really are? If your answer to these questions is yes, it is quite likely that you are experiencing an identity crisis.
Erik Erikson has created the term identity crisis, believing it to be one of the most important internal conflicts that people face throughout their personal development. According to Erikson, the identity crisis is a period of intense analysis of the self. Erikson’s interest in identity has grown since his early childhood as he himself experienced an identity crisis.
His parents had divorced before his birth. At the age of three years old, his mother married a pediatrician in Karlsruhe, Germany, named Theodore Homberger. These things were hidden from the young Erik, who grew up as Erik Homberger.
When he found out that Dr. Homberger was not his biological father, Erik was not sure of who he really was. This had an impact on Erik’s academic performances at school and he never went to college. Resisting his stepfather’s desire to push him toward a medical career, he travelled around Europe for years, alienated from everything was associated with his family.
Thus, his subsequent studies on cultural life have contributed to the formation of Erikson’s ideas on identity development and the identity crisis.
The 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development Paired with Identity Crisis, Based on Erikson’s Theory
According to Erikson, we have certain tasks to accomplish at every stage of our lives. We must overcome them and solve certain conflicts specific to each age. Resolving initial conflicts is necessary to ensure the individual can master and resolve the identity crisis and the challenges that accompany it.
The first crisis (0-1 years)
The first crisis occurs from birth until the age of one, usually referred to as “trust versus mistrust”. It is the time when babies depend on the ones around them. At this stage, a sense of trust versus mistrust is formed, depending on the care and love received.
Appropriate satisfaction of baby’s needs at this stage will lead to the development of a confident attitude towards the environment. On the other hand, if parents do not satisfy the proper existential needs of the baby, a sense of distrust and insecurity will develop.
The second crisis (1-3 years)
The second crisis occurs in young childhood, 1-3 years old, known as “autonomy versus doubt”. It is the stage in which the feeling of autonomy, self-confidence develops and when the child wants to do a series of activities.
Parents’ encouragement and support will enhance child’s safety and self-confidence. If the parents discourage and ridicule the child, they will prevent the development of self-confidence, making the child become shy and reluctant.
The third crisis (3-6 years)
The third crisis occurs in middle childhood, between 3-6 years old, also referred to as the “initiative versus culpability”. It is the stage in which the child begins to explore, discover new motor skills, interact more with others around, etc.
It is a difficult time for parents because children will attempt to break the rules set by the parents. For this reason, it is very important to be supportive and disciplinary so children can learn about the consequences of their actions and learn to take responsibility.
An inappropriate educational intervention will lead to the development of feelings of fear of punishment, considering that any initiative a child has is wrong.
The fourth crisis (6-12 years)
The fourth crisis occurs between 6-12 years old known as “competence vs. inferiority”. It is the stage where the child acquires knowledge and skills predominantly at school.
At the beginning of the school, parents have a tendency to compare their child to others, which can lead to the development of a sense of inferiority. This is because the child will feel that s/he will never meet their parents’ expectations.
On the other hand, an appropriate support from teachers and parents will lead to the development of a sense of competence and confidence in one own’s abilities.
The fifth crisis (12-20 years)
The fifth crisis, occurs between 12 and 20 years old, known as “identity versus confusion of the role”. It is the stage in which adolescents seek to develop their own personal and professional identity and also form specific sexual behaviors.
Adolescents seek to engage in different roles but don’t actually stay in any one. It is when the person is particularly interested to find an answer to the question, “Who am I?” A person wants to have an initiative, but they often feel disturbed by the limits imposed by their parents.
The educational goal of this stage is to build the person’s autonomy by granting independence, which should be somewhat controlled.
The sixth crisis (20-35 years)
The sixth crisis, occurring during the young adulthood, between 20-30/35 years, refers to “intimacy versus isolation”.
Priority in this period is love and relationships, the young adult looking for a life partner. Everyone has an affective and sexual need, and a lack of satisfaction leads to social isolation.
The seventh crisis (35-65 years)
The seventh crisis, occurring in the adult age, 35-65 years, refers to “productivity versus stagnation”. At this time, the emphasis is on the need for the adult to be productive and succeed professionally. It is also about starting a family through the desire to have children.
It is the period in which the person feels the need to share the gained experience with others. If these needs are not met and there is no one to share the accumulated knowledge with, the adult goes through the crisis of stagnation where the personal growth stops.
The eighth crisis (>65 years)
The eighth crisis, occurring in old age, at the age of 65, refers to “psychic integrity vs. despair”. It is the stage in which the person begins to evaluate their achievements over the course of their life.
If there is a thank-you to everything they have done, they experience the sense of satisfaction for their own life and accept the closeness of the end, thus achieving the psychic integrity.
It is a difficult time because after the age of 65, with the retirement, both the professional and the parental roles disappear. A person’s children have a life of their own, the death of the life partner may occur. All this means that a person may have multiple questions about the role of their own existence, which can lead to the fear of death.
5 Signs That You Are Experiencing an Identity Crisis
1. Changes at the Physical Level
Profound fatigue, low energy levels, breathing & cardiac dysfunctions, lack of strength in the arms, palms and legs. Burning sensations, high temperature in some areas of the body. Pain in the back area of the neck, shoulders, or spine.
These signs do not occur all at the same time, and we do not have to experience all of these sensations. They are signs of profound internal transformations at cellular and DNA levels.
2. Emotional Insecurity
Anxiety and depression may appear as a result of your lack of confidence in your abilities. You no longer recognize yourself and wish to redefine who you are and/or your journey.
You may feel that you have not done everything you wanted or you feel restricted by your circumstances. For this reason, you may feel that you are stuck in life or there is an empty space in your life.
4. Doubting Your Own System of Values
Due to your insecurities, you start wondering if your beliefs are holding you back from developing or becoming the person you dream of being. You question your passions, your plans, your thoughts, trying to understand what really prevents you from being happier.
5. Desperate Need of Stability
This desire of reinventing yourself makes you feel restless. Hence you wish to find the answer ASAP and re-create a balance in your life as the inner turmoil exhausts you.
Why Is It OK to Have an Identity Crisis?
Having a million questions and doubts about yourself or life is not fun. All you knew before seems to fade away and the uncertainty of the future is only increasing your anxiety or fear.
But let’s look at the bright side of it: you are becoming a new person! All these challenges and “thirst” for answers are only aiming to open new doors, new adventures and certainly create a new YOU! So embrace it and patiently walk the path as you are just about to blossom!