The fifth stage in Erik Erickson’s model of psychosocial development, which he suggested occurs in adolescence between the ages of 12-18, is that of identity or role confusion. This stage is the one in which individuals develop a sense of their own identity, or, a sense of confusion about who/what they are. Today I wanted to introduce this important stage that can trip us up any time in life if it was not fully integrated in our teenage years.
We develop a sense of self by experimenting, by working out what fits with us, and what doesn’t. This may be experimentation with different groups of people, interests, ways of dressing and styling ourselves or any other differentiator. We may be working out how we want to express ourselves professionally, creatively, or in our personal life, or be sussing out our gender and sexual identities.
Erikson suggested that in this stage of development what emerges is a stable sense of self, an identity that can then develop and evolve as we move through life. We come to know ourselves and what we value, what we are motivated by, what we believe and what we enjoy. We begin to experience continuity within ourselves, and to be able to measure our sameness / difference to other people. Where it is achieved, a strong sense of self can stay with us through life; we commit to being who we want to be. Many people in our lives impact our developing identity - family, friends, teachers, culture and society, community leaders, anyone who has an influence on us really.
Role confusion occurs where we remain unsure of who we are or how we fit in. This may lead to feeling disappointed with our place in life, and drifting between jobs and relationships, unable to assess what is really a good fit because of our inner confusion. We lose out on the self-confidence and independence that comes from knowing our own identity, and this can impact whether we can develop sustainable, happy relationships.
There are many ways of developing our sense of self that we can employ any time in life:
Reflect on what makes your heart sing. Do things that feel good, and bring a sense of aliveness
Develop your skills in things that you enjoy and that make you feel strong and vital
Identify what motivates you and what you value, and give time and energy to those things that matter
Try new things and keep going with those you find energise you
Set small, achievable goals for yourself and stick with them, building your confidence bit by bit
If being clear about who you are and how you fit in feels challenging, psychotherapy may be helpful to navigate this important psychosocial step.