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Q: Indentity crisis ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Indentity crisis
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 19 Mar 2003 14:26 PST
Expires: 18 Apr 2003 15:26 PDT
Question ID: 178397
What is understood, when the term 'identity crisis' is used. In
regards to teenagers and adults(midlife crisis?)Does it appear to be
related to a dramatic event or trauma? Is there an underlying
physiological condition?
Subject: Re: Indentity crisis
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 19 Mar 2003 15:35 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello qpet,

Thank you for this very interesting question. 

It appears that Erik Erikson was the father of the idenity crisis:

"Erik Erikson and Identity Crisis

Are you confused about the direction of your life? 
Don't know who you are? 
Can't decide on where you stand in terms of philosophy of life? 
Fail to see your role in life? 

You are probably experiencing an "identity crisis". 

Erik Erikson, the psychologist who coined the term "identity crisis",
believes that the identity crisis is the most important conflict human
beings encounter when they go through eight developmental stages in
life. The identity is "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.)

According to Erikson's stages, the onset of the identity crisis is in
the teenage years, and only individuals who succeed in resolving the
crisis will be ready to face future challenges in life. But the
identity crisis may well be recurring, as the changing world demands
us to constantly redefine ourselves. Erikson suggested that people
experience an identity crisis when they lose "a sense of personal
sameness and historical continuity". Given today's rapid development
in technology, global economy, dynamics in local and world politics,
identity crises are expected to be more common now than 30 years ago,
when Erikson formed his theory..."

"Erikson's Eight Stages of Human Development

Babies are born with some basic capabilities and distinct
temperaments. But they go through dramatic changes on the way to
adulthood, and while growing old. According to psychologist Erik H.
Erikson, each individual passes through eight developmental stages
(Erikson calls them "psychosocial stages"). Each stage is
characterized by a different psychological "crisis", which must be
resolved by the individual before the individual can move on to the
next stage. If the person copes with a particular crisis in a
maladaptive manner, the outcome will be more struggles with that issue
later in life. To Erikson, the sequence of the stages are set by
nature. It is within the set limits that nurture works its ways..."

So, in reading through these documents, it appears that crisis is a
normal occurence in the growth of an individual and occurs more than
in just the formative years and mid-life.

In fact, Erikson delineates the stages as follows:

1. Infancy
2. Toddler
3. Early Childhood
4. Elementary and Middle School
5. Adolescence
6. Young Adulthood
7. Middle Adulthood
8. Late Adulthood

You will find the descriptions of each of these crises interesting:

"Famed psychologist, Erik Erikson argued that development is a
lifelong process, from conception until death. He argued that we go
through eight stages, the first in infancy and the last in old age. At
each stage there is a crisis that we must deal with. The most famous
crisis that Erikson proposed is that which we experience during
adolescence: the identity crisis...

...Because each of Erikson's stages build upon each other, the person
who is identity diffused, or who has not successfully resolved the
identity crisis, will have difficulty resolving the crises to come..." 

The Net of Crises defines "identity crisis" as follows:

by Anna B. Zaniewska

"The term "identity crisis" has been first introduced by Erik Erikson.
Finding his definition insufficient for the complex research in the
subject, the author of this paper has decided to suggest a different
working definition, based on the conceptual framework, called "The Web
of Interactions".

The tripartite theory of human nature, suggested by this new paradigm,
gives the ground to define human identity as a set of three: the
bodily, social, and personal identity.

Most people are, more or less consciously, aware of the complexity of
their identity. To the question "Who am I?"(if asked by themselves),
or "Who are you?" (if asked by the other person) we all are able to
give at least one, but usually more than one answer.

The examples of the possible answers are as follows: "I am a young
student"; "I am a black lawyer"; "I am a famous dancer"; "I am a
person respecting all living beings", etc. All these statements
reflect the actual state of one's self-perception. As life goes on,
bringing new experiences, the answers change revealing new

But there are the situations when to the question "Who am I?"/"Who are
you?" one can only say "I don't know yet" or "I don't know any

The first reply is often given by the young people searching for their
identity. This search is not easy to accept because it is often
associated with discomfort and even pain. And yet, it is the necessary
process allowing one to become conscious of his or her identity and
develop to the highest level of inner potentials...

The second reply "I don't know any longer" comes usually from a mature
individual and seems to suggest that one lost the ability to define
his or her own identity and is no longer certain in regard to the
continuity of existence as a particular being.

This moment of a temporary loss of certainty, or the moment of doubt
regarding one's identity is defined here as identity crisis..."

Searching a bit more specifically to your question of trauma or
physiological impotance in triggering identity crises, I found the

"The New Me, Who Am I?  Finding Your Identity

Overcoming and coping with the physical obstacles associated with
sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can be the easy part. A more
difficult, complex and existential issue is asking "who is the new
person"? My name remains the same. However, in many significant ways I
am different. I am not talking about concrete issues (gross and fine
motor coordination, speech and language).

As a result of physical or cognitive limitations, you may be forced to
slow down, depend on devices or people, organize and preplan in a way
that was foreign before the trauma. If you are lucky enough to go back
to school or work, guaranteed it will not be in the same capacity or
without modification.

When confronted with this reality, an identity crisis surfaces. What
does this mean and say about me as a person?..."

Aiken, L. (1991). Dying, Death, and Bereavement. Needham Heights,
Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon. 261-263.

"Aiken describes that losing a loved one may cause bereavement, which
leads to grief, mourning, possible identity crises, and other related

by Rev. Luana Collins Rubin

This article originally appeared in the June, 1996 issue of PATHWAYS.

"Over the last few months I keep hearing the same thing from friends,
clients and other practitioners and therapists: there is an identity
crisis going on out there, both on an individual and on a mass
consciousness level. People are experiencing trauma and loss, causing
them to drastically re-evaluate the priorities in their lives.
Seemingly happy and successful folks are breaking down under stress,
feeling totally overwhelmed by the lives they have so carefully



"Autism is a crippling mental disease occurring during the second
(autonomy-preoperational) developmental stage; Dementia Praecox (or
adolescent schizophrenia) is also a crippling mental disease occurring
during the fifth (identity-formal operations) developmental period;
senile schizophrenia is a third crippling mental disease seen during
the eighth (ego-integrity-illumination) developmental period. All
three of these maladies are characterized by the failure of the ego to
surmount an identity crisis, and to integrate the self, during a
(second column) identity stage. They are thus, developmentally related
to the recurring identity crises which characterize second column
stages, at successively higher levels. The unifying, clarifying
application of the periodic developmental stage theory is clear.

While we do not know what developmental strains cause the rupture of
the envelope surrounding the ego, the process seems related to failure
of the individual to integrate the personality during a second column
or "ego" period, thus resulting in an identity crisis. The syndrome of
healthful development is that you apparently have to get an ego before
you can diffuse it. If, for some reason, it diffuses before full
cognitive control is established, one escapes into the chaotic
conditions of the "not-me," an immature manifestation of the
uncontrolled collective preconscious, seen in various stages of mental
disturbance termed Schizophrenia..."
Creativity, ESP, and Meditation; the JOHN CURTIS GOWAN Memorial
Website of Psychic Phenomena, Mental Health, and Paranormal Psychology

And in another paper I located, Erikson himself speaks to the
physiological events that can trigger crisis:

"...We inherit predisposition to adapt to an average expectable
environment. 8 developmental stages, unfold according to innate plan.
These stages are both psychosexual and epigenetic (epi=upon
genetic=emergence). Every epigenetic stage characterised by specific
psychosocial problem (‘crisis’), brought on by increasing
physiological maturity and resulting greater demands made by parents /
society, should be resolved by ego during appropriate stage for
personality development to proceed successfully. Any sever later
crisis may revive earlier ones as well, and counteract previous
successful or unsuccessful resolutions...
Personality and Individual Differences
Lecture 4: Erik Erikson - PSYCHOSOCIAL

As you can see, there is an almost unlimited wealth of information on
identity crisis available on the Internet. I hope the information
above by Erikson will clarfiy that it is or can be an event that can
occur at any stage of life and indeed, can be triggered by trauma or
physiological conditions though neither are required for a crisis to
manifest. The act of experiencing and transisting through an identity
crisis can also be simply a process of human emotional growth.

Search Strategy:

"identity crisis" +erikson
"identity crisis" +trauma
"identity crisis" +physiological

Other links of interest:
Erikson, E.H. (1970). "Identity crisis" in perspective. In E.H.
Erikson, Life history and the historical moment. New York: Norton,
Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson 
By Lawrence J. Friedman
Identity Crisis Test

How we see ourselves often determines 
how we feel emotionally and how we respond to others. 

I trust my research has provided you with valuable links to
information and has answered your question. If a link above should
fail to work or anything require further explanation or research,
please do post a Request for Clarification prior to rating the answer
and closing the question and I will be pleased to assist further.


qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Great answer!

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