September 24, 2020

Jem Fundano

Identity Development in Adolescents and Adults

"There is in every child," Erik Erikson states, "at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding". It is part of life's process when you alter your views, concept, and behavior in a specific life phase.

Changes may be small or gigantic, and it may change a lot in your life. The changes you may be experiencing is because of the process called "Identity development".

What is Identity Development in Adolescents and Adults?

During your teen years, the changes in your beliefs, behavior, and concepts that contribute to your identity occur. The freedom you have allows you to change beliefs that were once taught to you. It develops into another version of you, so that's why it's called "Identity development".

Erik Erikson's psychosocial developmental theory states that a person faces an identity crisis in each life stage. For adolescents, the crisis is about being able to identify who they are. If teens cannot overcome this crisis, it will lead to confusion and a weak identity. Over time, a weak identity can affect the person as they age.

Identity development in adolescents and adults can feel fulfilling, but it can also be a stress source. It can feel fulfilling because it feels good to know yourself well. But, when part of your identity goes against what's normal, it can create distress.

Signs of Distress as You Undergo Identity Development

When the process of identity development in adolescents or adults happens, distress can exist. Here are signs if you're struggling in the process of identity development:

  • Stress happens. You feel restless or experience sleepless nights. Physical symptoms exist and can be in the form of muscle tension, headaches, or digestive problems.
  • You struggle with work or school. When you have a dilemma with a specific lifestyle or concept, you might experience work or school issues.
  • You experience interpersonal challenges. When you're unsure of your identity and your beliefs, it might create confusion and conflicts. You may feel isolated because you don't fit in. Your confusion about your identity can also affect your relationships.
  • You get anxious or worried. When you're not sure where you stand, it's normal to get concerned. When you don't have set beliefs or standards, you get preoccupied and anxious about who you are.
  • Feelings of helplessness happen. If you're struggling with an area of your identity for a while, it can lead to feeling helpless. Helplessness can eventually form depression or suicidal thoughts.

Related: Understanding Depression

Problem Areas During Identity Development in Adolescents and Adults

Even though identity development has broad factors, common areas are known to suffer if you're struggling with your identity.

  • Occupational or professional identity. If you're unsure about your identity, it may be hard to pursue and be happy with your profession. It's common to struggle with balancing who you are as a professional if it's hindering other areas of your identity. Feeling caught between pursuing what you love and putting food on the table can be a challenge that may cause distress.
  • Family identity. The beliefs and values you have may not match your family's; This can reap a whirlwind of conflicts. When there's a mismatch between you and your loved ones' beliefs, it can cause distress.
  • Social identity. If you feel isolated or as if you don't fit in, this can be a challenge. Unstable friendships can hinder you, and it can affect your sense of self.
  • Cultural, religious, or racial identity. The standards of specific cultures, religions, and races may not match your personal beliefs. This may cause distress especially if there are social pressures around you.
  • Sexual or gender identity. Your sense of self also means your sexuality or gender orientation. If you're unsure of this aspect, it can create negative feelings. When your sexual or gender identity is attacked by norms and discrimination around you, it can also cause distress.

What to Do When Experiencing Problems Related To Identity Development?

Conflicts around you and within you can be really disheartening and confusing. Here are suggestions that can help you solve the problems.

  • Therapy- A therapist can be able to help you understand yourself and the challenges you're facing. You can consult a therapist for an evaluation.
  • Community Groups- When you struggle in specific areas like religion, culture, race, or sexuality, it's vital to find a community. The community must be a safe space where you can figure yourself out without judgment or criticism. It's tough to figure things out alone. With that, you must have other people who can help you see your problems differently.
  • Resources- Online or physical resources can help you if you're struggling with your identity. Resource centers are there to help you out. You can find resource tools that are specific to your concerns.
  • Journaling- Keeping a daily log for your thoughts and feelings can help you clarify and understand your issues. When you read through your journal, you can analyze a pattern, and it can help you approach problems differently.
  • Drawing Boundaries- When there are social pressures around you, you can remove yourself from the situation. Drawing boundaries with friends, family, work, and other people can help you feel better. Sometimes, it's the pressure around you that holds you down, and it can affect your identity.

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