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Psychology 101, Development and Learning

Discussion of Eriksons Identity vs Confusion


Emma Laubscher, 612L2506 Sarah Beningfield, 612B0366 Manale Manuse, 612M5009 Magdelena de Beer, 612D2851 Monday, 23 April 2012

There are many aspects of Erik Eriksons Identity vs. Confusion stage of psychosocial development that relate to the challenges that the members of our group faced during adolescence. Erik Eriksons fifth stage of psychosocial development centers around the search for identity and concerns working out a stable concept of oneself as a unique individual and embracing an ideology or system of values that provides a sense of direction (Erikson, 1968). While in adolescence, many challenges must be overcome before one becomes a unique individual.

An important challenge that faces most teenagers, and which every member of our group came across in high school, is peer pressure. When friends and people around you who are your age are experimenting with alcohol, smoking and possibly drugs, it is very difficult to resist the temptation of trying those things also. Most of our group could not deny wanting to experiment, even when we knew the risks, and that those things are harmful and unhealthy.

Another possible challenge is the fact that adolescence is a time where you find your sexuality and are attracted to the opposite sex, or in some cases, the same sex (Sapa, 2010). Eriksons theory centers on confusion, and many people become confused about their sexuality at that age. Members of our group experimented with either the same sex or with the other sex during high school and it contributed towards determining our identities. Many people have their first romantic relationships during high school.

Becoming who we are today also stemmed from trying out different ways of dressing and speaking. Members of our group dyed their hair, experimented with fashion trends and tattoos.

A final challenge would be the possibility depression, as this could lead to other problems like cutting your wrists or eating disorders. Depression happens in adolescence because the teenagers are confused and asking questions like Who am I, and where am I going in life? (Erikson, 1968) which are difficult to answer at such a young age, especially because we have so many options open to us.

What are some examples of teenagers struggling to define their identity?


Teenagers, or young adults, are in a period of their lives during which they are attempting establish themselves in the adult world. Often this results in activities to gain experiences that will help them bridge from childhood to adulthood (Boeree, 2006). This is not an easy process for many people, and people from different cultural groups handle the process of development differently, as dictated by the norms of their surroundings (Shafer, Boonzaier, & Kiguwa, 2006). Due to South Africas political history, some cultures that were oppressed in the past now feel a pressure to study high-ranking professional fields (Bayever, 2006). In the Indian culture many adolescents feel a great pressure from their families to study subjects such as medicine and law (Shafer, Boonzaier, & Kiguwa, 2006). Often this pressure can lead to depression, low self-esteem, shame, rebellion, frustration, and mention suicide (McQueen & Henwood, 2002).

In South Africa, like America and other Western influenced countries, teenagers suffer with issues that have to do with appearance. With South Africas culture surrounding rugby many young boys have started to use steroids to gain a body that looks similar to the professional rugby players (Sapa, 2010).

Due to a lack of self-esteem often associated with developing identity, some teenagers look for attention from external sources, such as friends and people of the opposite sex. In the case of friendship it could lead to giving into peer pressure, which can lead to addictive habits such as binge drinking, cigarette smoking and drugs (Sapa, 2010). This behaviour starts as early as the age of 12 (Sapa, 2010). Statistics in South Africa shows that 1 in every 2 teenagers are addicted to drugs or alcohol. (Bayever, 2006)

Why do they think an identity crisis occurs for most people during their teenage years?
The teenage years are a time during which children make the transition to adulthood. They reach physical maturity but not emotional or economic maturity, which is confusing (Weiten, 2010). They make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. This is the time during which they determine the course of their lives and establish their values, making it a time when an identity crisis is most probable (Weiten, 2010). Identity crises mostly occur during times of great transition (Erikson, 1968)

During the teenage years people experience physiological changes, there is a sudden growth spurt at the beginning of puberty (Weiten, 2010). Puberty creates hormonal imbalances, which drastically influence the individuals moods. These physical changes set off confusion about self-image, which leads to experimentation and deviant behaviour (Weiten, 2010). During this phase individuals ask themselves questions relating to who they are, and what they are meant to do this initiates the process of trying to find themselves (Weiten, 2010).

An identity crisis occurs because at this age individuals do not yet have clear sense of self, and try to find themselves. They explore different things to help establish their unique individuality, this should build their confidence give them a sense of direction (Weiten, 2010). Teenager are often over whelmed by their quest to find not only their purpose, but also their place in society and ultimately themselves. They attempt to accomplish this whilst facing peer, social, and family pressure. The large amounts of pressure combined with the insecurity they face due to their changing life circumstances and bodies combine to create identity crises (Weiten, 2010).

What are the basic skills and values necessary to sufficiently resolve an identity crisis?
According to Erikson (1958, cited in Weiten, 2010) the premier challenge of adolescence is the struggle to form a clear sense of identity. As part of the process of establishing an identity an individual will experience several identity crises (Marcia, 1980). James Marcia (1980) suggests that these crises contribute to the development of a solid, defined identity a state he terms identity achievement. There are a number of personality characteristics that tend to fluctuate depending upon the identity status that an individual occupies. The acquisition, or reduction, of these personality traits can be seen as an indicator of an individuals ability to overcome and successfully resolve identity crises.

The first of these personality characteristics is anxiety (Marcia, 1980). Teenagers occupying the identity achievement status display lower levels of anxiety and are better able to cope with stressful situations which illicit anxiety (Marcia, 1980). This suggests that the ability to deal with anxiety is a coping mechanism necessary for the successful resolution of an identity crisis. Identity achievement individuals have higher self-esteem levels (Marcia, 1980), whereas those teenagers who are unable to cope with their identity crises display lower levels of self esteem (McQueen & Henwood, 2002). Factors such as academic success and extra mural participation play a large role in a teenagers self esteem (Murtaugh, 1988). Culture, as well as the values established by an individuals culture, also plays a significant role in self-esteem levels and the successful resolution of identity crises (Thom & Coetzee, 2004). According to Kilpatrick (1974, cited in Thom & Coetzee, 2004) the ideal balance is to develop a unique identity without rejecting the cultural heritage. In South Africa, black adolescents seem to occupy a higher level of identity development and self esteem than white adolescents (Thom & Coetzee, 2004). Thom & Coetzee (2004) explain this as a result of the recent societal change towards black pride. Conversely, research done by Koneru, Weisman de Mamni, Flynn, & Betancourt,

(2007) on Latino American teenagers suggests that cultural confusion is a stressor contributing to engagement in risky behaviour. The Latino American teenagers growing up in a country removed from their cultural origins are more likely to engage in deviant behaviour consistent with an identity crisis (Koneru, Weisman de Mamni, Flynn, & Betancourt, 2007). From this it is clear that defined cultural values are necessary to successfully resolve identity crises. The next personality trait outlined by Marcia (1980) is autonomy. Teenagers without defined personalities are the most endorsing of authoritarian values (Marcia, 1980). According to Marcia it is necessary for developing teenagers to learn to be independent and capable of making their own decisions (Marcia, 1980). Their confidence in their ability to make decisions and deal with problems directly contributes to their ability to resolve identity crises and reach Identity Achievement (Marcia, 1980). Connecting with the personality trait of autonomy is the skill of moral reasoning. According to Marcia, development of moral reasoning seems to accompany the development of identity. The skill of distinguishing right from wrong is necessary for teenagers ability to resolve their own identity crises (Cohen & Cohen, 1995). A teenagers style of cognition also directly affects their ability to resolve identity crises (Marcia, 1980). Those adolescents who occupy the Identity Achievement status and who have therefore resolved their identity crises have a future-orientated time perspective (Marcia, 1980). This suggests that the ability to plan and think ahead is necessary to overcome an identity crisis (Cohen & Cohen, 1995). One aspect considered critical to constructive development is the formation of positive emotional bonds to parents, to peers and to society (Cohen & Cohen, 1995). The ability to form and maintain successful intimate relationships is crucial in resolving identity crises (Cohen & Cohen, 1995). Intimate relationships form a support structure; those adolescents who have formed successful relationships are more likely to overcome identity crises as they have people to rely on during difficult periods (McQueen & Henwood, 2002). Directly connected to the ability to form successful interpersonal relationships with a high level of attachment, is the ability to communicate feelings

(McQueen & Henwood, 2002). In a study conducted on suicidal teenagers McQueen & Henwood (2002) discovered that those teenagers who felt unable to connect and who were unwilling to share their intimate feelings were more likely to attempt suicide. As suicide is an indicator of teenage identity crises, this suggests that the ability to communicate is a skill necessary for the successful resolution of such an event (McQueen & Henwood, 2002). In summary, skills necessary to overcome identity crises include the ability to manage anxiety, the ability to make decisions and act autonomously, moral reasoning, the ability to plan ahead and the capability of communicating personal feelings and establishing intimate relationships (Marcia, 1980). Defined cultural values also contribute to an established identity and the ability to overcome identity crises (Thom & Coetzee, 2004).

Works Cited
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