Who Am I?
This is an essential question that everyone asks themselves. The answer to this is what we consider our IDENTITY. It’s the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Initially, all of us embody the identity that is dictated to us but as we grow up into mature adults, we have diverse experiences- some good, others bad. They help us to choose and create our own identities. The process of identity establishment is a lengthy one and leads us to the final state which is called: IDENTITY ACHIEVEMENT. This process causes a lot of confusion and uncertainty. But it is essential for our growth.
So what exactly is identity achievement? And what are its benefits? Is it something all of us go through?
In this article, we will discuss everything about identity achievement, its examples, and how can individuals be nurtured during this process.
What is identity achievement?
Identity achievement is the stage in a person’s life when he has found a true sense of self.
He has explored himself and the various values, beliefs, goals, etc available to him. He has chosen for himself and is highly committed to it. This is generally achieved in adulthood as by then, a person has had many experiences to facilitate his choice.
What are the origins of this concept?
The concept of Identity achievement is based on the theory by Canadian psychologist James Marcia proposed in the 1960s. He identified 4 identity statuses in the process of identity development primarily among adolescents- Identity diffusion, Identity Foreclosure, Identity Moratorium, and Identity Achievement.
His work was inspired by Erik Erikson’s theory of identity crisis. He believed that identity crisis results in confusion which pushes the individual to establish his identity. Otherwise, he remains stuck in role confusion. Erikson believed identity establishment as the primary task of adolescence.
What are the other identity statuses?
According to Marcia, a person’s identity development depends on how much he has explored alternative goals, values, and beliefs and how committed he is to them. These statuses also depend on whether or not the individual has gone through a crisis.
The identity statuses given by him are listed below:
- Identity diffusion– This is that period when a person has neither explored alternatives nor committed to any value or beliefs. In others words, he is indifferent about his identity.
As in this phase, individuals have no values or goals; they are directionless and succumb to peer pressure. They are self-conscious and gullible, subconsciously looking for meaning in life. They are vulnerable to negative influences and can engage in criminal or anti-social activities. They may act in a self-absorbed manner and may feel isolated. They lack purpose.
As they are uncertain about their identity, they are also unable to commit to any task, say completing homework. For some individuals, this state may extend well beyond their teenage years. For example, an adult who continues living in his parents’ house and doing work just for the sake of it. Such individuals might become addicted to living in a passive manner and might be too scared to get out of their comfort zone. Such individuals might need counseling to motivate them to get out of the rut.
- Identity Foreclosure– This is the period when the person commits to a certain set of values and beliefs without exploring alternatives.
This happens as the individuals blindly accept the values of their parents, peers, religion, or social group. They have a high need for approval or grow up in an autocratic environment. Such individuals have an identity that is not self-constructed but is rather inherited from others. An example of this is a teenager who wants to become a politician because his mother is a politician. He has never introspected his reasons for joining politics because he feels that it is what he is meant to do. He has not even explored other interests that he might have.
Such individuals are rigid as they have not sufficiently analyzed the alternatives. They have low levels of tolerance and want others to accept their values without questioning as they have. Lack of exploration also leads to low self-awareness and they generally find themselves in shallow relationships. They don’t know their needs and are thus not able to communicate them to others.
In later years, they might also grow resentful and regret not being authentic to their true nature. This regret might motivate them to enter the next state.
- Identity Moratorium– This period occurs when the person does not want to commit to any values or beliefs for the long term as they are exploring various alternatives.
This is the phase of crisis and exploration. The individual has not yet made a final decision. This period is marked by anxiety as the person doesn’t know who he is. He can’t define his strengths or weaknesses or what his goals are. At the same time, such a person is also excited about life and his new experiences. This leads to a positive self-concept. This exploration can happen while traveling, making career shifts, or when a person leaves his home to pursue higher education. Meeting a role model can also bring about this state. The current internet age has made exploration easier.
However, this state can prove to be harmful in the absence of adequate social support and low self-esteem. Due to the uncertainty of this phase, an individual might engage and lose himself in addictive substances. They might act in a rebellious manner and engage in avoidant behaviors. Without a clear sense of self, they are also not clear about their role in society.
- Identity Achievement– This is the final phase in which a person has explored different available values and beliefs and has made a choice. He has come up with a set of beliefs that he genuinely believes in and is committed to.
He has a true sense of self which he can articulate. It is self-constructed. This gives him confidence and makes him less self-conscious. It makes him feel unique and authentic He doesn’t doubt as he knows the pros and cons of all other values and has made a choice considering all factors. Such a person has a clear direction in his life and is able to pursue it with dedication. Such a person can be consistent over time. They also feel a sense of control over their life.
Such individuals have a firm set of values. As they are clear about themselves and where they want to go, they are also able to have long-term deep relationships with their peers. They are able to better understand themselves and others. They can take decisions based on their preferences and thus feel free. They know what matters to them and what their priorities are.
However, such individuals can face difficulty if the identity they have chosen doesn’t help them achieve their goals or is not positively received by their social group. This might lead them to pursue more exploration.
Are these statuses sequential in nature?
The statuses are not sequential in nature and can occur in any order.
Is the identity achievement process irrevocable?
No. A person can move to and fro from one stage to another throughout his life as identity is not set in stone. As he receives new inputs from his environment, he might move from the commitment of identity achievement back to the identity moratorium phase of exploration. For example, when a person leaves his job in his 30s to try different options. There is a multi-directional movement among the 4 identity statuses.
Is the identity achievement process unitary?
No. These identity statuses can manifest differently across different areas. For example, a person can be in the identity foreclosure state with respect to his religious beliefs, moratorium phase for his career, and achievement phase regarding his sexual orientation.
Will every individual pass through all 4 statuses?
No. According to Marcia, not every individual will go through all 4 statuses. For example, a person in an orthodox culture might spend all his life in a foreclosure state.
What are the factors that influence identity achievement?
Many factors determine how difficult or easy the identity achievement process can be. Identity achievement doesn’t happen in a vacuum and is influenced by the social conditions around that person.
For example, if a person is supported by parents who allow him freedom, teachers who guide him, friends who accept him, and a culture that doesn’t excessively shame him, the identity development process becomes easier. He feels supported.
On the other hand, if the parents are rigid and judgmental, teachers themselves don’t have enough information about this process, friends engage in bullying, and the culture punishes exploration, an individual may spend the rest of his life in the foreclosure state as he might be too scared of negative judgment. He will never be able to self-actualize.
What does identity include?
Identity includes personality traits, likes, dislikes, values, goals, political beliefs, religious beliefs, profession, choices regarding appearance, music taste, opinions about sexuality, relationships, sense of style, etc. It is a comprehensive and dynamic concept. Having a defined identity helps an individual to make sense of their surroundings.
Examples of identity achievement
- Religious beliefs: When a person is small, religion doesn’t interest him much. He is thus in the diffusion phase, whereby he doesn’t have knowledge about different religions and is not committed to anyone. He doesn’t care about religion.
As he grows, his family passes down the knowledge of the religion he is born into. He is taught the principles and doctrines and he accepts them as he has no autonomy. Visiting the religious place of worship becomes a part of his daily routine. It may be because everyone around him follows the same religion.
But when he leaves that group, for say to pursue higher education, he is exposed to people from different backgrounds. He starts questioning his own religion and the meaning behind it. He starts asking ‘why’. Many of the religious doctrines seem orthodox. This marks the moratorium phase, where he might hold discussions with his peers, read books, and even experiment with some of the principles. He might even consider the non-existence of God.
Eventually, he will be able to decide as to which religious beliefs call to him and which he feels attracted to. It might/might not be the religion of his family. This Identity achievement will lead to a change in behavior. He might take the step of converting to a different religion or join his family’s customs with more dedication. He might even find a religious movement of his own e.g. – Gautama Buddha. Because he has analyzed different options, he will be highly committed to his choice. He will be inherently motivated to follow the principles and won’t need external motivation.
- Profession: During the early years of life, questions about career and profession don’t bother anyone. It is the diffusion stage marked by indifference.
As a person grows up, he might become very certain that he wants to become an investment banker because he has been told that it will earn him a lot of money. He might be born into a family, which struggled with money so he adopts his family’s priorities regarding money.
But when he finally becomes one and starts to earn money, he feels unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Money fails to make him feel content. This is an indication of an identity crisis and moratorium. He might then change jobs, attend seminars, do internships, talk with mentors, do online research, start pursuing hobbies, etc.
He might finally discover that writing brings him the most joy. He might then conclude that he is meant to be a writer. His primary motivation thus changes from money to artistic expression. This is how he reaches the identity achievement state. This gives meaning to his life.
Later in his life, he might feel discontent with that too and explore further to find that social service is his true calling. This is to make it clear that identity achievement is not a one-off process. An individual might have to establish his identity multiple times in his life.
- Political beliefs: Similarly, a person may be born in a country that believes in communism. He might also commit to it as part of the foreclosure phase.
He may experience a crisis when he leaves his country to travel the world and gets to know about the pros and cons of the other political beliefs too. He might move from one end of the political spectrum to the other, unable to make up his mind. He might accept some of the values of communism and reject others.
But eventually, he will be able to make a choice. This is when he reaches identity achievement. This will enable him to take a stand on issues. He will more actively participate in religious discussions.
- Lifestyle: A person brought up in a wealthy family might focus more on materialism. They might solely buy luxury brands and hoard stuff. Later in life, as they carve an independent career and meet different people, they might become aware of the harmful effects of consumerism on the environment. They might start broadening their perspective and become aware of the acute poverty that is prevalent in the world. They might feel inspired by a role model who leads a simple life, despite being rich. They might start exploring different lifestyles- different clothes, food, modes of recreation, expenditure levels, etc. This will lead them to find and choose a lifestyle that makes them proud and happy.
- Sexual identity: An individual may adopt a sexual identity based on social conditioning. Later he might feel confused and decide to experiment. It might even be due to a traumatic event. It is not only about sexual orientation, but also the kind of gender roles he/she identifies with.
They might conclude that though they identify as a female, they don’t agree with the roles that might be forced upon by their culture on females. They might decide to carve their own path, one based on equality. This is how they reach identity achievement.
How can adolescents be supported during the identity development phase?
By communicating to them that the anxieties and doubts experienced during this process are a normal part of growing up and are nothing to be ashamed of. They should have access to counselors in their educational institutes. Their parents should also be counseled. They should be provided information about every alternative so that they make a well-informed decision. They must be supported in the commitments they finally decide to make, even if the commitments are not in alignment with the cultural values.
In summary, Identity development goes through 4 statuses- diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement. The achievement phase is very important for an individual as after enough exploration, he is able to commit to a set of values and goals. This makes him a coherent individual and helps him achieve success in life.
This process, however, leads to a lot of confusion. Adolescents should thus be handheld and guided during this process so that they don’t lose themselves.