Identity Formation

Identity Formation

Identity formation in an individual is the most vital element of development that enables a person to cultivate the desired recognition in the society. Despite the identity psyche in the adolescent stage where the element is achieve to seek and identify with a particular group of people of a certain age, identity in adult hood stage is rooted on the urge to satisfy one own needs and requirements. Identity in the adulthood stage is driven the need to achieve self autonomy, that is, ensure self reliance and individual decision making. At the adult hood stage a person is ready to be responsible and take of him or herself and ensure responsibility for his or her actions.  Identity at the adult stage is due to advancement in the physical, cognitive and socio emotional elements (Turner, 2010).

Marcia’s theory

According to Marcia identity at the adult stage is driven towards advancement and achievement made that satisfy one’s desires and drives in life. This assertion tends to coincide with view held by Erikson who asserts that identity in the adolescents is different from the adult stage due the fact that the identity in the adolescent stage is based on identity confusion. The adolescents seek identity not for purpose of development or self autonomy but to identify with particular members of similar age groups.  Identity at the adolescent stage is about seeking individuals of similar feelings, thoughts, behaviors and emotions. The adolescents are not guided by issues such as tribe and race when seeking identity, but by the desired behavior exhibited in among the members of a certain age group.  Racial or tribal discrimination is very low at the adolescent stage than at the adult stage (Marcia, 1970).

Identity crisis

Research shows that at adolescents are free to interact with each other regardless of their skin color or tribe than adults who are guided by search issues when choosing friends and partners.  Children from minority groups interact with those from the majority groups in cosmopolitans society settings. The identity crisis in adolescents propagated by Erikson suggests that adolescents reach a stage in life where they start to evaluate their initiatives and adopt the desired initiative that can enable them attain what they want. The crisis stage is where the adolescents start to change their beliefs and think about the occupations they would like to pursue in life. The commitment to the stick to the belief and the desired initiative sets out the difference among the individuals and the adolescents graduate from group identity to individual identity. The cognitive advancement enables the individual to reason as an independent person rather as a group of people (Marcia, 1970).

Four forms of identity

Marcia identified four stages of identity that determines the development of identity from the adolescent stage to adult hood. The first stage of the development is where a commitment to achieve identity is made devoid of the choices in the surrounding.  At this stage the individual relies on the parental advice or advice from the guardians, for instance if one’s parents were Christian democrats, then the individual automatically follows the parents’ footsteps. The identity at this stage may be cultivated out of pressure or willingness of the individual. The individual propagate the ego and identity of the parents rather than his or her own identity.


The other form through which adolescents seek identity is through diffusion where the individuals are not able to stick to any commitment or any pressure from whatever source. The individuals at this stage might have not experienced the identity crisis. The parties at this stage have not ventured into any identity and may become disturbed due to lack of a defined identity.  From this stage, the individual shift to a state of identity exploration where they try to find the best alternatives among the available ones. The individuals struggle to choose the identity they deem appropriate for themselves. The last stage in the identity crisis is the identity attainment where adolescents have examined all the options available to them and made a commitment to settle on the desired identity. The adult hood stage marks the stage of identity attainment. Identity development is relatively stable at the adult stage however it may be disturbed by changes in the environment, for instance lose of a loved one who played a great role in influencing some development in them, the individual will feel disturbed. Lose of job or reliable source of income causes the changes. The changes results to a state of disequilibrium which depends on the type of identity that was developed at the early stages of life. In some individuals, the changes may not result to any disturbance or disequilibrium. Marcia asserts that at the commitment stage where identity is influenced by parents or one’s willingness, the individual tends to be discriminative as he or she follows the stereotyped view of the parents. Take a case of a white child raised in white republican parents, the child follows the footsteps of the parents to seek his or her identity and not other options that are available (Marcia, 1970).

Erikson’s theory

According to Erikson development towards self identity takes place in 8 stages known as the stages of psychosocial development. The development according to the researcher was influenced by socio cultural and biological elements.  Erikson’s fidelity stage which is characterized by identity and confusion occurs when an individual is at the adolescents stage and stop at the early stage of adult hood. The adolescent is more concerned about self appearance and what others think and view of them. Adolescents are confused about the roles that they should partake in the society. Role identification may the adolescents interacting with the neighbors, seeking identification with particular religion of political groupings. As the individual grows towards adult hood, there is a shift from what the individual wants to become and what the society expects him or her to be. The adolescent stage is characterized identity confusion as the individual tries to create the desired identity this state is known as moratorium state where the individual starts to explore and experiments to be able to realize his or her own self identity. Whether an individual is raised from a minority or a majority background, personal beliefs at this stage are self determined. An adolescent are able to choose the careers they would like to pursue regardless of their backgrounds. This has been the major cause of disputes between the adolescents and parents who tend to force them to follow certain religions or political affiliations. The individuals driven ideologies lead to self realization. As the adolescents move towards the adulthood, there is realization of individual identity, the individual graduates from the confusion stage to a state of individuality. The researcher noted that identity formation differs among various individuals in the society (Erikson, 1960).

Intimacy and isolation

The next stage after identity formation is the stage of intimacy and isolation, where the individual asks him or herself many questions that pertain to issues of love and intimacy. The early stages of adult hood in an individual are characterized by confusion in the roles that the person can pursue in the society. The friends who were identified in the adolescent stage tend to attract the young adults to form early adulthood groupings. Individuals may be isolated because they fear being rejected by other partners who may turn down their offer to love them. Individuals who fall intimate relationships and friendships form identities that depicts the values and objectives of the relationships (Erikson, 1960).

Stagnation and adulthood

After the intimacy and isolation stage, the next stage of development is the stagnation stage which is characterized by establishment of the guiding principles that can enable an individual handle his or her family and be a responsible member of the society.  It is the stage where an individual is expected to be more loving to all the people regardless of gender, tribe and race. The individual should develop sense of achievement and be more creative in using his or her leisure time (Erikson, 1960).

The rites of passage in America

Unlike the other countries of the world where rites of passage is embedded on the traditional practices of the people, rites of passage in North America takes the modern approach where development in an individual is perceived in terms of the stages of social life that one has reached. The rites of passage in America rest on diversity among the people. The country comprises of people from different races, nations and tribes. In America, transitions in life of an individual are marked by celebration of birthdays, where from 1 to year 12 the activity means a lot to the parents and relatives of the child, however as the child grows and becomes an adult, celebration of the event means a lot to the individual. The other type of celebration that marks transition in life is graduation parties where individuals help the growing members of the society to celebrate the transition in education from one stage to another. In America graduation from junior high school to senior high school means that an individual is moving towards adult hood. Graduation from junior high school to college or university marks the most significant step in development. An individual at graduating from college gets into the real world environment where he or she is expected to be employed, own property and marry and final raise a family. The retirement stage marks the one of the last stages in the life of an individual as one grows old and awaits death (Bee, H, & Boyd, 2009).

In some cultures such as Brazil, rites of passage take a different approach from the case seen in America. Once a child is born, the child is and is or her birth day is celebrated on the first day of birth where family members and relatives give their presents. When the child reaches the adolescents stage, the child is taken to the forest to be taught hunting skills. This is done to the boy child, however the girl child is taught important life skills by the grandparents. The major events celebrated are the graduation from one warrior stage to another until marriage. The Brazilian approach is similar to most of the cultures in Africa where the boy child at the adolescent stage graduates from warrior stage to another until marriage. The girl child in Africa does not go through the warrior stages but is taught different life skills as she transforms from one stage to another. Despite the differences among the rite of passage in different cultures most of them tend to coincide with physical, cognitive and socio emotional development, take the case scenario where children who have reached the adolescent stage are taken to the forest to be taught the important hunting skills. The adolescent stage marks the shift from childhood to adulthood and therefore at this stage one should be able to learn the various ways of bringing food to the table as seen in the Brazilian and African cultures (Bee, & Boyd, 2009).

Effects of minority status on identity development

Study by Bell, (2012) on effects of minority status of identity development found that individuals at the adolescent stage are more influenced by mental and behavioral difficulties. The study that utilized questionnaires to collect information from a group of a adolescents from different races and ethnic backgrounds found that adolescents who accomplishes a secure sense of identity when they can identify with their tribe or race than other members of the society. Adolescents prefer their ethnic or racial affiliation for the purposes of security

Cushing,  (2011) his study contributes to the above view by adding that, this depends on the stage of development, for instance at foreclosure the individual is likely to be influenced by the members of the race or tribe. The study also applied questions to collect data from a group of adolescents. The study however found out that at the stage where the adolescent seeks self realization, he or she may go beyond ethnic and racial boundaries in order to establish an identity.


The family, school, and community can do the following to ease the process for the adolescents

  • Guidance and counseling
  • Teaching and coaching
  • Promote their participation in community welfare issues


Identity is one of the most important stages in the development of an individual. As adolescents grow towards adulthood, it is important that they are guided and taught the best approaches on how to form their identity.  The right identity formation enables the adolescents to become responsible members of the society who are to identify the various factors that affect their lives in the society.


Bee, H, and Boyd, D. (2009). The Developing Child (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Marcia, James E. (1970). “Development and validation of ego identity status” (PDF). Journal of   Personality and Social Psychology 3: 551–558.

Erikson, Erik (1960). “The problem of ego identity” (pdf). Journal of the American            Psychoanalytic Association 4: 56–121.

Bell, B.J. (2012). “The rites of passage and outdoor education: Critical concerns for effective        programming.” The Journal of Experiential Education, 26, 1, pp. 41–50.

Cushing, P.J. (2011). “Competing the cycle of transformation: Lessons from the rites of passage model.” Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Experiential Education, 9, 5, 7–12.

Turner, V. (2010). “Betwixt and between: the liminal period in rites de passage,” Forest of            symbols: aspects of the Ndembu ritual, Cornell UP, Ithaca, pp. 23–59.


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