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Identity formation

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Identity formation

Identity formation, also known as individuation, is the development of the distinct personality of an individual[1] regarded as a persisting entity (known as personal continuity) in a particular stage of life in which individual characteristics are possessed and by which a person is recognised or known (such as the establishment of a reputation). This process defines individuals to others and themselves. Pieces of the person's actual identity include a sense of continuity, a sense of uniqueness from others, and a sense of affiliation. Identity formation leads to a number of issues of personal identity and an identity where the individual has some sort of comprehension of him or herself as a discrete and separate entity. This may be through individuation whereby the undifferentiated individual tends to become unique, or undergoes stages through which differentiated facets of a person's life tend toward becoming a more indivisible whole.

Identity is often described as finite and consisting of separate and distinct parts (family, cultural, personal, professional, etc.), yet according to Parker J. Palmer, it is an ever evolving core within where our genetics (biology), culture, loved ones, those we cared for, people who have harmed us and people we have harmed, the deeds done (good and ill) to self and others, experiences lived, and choices made come together to form who we are at this moment.[2]


  • Theories on identity formation 1
    • Erikson 1.1
    • Marcia 1.2
  • Self-concept 2
    • Cultural identity 2.1
    • Ethnic and national identity 2.2
    • Religious identity 2.3
    • Gender identity 2.4
  • Interpersonal identity development 3
    • Interaction 3.1
    • Collective identity 3.2
    • Social support 3.3
    • Family 3.4
    • Peer relationships 3.5
  • Influences on identity 4
    • Cognitive influences 4.1
    • Scholastic influences 4.2
    • Sociocultural influences 4.3
    • Parenting influences 4.4
  • In business 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • 8 External articles and references
    • Further reading 8.1
    • Websites 8.2

Theories on identity formation

Many theories of development have aspects of identity formation included in them. Two theories stand out in regards to this topic: Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development (specifically the "identity versus role confusion" stage of his theory) and James Marcia's identity status theory.


Erikson's belief is that throughout each person's lifetime, they experience different crises or conflicts. Each of the conflicts arises at a certain point in life and must be successfully resolved for progression to the next of the eight stages. The particular stage relevant to identity formation takes place during adolescence, called "Identity versus Role Confusion."[3]

The "Identity versus Role Confusion" stage consists of adolescents trying to figure out who they are in order to form a basic identity that they will build on throughout their life, especially concerning social and occupational identities. They face the complexities of determining one's own identity. Erikson said this crisis is resolved with identity achievement, the point at which an individual has extensively considered various goals and values, accepting some and rejecting others, and understands who he or she is as a unique person.[4] Once an adolescent has attained identiy achievement, they are ready to enter the next stage of Erikson's theory "Intimacy versus Isolation" where they will form strong friendships and a sense of companionship with others. If the "Identity versus Role Confusion" crisis is not solved, an adolescent will face confusion about future plans, particularly their roles in adulthood. Failure to form one's own identity leads to failure to form a shared identity with others, which could lead to instability in many areas as an adult. The identity formation stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is a crucial stage in life.[3]


James Marcia created a structural interview designed to classify adolescents into one of four statuses of identity. The identity statuses are used to describe and pinpoint the progression of an adolescent's identity formation process. In James Marcia's theory, the operational definition of identity is whether an individual has explored various alternatives and made firm commitments to: an occupation, religion, sexual orientation and a set of political values.

The four identity statuses in James Marcia's theory are:[5]

  1. Identity Diffusion (also known as Role Confusion): This is the opposite of identity achievement. The individual has not yet resolved their identity crisis, failing to commit to any goals or values and establish future life direction. In adolescents, this stage is characterized by disorganized thinking, procrastination, and avoidance of issues and action.[4]
  2. Identity Foreclosure: This occurs when teenagers accept traditional values and cultural norms, rather than determining their own values. In other words, the person conforms to an identity without exploration as to what really suits him or her best. For instance, teenagers might follow the values and roles of their parents or cultural norms. They might also foreclose on a negative identity, the direct opposite of their parent's values or cultural norms.[4]
  3. Identity Moratorium: This postpones identity achievement by providing temporary shelter. This status provides opportunities for exploration, either in breadth or in depth. Examples of moratoria common in American society include college or the military.[4]
  4. Identity Achievement: This status is attained when the person has solved the identity issues by making commitments to goals, beliefs and values after extensive exploration of different areas.


Self-concept or self-identity is the sum of a being's knowledge and understanding of his or her self. The self-concept is different from self-consciousness, which is an awareness of one's self. Components of the self-concept include physical, psychological, and social attributes, which can be influenced by the individual's attitudes, habits, beliefs and ideas. These components and attributes can not be condensed to the general concepts of self-image and self-esteem as different types of identity coming together in one person. These types of identity can be broken down into the following.

Cultural identity

Cultural identity is the (feeling of) identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as she/he is influenced by her/his belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics. There are modern questions of culture that are transferred into questions of identity. Historical culture also influences individual identity, and as with modern cultural identity, individuals may pick and choose aspects of cultural identity, while rejecting or disowning other associated ideas.

Ethnic and national identity

An ethnic identity is the identification with a certain ethnicity, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry. Recognition by others as a distinct ethnic group is often a contributing factor to developing this bond of identification. Ethnic groups are also often united by common cultural, behavioral, linguistic, ritualistic, or religious traits.

Processes that result in the emergence of such identification are summarised as ethnogenesis. Various cultural studies and social theory investigate the question of cultural and ethnic identities. Cultural identity remarks upon: place, gender, race, history, nationality, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and ethnicity.

National identity is an ethical and philosophical concept whereby all humans are divided into groups called nations. Members of a "nation" share a common identity, and usually a common origin, in the sense of ancestry, parentage or descent.

Religious identity

A religious identity is the set of beliefs and practices generally held by an individual, involving adherence to codified beliefs and rituals and study of ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as faith and mystic experience. The term "religious identity" refers to the personal practices related to communal faith and to rituals and communication stemming from such conviction. This identity formation begins with association in the parents' religious contacts, and individuation requires that the person chooses to the same--or different--religious identity than that of his/her parents.

Gender identity

In sociology, gender identity describes the gender with which a person identifies (i.e., whether one perceives oneself to be a man, a woman, or describes oneself in some less conventional way), but can also be used to refer to the gender that other people attribute to the individual on the basis of what they know from gender role indications (social behavior, clothing, hair style, etc.). Gender identity may be affected by a variety of social structures, including the person's ethnic group, employment status, religion or irreligion, and family.

Interpersonal identity development

Social relation can refer to a multitude of social interactions, regulated by social norms, between two or more people, with each having a social position and performing a social role. In sociological hierarchy, social relation is more advanced than behavior, action, social behavior, social action, social contact and social interaction. Social relations form the basis of concepts such as social organization, social structure, social movement and social system.

Interpersonal identity development is composed of three elements:

  • Categorisation: Labeling others (and ourselves) into categories.
  • Identification: Associating others with certain groups.
  • Comparison: Comparing groups.

Interpersonal identity development allows an individual to question and examine various personality elements, such as ideas, beliefs, and behaviors. The actions or thoughts of others create social influences that change an individual. Examples of social influence can be seen in socialisation and peer pressure. This is the effect of other people on a person's behavior, thinking about one's Self, and subsequent acceptance or rejection of how other people attempt to influence the individual. Interpersonal identity development occurs during exploratory self-analysis and self-evaluation, ending at various times with the establishment of an easy-to-understand and consolidative sense of self or identity.


During the interpersonal identity development an exchange of propositions and counter-propositions occurs, resulting in a qualitative transformation of the individual in the direction of the interaction. The aim of the interpersonal identity development is to try to resolve the undifferentiated facets of an individual. The individual's existence is undifferentiated but this, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from others. Given this, and with other admissions, the individual is led to a contradiction between self and others, thus forcing the withdrawal of the undifferentiated self as a truth. In resolution of this incongruence, the person integrates or rejects the encountered elements. This process results in a new identity. During each of these exchanges which human beings encounter as they go through life, the person must resolve the exchange and then face future exchanges. The exchanges are recurring, since the changing world constantly presents exchanges between individuals and thus allows individuals to redefine themselves.

Collective identity

The term collective identity is a sense of belonging to a group (the collective) that is so strong that a person who identifies with the group will dedicate his or her life to the group over individual identity: he or she will defend the views of the group and assume risks for the group, sometimes as great as loss of life. The cohesiveness of the collective goes beyond community, as the collective suffers the pain of grief from the loss of a member.

Social support

Individuals gain a social identity and group identity by their affiliation. This is from membership in various groups. These groups include, among various categories,:


One of the most important affiliations is that of their family, whether they be biological, extended or even adoptive families. Each has their own influence on identity through the interaction that takes place between the family members and with the individual person.[7] "Information regarding possible identities of possible selves comes from various contexts that surround adolescents and temporal commitments are tested and practiced in interaction with others."[8] Researchers and theorists basically state that an individual's identity(more specifically an adolescent's identity) is influenced by the people around them and the environment in which they live. Also if a family does not have integration this seems to help create identity diffusion (this is one of James Marcia's 4 identity statuses, meaning that an individual has not made commitments and does not try to make commitments.[9]) This is true for both males and females.[10] These concepts prove that a family has influence on an individual no matter if the influence be good or bad.

Peer relationships

The purpose of this study was to analyze the influence of same-sex friendships in the development of one's identity. This study involved the use of 24 same-sex college student friendship triads, consisting of 12 males and 12 females, with a total of 72 participants. Each triad was required to have known each other for a minimum of six months. A qualitative method was chosen, as it is the most appropriate in assessing development of identity. Semi-structured group interviewers took place, where the students were asked to reflect on stories and experiences with relationship problems. The results showed 5 common responses when assessing these relationship problems. The responses involved joking about the relationship problems, providing support, offering advice, relating others' experiences to their own similar experiences, and providing encouragement. The results concluded that adolescents are actively constructing their identities through common themes of conversation between same-sex friendships, in this case, involving relationship issues. The common themes of conversation that close peers seem to engage in, help to further their identity formation in life.[11]

Influences on identity

There is an abundant amount of influences on identity formation. Some of which have already been touched on in other sections of this article. Among the many influences, four influences stand out to be especially important. Those include: cognitive influences, scholastic influences, sociocultural influences and parenting influences.

Cognitive influences

Cognitive development has an impact on identity formation. When adolescents are able to think abstractly and reason logically they have an easier time exploring and contemplating possible identities. When an adolescent has advanced cognitive development and maturity they tend to resolve identity issues more so than age mates that are less cognitively developed. When identity issues are solved quicker and better, there is more time and effort put into developing that identity. Having a solid identity earlier is a preferred situation and is one of the first steps in forming the desired life and goals of the individual.

Scholastic influences

Adolescents that have a post-secondary education tend to make more concrete goals and stable occupational commitments. So going to college or university can influence identity formation in a productive way. Of course, the opposite can also be true, where identity influences education and academics. The two can play off of each other, ultimately forming identity in the process. Scholastics as an impact on identity can be beneficial for the individual's identity in the sense that, the individual will be getting educated on different approaches and paths to take in the process of identity formation. Ultimately scholastics are important for our brains as well as our identities.

Sociocultural influences

Sociocultural influences are those of a broader social and historical context. For example in the past, adolescents would likely just adopt the job, religious beliefs, etc. that was expected of them or that were the same as their parents. In a society like today's, adolescents have more resources to explore identity choices as well as more options for commitments. This influence is becoming less significant due to the growing acceptance of identity options that were once less accepted. Also, more of the identity options from the past are becoming unrecognized and less popular today. The changing sociocultural situation is forcing individuals to develop a unique identity based on their own aspirations. Sociocultural influences are playing a different role identity formation now than they have in the past. However, it still has an impact on identity, just in a different way.

Parenting influences

The type of relationship that adolescents have with their parents has a significant role in identity formation. For example when there is a solid and positive relationship between parent and adolescent they are more likely to feel freedom in exploring identity options for themselves. A study found that for boys and girls, identity formation is positively influenced by parental involvement specifically in the areas of: support, social monitoring and school monitoring.[12] In contrast, when the relationship is not as close and the adolescent fears rejection from the parent, they are more likely to feel less confident in forming a separate identity from their parent(s). These are just examples; of course there are other outcomes possible in adolescent identity formation when examining the parenting as well as the parent-child relationship.

In business

In business, a professional identity is the "persona" of a professional which is designed to accord with and facilitate the attainment of business objectives. A professional identity comes into being when there is a philosophy which is manifest in a distinct corporate culture - the corporate personality. A business professional is a person in a profession with certain types of skills that sometimes requires formal training or education.

The career development of an individual focuses on how individuals manage their careers within and between organisations and how organisations structure the career progress of their members, and can be tied into succession planning within some organizations.

Within the business realm and many careers is the role of management. Management tasks enhance leadership, by creating an environment where all team members know and assume responsibility for their roles. Employees' self-concept and affiliation are often aligned with their roles in the organization.

Training is a form of identity setting, since it has not only effects on knowledge, but also affects the team member's self-concept. Knowledge, on the other hand, of the position introduces a new path of less effort to the trainee, which prolong the effects of training and promote a stronger self-concept. Other forms of identity setting in an Organization include Business Cards, Specific Benefits by Role, and Task Forwarding.[13]

See also


  1. ^ The Free Dictionary (2012). "Individuation". Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Palmer, P. J. (2008). "The heart of a teacher: Identity and integrity in teaching". Retrieved October 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Erikson, Erik H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton. 
  4. ^ a b c d Berger, Kathleen Stassen (2014). Invitation to the Life Span, Second Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. 
  5. ^ Marcia, James E. (1966). "Development and validation of egoidentity status". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 
  6. ^ Hurd, E. (2010). Confessions of Belonging: My Emotional Journey as a Medical Translator. Qualitative Inquiry 16(10), 783-791. doi: 10.1177/1077800410383117
  7. ^ Grotevant, H. D. (1997). Family processes, identity development, and behavioral outcomes for adopted adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12(1), 139.
  8. ^ Goossens, L. (2008). Dynamics of perceived parenting and identity formation in late adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 31(2), 165-184.
  9. ^ Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. Boston: McGraw Hill.
  10. ^ Willemsen, E. ., & Waterman, K. (1991). Dynamics of perceived parenting and identity formation in late adolescence. Psychological Reports, 66, 1203-1212.
  11. ^ Morgan, Elizabeth M. & Korobov, Neill. (2011). Interpersonal Identity Formation in Conversations with Close Friends About Dating Relationships. "Journal of Adolescence".
  12. ^ Sartor, Carolyn E. & Youniss, James. (2002). The relationship between positive parental involvement and identity achievement during adolescence. Adolescence, 37, 221-234.
  13. ^ Salvador, José (2009). MBA CookBook.

External articles and references

Further reading

  • A Erdman,A Study of Bisexual Identity Formation. 2006.
  • A Portes, D MacLeod, What Shall I Call Myself? Hispanic Identity Formation in the Second Generation. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 1996.
  • AS Waterman, Identity Formation: Discovery or Creation? The Journal of Early Adolescence, 1984.
  • AS Waterman, Finding Someone to be: Studies on the Role of Intrinsic Motivation in Identity Formation. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 2004.
  • A Warde, Consumption, Identity-Formation and Uncertainty. Sociology, 1994.
  • A Wendt, Collective Identity Formation and the International State. The American Political Science Review, 1994.
  • CA Willard, 1996 — Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 10-ISBN 0226898458/13-ISBN 9780226898452; OCLC 260223405
  • CF Schryer, Genre Theory, Health-Care Discourse, and Professional Identity Formation. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005):249-278.
  • CG Levine, JE Côté, JE Cãotâ, Identity Formation, Agency, and Culture: a social psychological synthesis. 2002.
  • DL Blustein, Relationship between the Identity Formation Process and Career Development. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1989.
  • HD Grotevant, Toward a Process Model of Identity Formation. Journal of Adolescent Research, 1987.
  • G Robert, C Bate, C Pope, J Gabbay, A le May, Processes and dynamics of identity formation in professional organisations. 2007.
  • HL Minton, GJ McDonald, Homosexual identity formation as a developmental process.
  • I Abu-Saad, State-Controlled Education and Identity Formation Among the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 49, No. 8, 1085-1100 (2006).
  • JE Côté, Sociological perspectives on identity formation: The culture-identity link and identity capital. Journal of Adolescence, 1996.
  • L Craig-Bray, GR Adams, WR Dobson, Identity formation and social relations during late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1988.
  • MC Boyes, M Chandler, Cognitive development, epistemic doubt, and identity formation in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1992.
  • MD Berzonsky, Self-construction over the life-span: A process perspective on identity formation. Advances in personal construct theory, 1990.
  • RB Hall, (Reviewer) Uses of the Other: 'The East' in European Identity Formation (by IB Neumann) University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1999. 248 pages. ISBN 0-8166-3082-8 International Studies Review Vol.3, Issue 1, Pages 101-111
  • RM Sabatelli, A Mazor, Differentiation, individuation, and identity formation. Adolescence, 1985.
  • SJ Schwartz, WM Kurtines, MJ Montgomery, A comparison of two strategies for facilitating identity formation processes in emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, 2005.
  • T Postmes, SA Haslam, RI Swaab, Social influence in small groups: An interactive model of social identity formation. European Review of Social Psychology, 2005.
  • VC Cass, Homosexual identity formation: a theoretical model. J Homosex, 1979.
  • VC Cass, Homosexual identity formation: Testing a theoretical model. Journal of Sex Research, 1984.
  • VC Cass, Sexual orientation identity formation: A Western phenomenon. Textbook of homosexuality and mental health, 1996.
  • WR Penuel, JV Wertsch, Vygotsky and identity formation: A sociocultural approach. Educational Psychologist, 1995.


  • A positive approach to identity formation of biracial children".
  • Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research. "Identity" is the official journal of the Society for Research on Identity Formation.
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