Identity Crisis

What is an identity crisis?

idenity crisis @ auckland therapy : counselling and psychotherapyHave you ever thought about who you are? Does your sense of self change and adapt different situations? Do you sometimes feel as if you are living a lie, somehow out of touch with knowing what you want? Perhaps you behave differently to how you feel? Maybe life feels confusing as if you don’t quite fit or belong anywhere? It could be that you are searching for your identity, or in other words yourself. The self is made up of distinguishable, individual characteristics and personality that belong uniquely to you. Identity can appear to come in many shapes and sizes – gender, personal, social, cultural, religious, political, sexual, corporate, even online, but who you are comes from within.

A conscious sense of self is something we develop through social interactions. We gain a sense of competence by being admired, for example, and this in turn motivates our behaviour and actions. Growing an identity is something that we all face as children and as adults. It is the most important challenge in our development. Each challenge serves as a turning point — by either developing a quality, or failing to. The potential for growth and failure are equally high. The importance of working through each challenge, or stage, is a bit like hopping from one stepping stone to the next; it builds and layers until we form a knowing of who we are. If we manage these stages well, and we feel supported, loved and accepted, a sense of mastery and confidence emerges. We feel confident about how to go about life and don’t fear making mistakes; instead we see them as opportunities. As these layers build and solidify, they form what is called ego strength.

However, if we don’t get the support, encouragement and validation that nourishes our growth as an individual, the outcome will be a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt, leaving a sense of not knowing who we are, or a feeling of not being good enough or 'right'. This is where therapy can help.

What therapy offers

Growing a more resilient identity is possible in the supportive environment of therapy — a second chance to explore different aspects of who you might become. Teenagers are good at this — it is their work, as they grapple with feelings of identity and confusion. They are in the important throws of intense exploration of looking at the self. How often have teenagers been called selfish and self-indulgent? But this is their work — they are trying out life for size. They are learning what values to throw away and which to keep, what to add to the picture of who they are, what to drop, as they evolve. Perhaps many prior assumptions about the world turn out to be incorrect. This involves having to find their values, which may differ from the ones they grew up with. This can be a frightening but necessary stage of development.

Experimenting with different aspects of yourself, or the roles you play in different settings is useful in finding out about who you are, what you stand for and what makes you tick. Playing with roles at work, within family and in romantic relationships, can help strengthen personal identity.

Research shows that those who make a commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier. Interestingly, those who didn't pursue, or were thwarted in their efforts to find a sense of identity, more often felt out of place in the world.

See also anxiety, depression, self esteem, toxic shame, or self-harm