Identity Crisis: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment (2022)

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Overview

Are you questioning who you are? Maybe what your purpose is, or what your values are? If so, you may be going through what some call an identity crisis.

The term “identity crisis” first came from developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. He introduced the ideas of adolescent identity crises as well as midlife crises, believing that personalities developed by resolving crises in life.

If you’re experiencing an identity crisis, you may be questioning your sense of self or identity. This can often occur due to big changes or stressors in life, or due to factors such as age or advancement from a certain stage (for example, school, work, or childhood).

Here’s what you need to know about identity crises, if you might be having one, and what you can do.

Having an identity crisis isn’t a diagnosable condition, so there aren’t typical “symptoms,” as with a cold or flu. Instead, here are the signs you may be experiencing an identity crisis:

  • You’re questioning who you are — overall or with regards to a certain life aspect such as relationships, age, or career.
  • You’re experiencing great personal conflict due to the questioning of who you are or your role in society.
  • Big changes have recently occurred that have affected your sense of self, such as a divorce.
  • You’re questioning things such as your values, spirituality, beliefs, interests, or career path that have a major impact on how you see yourself.
  • You’re searching for more meaning, reason, or passion in your life.

It’s completely normal to question who you are, especially since we change throughout our lives. However, when it begins to affect your daily thinking or functioning, you may be having a crisis of identity.

(Video) Identity Crisis| What is identity crisis, symptoms and how to treat it.#mentalhealth #identitycrisis

Is it something more serious?

Any type of crisis can also result in a decline in your mental health.

Viewing yourself or your life negatively has been shown to be a marker for vulnerability to depression.

If you have any signs of depression, consider seeking help. You should seek help immediately if they’re accompanied by suicidal thoughts.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • issues with concentration, energy levels, motivation, and sleep

Although often thought of as happening at certain ages (for instance, in teens or during “midlife crises”), an identity crisis can happen to anyone, of any age, at any point in one’s life.

Oftentimes, identity crises or other mental health issues can arise due to major life stressors. These stressors don’t have to be inherently bad, but they can still cause a lot of stress, which makes you question who you are and what you value.

Stressors can include:

  • getting married
  • getting divorced or separated
  • moving
  • experiencing a traumatic event
  • losing a loved one
  • losing or getting a job
  • new health issues

These and other stressors can certainly have an impact on your daily life and how you see yourself.

One recent study found that factors such as social support, stress levels, and health issues could all influence the development of an often-called midlife crisis.

Questioning your sense of self may be stressful, but it can actually be a good thing in the long term. Knowing who you are better and adapting to changes can help you grow as a person.

Here are some things you can do to get through an identity crisis:

Look inward and explore

Take some time out to really look within yourself and ask yourself some questions about what you like and don’t like anymore.

Ask yourself questions and see if you can answer them over time and if the answers help you figure things out. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers — and they may change from year to year, or decade to decade.

Questions might include:

  • What qualities and characteristics define you? How has this changed over the years?
  • If you’re experiencing a major life change: How have things changed for you? Are you content with these changes? How can you cope with these new things occurring?
  • What are your values? Is anything working in opposition to them?
  • What are your interests, passions, and hobbies? Are you doing what you like to do, and if not, why not? (If you love to play tennis and haven’t for several years, what factors are preventing it?)
  • What grounds you? What helps you cope when you’re struggling?
  • What’s important to you regarding your values, purpose in life, or sense of identity? Is there anything you feel you can do to improve your sense of self?

Search for joy and other ways to cope

What makes you happy? What gives your life a sense of purpose and joy?

You don’t necessarily have to have the perfect job, but if you aren’t doing anything fulfilling in your life, then this might be why you feel like you’re in crisis.

You may find fulfillment in volunteering, taking up a new hobby, connecting with others, or any number of other things outside of your employment. Or, you may find that a new job will be a more appropriate match for who you are.

Find support

Having good social support can help influence how well you cope with big changes, stressors, or questions of identity. There are so many places you can find support.

Look for support in:

  • friends, partners, and family members
  • your community or church
  • a new group, club, or meetup that shares your interests
  • a support group, especially when dealing with a new health issue
  • mental health group or individual therapies
  • team sports or activities

Ignore internal and external judgment

Other people’s expectations as well as our own can have a big effect on how we’re feeling. But don’t let society’s standards dictate who you are and what you should like.

(Video) 8 Signs You Are in an Identity Crisis

Just because you’re of a certain age, gender, or cultural group, doesn’t mean that you need to follow along if you no longer believe in what you’re following.

Your self-perception is important to your overall well-being, and spending time and energy on judgmental thinking can get you nowhere. It may take time for the people you love to understand any changes you make, but you’ll be happier in the long term if you’re true to yourself.

Seek outside help

If the stress ever gets to be too much, consider seeking outside help. This can come from a trustworthy friend or family member to talk to, or a mental health professional to help you resolve and cope with what’s going on.

Never feel afraid to ask for help. Life — especially big changes — can feel scary, but we all go through it.

(Video) Repairing the Identity Crisis | Ryan Romano | TEDxMountainViewCollege

Sense of self and identity is important to everyone. Although having an identity crisis can make you feel lost or frustrated, these types of crises can also be fundamentally helpful.

Questioning your sense of self, your purpose, and your values can help you gain a better sense of you who are and who you will be. Remember, change is a part of life, and looking back you will see that you’ve been changing all along.

If you’re experiencing a lot of major life stressors and you feel like you’re in a serious mental health crisis, contact a professional who can help you work through what you’re going through.

Identity crisis in adolescence

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Q:

Do all adolescents experience an identity crisis, and how can parents support their children who might be going through this?

Anonymous patient

A:

Many people believe that adolescence is invariably a time of “storm and stress,” which may be partially attributable to identity formation or even “identity crisis.” However, research does not support this notion. Many adolescents make it through this developmental stage without issue, while some find themselves having moderate challenges that they are able to negotiate after some time and effort, or with some additional support. A small minority will have substantial issues that require intensive and ongoing supports. Whatever the case, all adolescents do find themselves defining and deciding upon “who they are,” as they are given more opportunities to be self-directive and autonomous during the transition to adulthood. It is important for parents to create an atmosphere of safety and openness, whereby adolescents feel comfortable sharing their insights and feelings without fear of judgement. Such a relationship will foster the types of conversations that will support adolescents through their transitions, whatever the level of challenge or “crisis.”

Dillon Browne, PhDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

FAQs

What causes an identity crisis? ›

If you're experiencing an identity crisis, you may be questioning your sense of self or identity. This can often occur due to big changes or stressors in life, or due to factors such as age or advancement from a certain stage (for example, school, work, or childhood).

What is the best definition of identity crisis? ›

noun. 1. : personal psychosocial conflict especially in adolescence that involves confusion about one's social role and often a sense of loss of continuity to one's personality. : a state of confusion in an institution or organization regarding its nature or direction.

What is the treatment of choice for identity crisis? ›

Treatment for an Identity Crisis

In general, talk therapy can help, but there are also more specific, evidence-based therapies that tend to be common forms of treatment. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, person centered therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy.

What is identity crisis a mental illness? ›

An identity crisis is not a mental health diagnosis or a medical problem. In the Eriksonian understanding, it is a natural stage of development. It does not need treatment if a person resolves the crisis and does not develop identity confusion.

What are the four types of identity? ›

Erikson's observations about identity were extended by Marcia, who described four identity statuses:identity diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium and identity achievement.

What are examples of identities? ›

Examples of social identities are race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religion/religious beliefs.

What are the 4 identity statuses and definitions? ›

Marcia's four identity stages are diffusion (low exploration, low commitment), foreclosure (low exploration, high commitment), moratorium (high exploration, low commitment), and achievement (high exploration, high commitment).

How many issues is identity crisis? ›

Identity Crisis is a seven-issue comic book limited series published by DC Comics from June to December in 2004. It was created by writer Brad Meltzer and the artistic team of penciler Rags Morales and inker Michael Bair.

Who faces the identity crisis? ›

Solution. Adolescents face the identity crisis.

How long does identity crisis last? ›

How Long Does an Identity Crisis Last? While an identity crisis can be wrapped up nicely in an episode of TV or a two-hour movie, this isn't always the case. An identity crisis can last for years.

How do you treat identity disturbance? ›

Treatments for BPD that may help with identity disturbance include: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can help identify any limiting beliefs a person has about themselves or others, making it easier over time to form relationships. It also addresses underlying anxiety and mood symptoms.

What are issues of identity? ›

Signs of Identity Issues:

Discontentment about career choices and interpersonal relationships. Decreased motivation and increased apathy about school, work, or life in general. Feeling overly anxious about long-term career goals, friendships, or other interpersonal relationships.

What mental disorder causes identity issues? ›

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental health condition. Someone with DID has multiple, distinct personalities. The various identities control a person's behavior at different times. The condition can cause memory loss, delusions or depression.

Is identity crisis a personality disorder? ›

Diagnosing Identity Issues

It is important to note that an identity crisis is not an actual psychological diagnosis. However, identity is a key criterion for diagnosing personality disorders,7 and it is possible to be diagnosed with an identity issue or disorder.

What age is identity crisis? ›

Identity versus role confusion is the fifth stage of ego in psychologist Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. This stage occurs during adolescence between the ages of approximately 12 and 18.

What are the 3 factors of identity? ›

It is proposed that social identity can be represented in terms of three factors: centrality; ingroup affect; and ingroup ties.

What are 5 characteristics of identity? ›

Aspects of identity examples include our gender, ethnicity, personality, religion, values, and hobbies. Each aspect helps to make up who we are, and make us unique individuals.

What are 6 factors that affect a person's identity? ›

Identity formation and evolution are impacted by a variety of internal and external factors like society, family, loved ones, ethnicity, race, culture, location, opportunities, media, interests, appearance, self-expression and life experiences.

What are the 5 types of identity? ›

Multiple types of identity come together within an individual and can be broken down into the following: cultural identity, professional identity, ethnic and national identity, religious identity, gender identity, and disability identity.

What are the 9 identities? ›

Maths Formulas for Class 9 – Algebraic Identities
  • (a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b. ...
  • (a – b)2 = a2 – 2ab + b. ...
  • (a + b) (a – b) = a2 -b. ...
  • (x + a) (x + b) = x2 + (a + b) x + ab.
  • (x + a) (x – b) = x2 + (a – b) x – ab.
  • (x – a) (x + b) = x2 + (b – a) x – ab.
  • (x – a) (x – b) = x2 – (a + b) x + ab.
  • (a + b)3 = a3 + b3 + 3ab (a + b)
8 Aug 2022

What are the 4 areas of identity achievement? ›

James Marcia is the psychologist who created the four identity statuses. These four statuses are identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement. These statuses depend upon the adolescent's commitment and exploration level.

Do I have an identity crisis test? ›

Identity Crisis Test

Do you have a feeling of aimlessness? Is your happiness dependent on others being happy? Are you unable to separate your thoughts and feelings from the thoughts and feelings of your parents? Do you feel social anxiety around others?

What happens when you lose your identity? ›

Such loss of identity can result in increased levels of generalised anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, a loss of self-confidence, social anxiety, isolation, chronic loneliness, all of which threaten our ability to connect with other people.

How do you disappear and get a new identity? ›

Your best bet if you want to erase your identity and start over is to change your name legally, move far away, take up a different profession and start a new life. You can even create a new persona -- from the way you dress to your accent and gait.

How do you defend your identity? ›

  1. 10 Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft. ...
  2. Destroy private records and statements. ...
  3. Secure your mail. ...
  4. Safeguard your Social Security number. ...
  5. Don't leave a paper trail. ...
  6. Never let your credit card out of your sight. ...
  7. Know who you're dealing with. ...
  8. Take your name off marketers' hit lists.

How can you tell if a woman is borderline? ›

Signs and symptoms
  1. Fear of abandonment. People with BPD are often terrified of being abandoned or left alone. ...
  2. Unstable relationships. ...
  3. Unclear or shifting self-image. ...
  4. Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors. ...
  5. Self-harm. ...
  6. Extreme emotional swings. ...
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness. ...
  8. Explosive anger.

How does identity affect health? ›

Research shows that many aspects of your identity and social status are big determinants of how healthy you are. Addressing discrimination, gender biases and barriers that prevent accessibility to necessary services, such as poverty and fair pay, are key for greater health and wellbeing for all citizens.

How does identity affect mental health? ›

The Connection to Mental Health

When you find yourself struggling with identity issues, you may also experience depression, anxiety, insecurity, and more. Viewing yourself or your life negatively has been shown to lead to vulnerability and depression.

Is identity part of mental health? ›

Identity as one of the effective variables in mental health is consisting of environmental, mental and social aspects. Correlation consequences showed that there is significant positive relationship between diffusion identity style and identity crisis.

What the Bible Says About identity crisis? ›

God's word communicates very clearly that we were created in His image. Thus, our identity, at its core, is founded and rooted in Him (Genesis 1:27). Identity crisis happens when we lose sight of our Creator's design for us.

Does identity change with age? ›

As individuals age, their identity becomes less entrenched. Indeed, age can become a prominent aspect of an individual's identity and can replace other types of identity, such as gender, religion, and ethnicity. Research also shows that older individuals explore ethnic-related identity less than younger people.

What does an identity crisis feel like? ›

A person without a sense of identity can instead feel a disconnect from who they have been, and/or no sense as to who they will become next. They feel a different person sometimes from day to day. Some report looking in the mirror and finding it hard to believe it is them looking back.

What are the 3 major concern in building an identity? ›

Shapers of Identity. Three settings shape collective identities: (1) internal factors within each group, (2) relations with adversary groups, and (3) the social context of the groups' interaction.

What is Erikson's concept of identity crisis? ›

According to Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself. Erikson noted that developing a sense of identity is important during the teenage years, though the formation and growth of identity is not confined to adolescence.

How long does a identity crisis last? ›

How Long Does an Identity Crisis Last? While an identity crisis can be wrapped up nicely in an episode of TV or a two-hour movie, this isn't always the case. An identity crisis can last for years.

How do you help someone with identity issues? ›

Use the following prompts to talk your friend through an identity crisis.
  1. Ask them more specific questions about themselves. ...
  2. Ask what 5 words they'd use to describe themselves. ...
  3. Suggest they think about both their good and bad qualities, from a random other's perspective.
15 Mar 2020

What factors influence people's identity? ›

Identity formation and evolution are impacted by a variety of internal and external factors like society, family, loved ones, ethnicity, race, culture, location, opportunities, media, interests, appearance, self-expression and life experiences.

What factors affect personal identity? ›

Personal identity formation and evolution are impacted by various internal and external factors like society, family, friends, ethnicity, race, culture, location, opportunities, media, interests, appearance, self-expression, and life experiences.

What are 5 aspects of identity? ›

Aspects of identity examples include our gender, ethnicity, personality, religion, values, and hobbies. Each aspect helps to make up who we are, and make us unique individuals.

What are the three stages of identity? ›

  • Stage 1: Unexamined Ethnic Identity.
  • Stage 2: Ethnic Identity Search/Moratorium.
  • Stage 3: Ethnic Identity Achievement.

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