These are tough times we are living in and are seen as confusing, exhausting and even seemingly impossible times. Here we are- people of the 21st century- hurled into these difficult times with few precedents, no all knowing winks to the past, little to guide us except, perhaps, that rather distorted mirror images staring back at us in the glass. If only we had a more concrete sense of self, we might be suffering less. If only we could be dedicated to some ideal, transcendent concept, we might be suffering less. Instead, we become obsessed with a quick or even instant sense of identity, resembling the poet T.S. Eliot’s “hollow men”. We have become addicted to becoming someone, but we want that identity effortlessly and impatiently; we want it now. We want things to give us a sense of identity ranging from our toiletries, automobiles to our latest Botox injection.
One probably has come across the term- “identity crisis” and has a faint idea of what it means. But where has this idea come to originate from and why do people face such a kind of personal crisis? The development psychologist Erik Erikson, had believed that identity formation was the most important part of a person’s life as they grow. While developing a sense of identity was seen crucial to one’s adolescent years, Erikson did not believe to confine to the teenage years but instead to focus throughout one’s life, as identity is something which shifts and grows as people face new challenges and tackle different situations.
Psychologist Erikson coined the term “identity crisis” and believed it was one of the most important conflicts humans face as they grow and develop. It is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself. As a quality of unself-conscious living, this can be gloriously obvious in a young person who has found his communality. Erikson’s own interest in identity began in childhood. Raised Jewish, Erikson appeared very Scandinavian and often felt as an outsider of both groups. His later studies of cultural life among the Yurok in Northern California and the Sioux of South Dakota helped formalize his ideas about identity development and identity crisis.
As society developed and the influence and scope of psychology was felt important, Erikson’s initial theory was expanded by Researcher James Marcia and his colleagues; where according to them the balance between identity and confusion lies in making a commitment to an identity. They developed four different identity statuses: ‘Identity Achievement’ occurs when an individual has gone through an exploration of different identities and made a commitment to one. ‘Moratorium’ is the status of a person who is actively involved in exploring different identities but has not made a commitment yet. ‘Foreclosure’ status is when a person has made a commitment without attempting identity exploration. ‘Identity diffusion’ occurs when there is neither an identity crisis or commitment. Those with a status of identity diffusion tend to feel out of place in the world and don’t pursue a sense of identity.
In Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, the emergence of an identity crisis occurs during the teenage years in which people struggle with feelings of “identity versus role confusion”. In today’s rapidly growing modern world, identity crises are more common today than when it was formed. These conflicts are certainly not confined to the teenage years. People tend to experience them at various points throughout life, particularly at points of great change, including: losing or starting a new job; beginning or ending of a relationship or partnership; having a child or losing a loved one or even experiencing a major traumatic event. Identity crises are also common among people with mental illness, including depression, codependence, bipolar disorders and borderline personality disorders. While we all from time to time question ourselves, one maybe going through a big change or stressful time in life and following questions begin to interfere in our lives- “ Who am I? ; “ What are my values?” or “What is my purpose in life or my role in society?”
Being 18 years till date, I would still want to identity myself or have the identity keyed to being the “intelligent”, “kind’, or the “wittiest” girl. Each of us needs the need to be feel that there is, somewhere in this overwhelming and vast world, there is a superlative that we would identity ourselves with. And why shouldn’t one harbor such feelings of unique significance? Many of us have worn out our lives trying to become somebody. Some of us have twisted ourselves into knots, trying to be somebody others might want us to be. The more fortunate among us have worked hard at finding out who we are. The question of our identity can haunt us for sometime; and there are some among us who can find no answer at all. We embrace any sort of recognition that promises to give us a unique sense of being, however frail or fragile. Everyday we hear a variety of claims to some minor distinction: “I had the worst appendix the doctor had seen in 40 years” or “I still hold the record for making fire by friction in my batch”.
Throughout time, it is seen that we sometimes borrow identities from the rich and famous. The Rihanna lookalike model ‘Renne Kujur’ was introduced at India Couture Week 2018. In an interview she claimed that before being introduced to the modeling industry, she was shamed for her dark complexion; but as she was more known she became renowned for her lookalike similarity with Rihanna. Soon, she was given the identity of the “Indian Rihanna”, thereby also increasing her popularity. Although it is seen in other such cases, people may take up the identity in a positive or self-praising manner, but often some people may again face an identity crisis since they are associated or given the identity of someone else, thereby their personal identity is assumed to have faded. Much more sobering are those cases of people who have killed someone famous or adopted irrational ideas and beliefs in order to become somebody, to gain an identity for themselves and to be known.
Clearly, each of us must define for ourselves either with someone’s help or on our basis, on what kind of somebody we want to become. We too, often look to the outside world and the forthcoming experiences with its outcomes to form an idea as to our worth, our identity. We study the images in other people’s eyes and for the sake of such images clothe ourselves in fashionable rubbish, the in brand of the day, status and political symbols and other such dimensions of eggshell fragility. Then we wonder why a total stranger is reflected in the mirror. We have in today’s times especially, tried to invent ourselves from the inside out or the outside in. we have so desperately tried to be somebody that we have ended up being nobody where it really counts. And how incomparably sad to glance back, albeit late in our brief walk across eternity and say: “But none of that was me“.
We live in a time where almost everyone in our culture seems to get their identity based on how well they perform or achieve in life. In this post modern world, achievement is one of the most important pre-condition to attaining an imperative identity in society. This is where we seem to obtain our worth and society’s affirmation. The story of Kathy Ormsby, an athlete could be made to divulge how this could be a dangerous way to approach life in that it can be destructive and sometimes utterly devastating. Kathy Ormsby, was a pre-med student at North Carolina State University. She also happened to be the collegiate record holder in the women’s 10,000 meters run. The day came when she had at last achieved her dream of running in the NCAA Track and Field Championship in Indianapolis. She was the heavily favored runner. However, something quite unexpected happened during the race. Ormbsy fell behind and couldn’t catch up to the front runner. In a startling move after the race, she ran off the track and out of the stadium to a nearby bridge, from where she jumped. The forty foot fall permanently paralyzed her below waist.
When we equate our worth as human beings with our individual performances, we put our identities at grave risk. Any type of perceived failure from the perspective of an ego or identity formed built on a shaky foundation can easily lead us to conclude that our lives have become unworthy.
With the growing popularity of social media, these days more than ever we are called upon to show off “who we are”. And while things like Facebook encourage the best of us to exaggerate our good bits while glossing over the bad, for some of us, our inability to be authentic is more of an online issue. It is a struggle in every part of our lives. If one is plagued by the thought of, “Who am I?” or find themselves doing things they “should” or what allows one to keep up with the others because it is difficult to decide their likeness or dislike; then the person might be suffering from a real identity crisis which needs utmost attention. So how does one know if their identity isn’t stable or real?
To have a solid identity we need to be able to see that we are the same person in our past as we are now, and as we will be in the future. We need to feel the same no matter what environment we reside in. A person without a sense of identity, however, can feel a disconnect from who they are, have been and to no sense as to who they will become next. They don’t feel they are the same, but feel a different person sometimes from day to day. Some look into the mirror and finding it hard to believe it is them looking back. Of course, we can all feel like we don’t know who we are when we experience a challenging time in life. If we lose our job, or a loved one, if we have to move countries and leave our family behind, all these things can leave us so bereft, we temporarily lose sight of ourselves. But a real identity crisis is different.
There are seven signs that could show a lack of self identity: 1. One changes with the surrounding environment. Behavior of the person can be seen to be different than before. A chatty person could be direly quiet. 2. Relationships become a mould. The person changes according to their respective partner in terms of their own likes and dislikes, adopting opposite ways too. 3. One may have often have radical shifts in their opinions. This can include big things like political and religious beliefs, opting for such often for acceptance. 4. One dissuades the idea of being asked about themselves. 5. One gets bored too easily. At the heart of not having an identity is often seen in restlessness, as if afraid to settle incase for something wrong. 6. Relationships don’t run deep because of such self doubt and fear of others finding out that one is actually nothing much. 7. Deep down, a person suffering from self doubt about themselves tend to mistrust themselves.
Life is an exploration, and at certain points, we all surprise ourselves. There is no need to know who one is to do well in life. But if this lack of self identity is a stymie in our daily lives, and causing an unnecessary amount of stress and anxiety, then it is perhaps time to stand up and work out ways to deal with it; either meeting therapists or seeking help from close ones. The good thing is that and in which we must all believe is to know there is a real YOU. We all have an inner self waiting to be discovered, and all it really takes is the decision and commitment to do so.