Establishing identity during adolescence
“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity” –Erik Erikson
The period between the onset of puberty (usually 11 years of age) and the starting of the adulthood (usually 20 years of age) is known as the adolescence period. During this period, an individual is going through various changes in his/her body namely physical changes such as increase in body size, development of sexual organs; cognitive changes such as advanced patterns of reasoning abilities, planning, problem solving and a stronger sense of self, taking perception of others; and emotional changes such as development of complex emotions. Through these changes a child turns into an adult.
Self Identity is how we define ourselves as a person or in simple terms, "Who we are?” The development of a strong sense of self and personality is Identity formation. It mainly occurs during the period of adolescence as it is the period when a person wants to know about his/her self. The physical, cognitive and emotional changes of the person help in doing so. The individual starts making more important connections with their peers and his/her own self. The process of Identity formation helps in shaping the person’s perception of the world and oneself. When an individual is in his childhood period he/she is rigid about his perception and fails to understand about others perception whereas an adolescent understands that people have different perceptions and tries to understand the different perceptions.
The adolescence period can be extremely stressful at times as it involves various new and complex emotions, understanding the need to develop new social relationships, and an increasing sense of responsibility and independence as he/she is moving towards the adulthood.
Eric Erikson, a psychologist, defines this adolescent stage as "Identity vs. Role confusion". At this stage, individuals tries to search for their unique identity and questions "Who am I?” if they are not able to achieve that then they develop a crisis which eventually leads to a weaker sense of self. A positive sense of self helps in developing positive self concept which results in positive self-esteem and increased confidence not just in this adolescent phase but in his/her later life also.
During the Role confusion phase an individual tries various methods to understand about self and form an unique identity of his/her own. He/she tries balancing the identity he/she have at present or try to choose between two or more different identities or take up negative or undesirable identity or if he/she is unable to do so then temporarily give up on it.
The social identity being the part of this self identity plays an important role for an individual to form an unique and consistent identity. An individual's role in a society defines his/her social identity.
According to a sociologist named Charles Cooley, the identity of a person is formed as "looking glass self". He coined the term "looking-glass self" i.e., the reflection of how we perceive we appear to others. The perceived perception of others by an individual i.e., what we feel others think about us, forms a major part of an individual’s identity. The individual is helped to form his/her identity through the value judgement from the peers and the parents. The perception about oneself and the behaviour of an individual depends on what he/she believes other people think of him/her.
There are three main components of the looking-glass concept, which are:
- An individual imagines how he/she must appear to others in a society.
- An individual imagines and react to what he/she feel their judgment of that appearance must be.
- An individual develops his/her sense of self through the perceived Judgments of others.
As a result, the interaction with others acts as a "mirror" and through this one's sense of self and self esteem is built off.
Adolescents are often observed to be highly self-conscious, hence they create an imaginary audience in which they feel that everyone is constantly watching and judging them. And because they think so much about themselves, they often believe that others must be thinking about them, too. As a result, the individuals change or modify their acts according to the perceived judgment of others, even if it is not necessarily true.
There are a variety of ways in which adolescents experience identity formation; some experiences are more harmful than others.
The 4 commonly observed ways to display issues with self-identity in adolescents include:
- Seeking Status Symbols: Using clothes and possessions to create a sense of positive connection.
- Prohibited “Grown-up” Behaviours: Some adolescents believe that appearing grown-up or mature will help them be accepted, so they engage in behaviours such as smoking, drinking, drugs and sexual activity.
- Rebellion: Sometimes, rebellion is used as a way to show that they are different from their parents and to be accepted by their peers.
- Idols/ Models:Some identify themselves with famous personalities usually, movie stars and try to become like that person. As a result, they lose control of their own identity.
To help an individual develop a strong sense of self, parents and peers:
- Can provide positive reinforcements of efforts and good choices.
- Can help in replacing harmful and risky behaviours by positive and healthy behaviour towards him/her.
- Can ensure the individual is provided with love and support.
- Can provide relevant space i.e., healthy boundaries, which helps the individual to take decisions on their own
“It is important for an individual to form a positive, strong and healthy sense of self and identity as it results in positive self-esteem and increased confidence”.