Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Path from Identity Commitments to Adjustment: Motivational Underpinnings and Mediating Mechanisms

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Path from Identity Commitments to Adjustment: Motivational Underpinnings and Mediating Mechanisms

Article excerpt

Erikson (1968) highlighted the central role of identity formation in contributing to well-being in late adolescence. In light of social-structural changes in contemporary Western societies, the task of identity formation has been extended into emerging adulthood, that is, the late teens and the 20s (Arnett, 2004). Moreover, many young people make the transition to adulthood through higher education, thereby further prolonging the process of identity formation. Partially because of the transitional stressors and instability of the emerging adult years, however, emerging adulthood is also a period of substantive stress and risk for increased distress and decreased well-being (Cote & Levine, 2002).

According to Erikson (1968), a synthesized sense of identity has beneficial effects on individuals' adjustment. A well-developed and integrated identity provides a subjective sense of inner unity and continuity over time, providing adolescents and emerging adults with a sense of well-being and self-esteem. Many studies (see Bosma & Kunnen, 2001) have indeed found evidence for a positive association between identity commitments and psychological well-being. On the basis of these premises, identity development is generally viewed as a core therapeutic issue in counseling late adolescents and emerging adults (Schultheiss & Blustein, 1994). Few empirical studies have addressed the motivational processes that contribute to establishing identity commitments and the mediating mechanisms through which commitments exert beneficial outcomes. The present study attempts to capture some of these antecedent mechanisms (i.e., causality orientations; Deci & Ryan, 1985a) and mediating processes (i.e., identity integration; O'Brien & Epstein, 1988) of the identity commitment-adjustment pathway.

Identity Formation in Emerging Adulthood

For nearly 40 years, individual differences in identity formation have been conceptualized along two fundamental dimensions--exploration and commitment (Marcia, 1966). Exploration refers to the active questioning and consideration of various identity alternatives. Commitment refers to choosing from among the alternatives one has explored.

Marcia's (1966) model of identity development treats commitment as a singular process--that is, the act of making commitments and adhering to them. However, Luyckx, Goossens, Soenens, and Beyers (2006) have shown that commitment can be separated into two distinct dimensions--commitment making and identification with commitment. Commitment making represents Marcia's original conception of commitment, whereas identification with commitment represents the comfort and certainty one feels about the commitments that one has made. Conceptualizing commitment as two distinct but interrelated dimensions lends a dynamic nature to commitment and reformulates it as a process rather than as an outcome (Luyckx, Goossens, & Soenens, 2006). Both commitment making and identification with commitment influence adjustment and well-being in emerging adults (Luyckx, Goossens, Soenens, et al., 2006), which suggests that these dimensions may represent an important angle of approach for counselors working with emerging adults who struggle with their self-definition or self-concept (Archer, 1994). To help counselors most effectively intervene with identity-confused or distressed emerging adults, we need to identify the underlying processes through which commitments exert positive effects on adjustment outcomes.

An Identity Mediation Model: The Role of Identity Integration

Identity integration represents the efficiency of one's self-concept in integrating new information and in organizing and directing life experience (O'Brien & Epstein, 1988). Identity integration overlaps substantially with similar constructs, such as self-concept clarity (Campbell, Assanand, & Di Paula, 2003) and temporal-spatial continuity (Dunkel, 2005). …

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