Examining Psychosocial Identity Development Theories: A Guideline for Professional Practice

By Karkouti, Ibrahim Mohamad | Education, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Examining Psychosocial Identity Development Theories: A Guideline for Professional Practice


Karkouti, Ibrahim Mohamad, Education


Theories of Psychosocial Identity Development

Erikson (1963) was the first theorist to develop a theoretical framework that addresses identity development from early adolescence through adulthood and explains the stages through which a healthy identity is formed. Erikson's model states that identity formation is based on overcoming conflicts that individuals encounter during adolescence and early adulthood (Kim, 2012). His framework links the process of identity development with the social constructs of the broader community that include history, culture and traditions, and ethical behavior (Hoare, 1991). Erikson's ideas have inspired many researchers to explore the determinants of ego identity development (Bosma & Kunnen, 2001) and served clinical psychologists in understanding the process of identity formation (Evans et al., 2010).

Erikson (as cited in Evans et al., 2010) placed human development in a social and historical context and categorized the factors that influence the development of people into eight stages. Each stage is distinguished by a psychosocial conflict that could be rectified by regulating the internal behavior and the external environment (Erikson, 1963). Furthermore, each conflict creates a developmental change that enables an individual to adapt with new emerging situations. The following table summarizes Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial identity development. Erikson's stages of development are epigenetic, that is, the ascendancy of each stage requires a successful completion of those that come before (Evans et al., 2010). The first four stages represent the process of identity formation during childhood, while the remaining stages encompass identity development during adulthood.

In summary, according to Erikson, identity development is the outcome of ever-changing stages that occur during one's life course (Evans et al., 2010). Furthermore, identity formation embodies a commitment to an ideological worldview, sexual orientation, religious or political stance, and a socially recognized occupation (Waterman, 1982). Finally, the commitment to a well-established identity becomes stronger when conflicts are successfully resolved (Evans et al., 2010).

Theory of Ego Identity Statuses

Marcia (1966) extended Erikson's work regarding the effects of identity diffusion on identity development in late adolescence. Marcia developed four identity statuses that attempt to explain how young adults experience and resolve conflicts. Furthermore, Marcia noted that exploration (i.e., crisis) and commitment are two critical variables in identity development. The theory of ego identity statuses suggests that identity formation takes place in a religious, political, and vocational context. According to Evans et al. (2010), the main reason behind Marcia's statuses was the need for empirical evidence in order to confirm or deny Erikson's theoretical assumptions. The following table summarizes Marcia's identity statuses.

Theory of Women Identity Development

In 1971, Josselson (1991) examined the developmental roots of women identity formation and extended Marcia's theoretical framework in order to explain why some women manage to overcome identity crises when others fail and resort to identity diffusion. Josselson's framework was based on a longitudinal study that spanned 22 years when she observed how women transition their identity statuses from late adolescence to mature adulthood. Unlike Erikson's theoretical assumptions, Josselson's theory suggests that female identity formation does not necessarily relate to ideological commitments, religious convictions, sexual orientations, and occupational decisions (Evans et al., 2010). Rather for Josselson, a woman's life experiences shape her feminine identity, and she reevaluates her achievements as she grows from adolescence to adulthood. However, little research has been conducted on women's identity development, and even less using Josselson's theoretical framework (Bourne, as cited in Evans et al. …

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