The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
THE RAPE OF IDENTITY

Introduction

As defined in the previous chapter, a self-concept is comprised of inner and outer elements that are framed within complex networks of psychosocial experience. These inner beliefs, outward appearances, and social interactions are not dichotomous and separate from one another but rather function in dialectical relationships that provide a kind of working hypothesis about one's self that will continue to evolve over time. With the transition to adolescence, most children are challenged to situate their self-concept(s) in an increasingly expanding social milieu. In Erikson's terms, they must discover their "niche" in the larger world. It is in the process of translating one's self into a situated social being that identity emerges. To situate the self in social context involves becoming aware of the ways in which we are affiliated with some people while simultaneously differentiated from others. Processes of affiliation and differentiation go well beyond what cliques we may belong to in high school, however, to include sociocultural differences in race, ethnicity, religion, and so on. Thus, in keeping with Erikson's and others' understanding of the terms "self" and "identity," the development of identity in adolescence is defined as a broad construct that is inclusive of one's self-concept ( Spencer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990).

Taking into account changes across all developmental domains, from the biological disruptions of puberty to abstract cognitive complexity and social peer relations, the child becoming a teenager may feel as though she has been thrust into a strange new world of experience. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, a growing body of quantitative and qualitative research has revealed an unsettling picture of the transition to adolescence for young girls ( Gilligan, 1982; Petersen & Crockett, 1985). Again and again we see evidence of confident ten-year-olds developing into tentative, sensitive, self- doubting fourteen-year-olds ( Brown & Gilligan, 1992). Though their understanding of self and others is often intricate and complex, their young minds appear clouded by an almost hypersensitive awareness of others' perceptions and expectations. These others include family and friends, as

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