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Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology

Volume 1
Issue 2 Spring 2009
Article 14
3-1-2009
Identity Development Troughout the Lifetime:
An Examination of Eriksonian Teory
Justin T. Sokol
Follow this and additional works at: htp://epublications.marquete.edu/gjcp
Recommended Citation
Sokol, Justin T. (2009) "Identity Development Troughout the Lifetime: An Examination of Eriksonian Teory," Graduate Journal of
Counseling Psychology: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article 14.
Available at: htp://epublications.marquete.edu/gjcp/vol1/iss2/14

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Absiiaci: Tle puipose of ile cuiieni aiiicle is io ieview ideniiiy developmeni fiom a lifespan
peispeciive. To accomplisl ilis iasl, ideniiiy developmeni is examined ai vaiious
developmenial siages including clildlood, adolescence, and adulilood. Tle aiiicle uiilizes
Eiil Eiilson's psyclosocial ileoiy of developmeni io invesiigaie ideniiiy developmeni
iliougloui ile lifespan. Reseaicl findings fiom empiiical siudies aie included wiilin ilis
discussion. Ii appeais ilai foi many individuals, ideniiiy developmeni is a lifelong piocess
ilai exiends well beyond ile yeais of adolescence.

Tle influeniial wiiiings of Eiil Eiilson (iqo:-iqq() lave siimulaied
ovei o yeais of social science liieiaiuie (Sclwaiiz, :ooi). His ileoiies on
developmeni lave inspiied couniless ieseaicl siudies maling lim an
especially ielevani figuie in ile field (Kiogei, :ooy). Eiilson wioie ai
lengil aboui ideniiiy, focusing mainly on ile peiiod of adolescence.
Howevei, le did offei insiglis on ideniiiy duiing boil clildlood and
adulilood. Tiaces of lis ileoiies can be found in almosi all foims of
ideniiiy ieseaicl. Tleiefoie, ii is appiopiiaie io invesiigaie ilis iopic fiom
lis peispeciive.
Tle puipose of ilis siudy is io examine ideniiiy developmeni fiom a
life-span peispeciive. Tle aiiicle will begin wiil a desciipiion of Eiilson's
psyclosocial ileoiy of developmeni. Nexi, aiieniion will be given io
ideniiiy developmeni duiing clildlood, adolescence, and adulilood. Eacl
of ilese iliee seciions will include a desciipiion of Eiilson's ileoiies;
empiiical siudies will also be piesenied io lelp illusiiaie ile piocess of
ideniiiy developmeni. Finally ile aiiicle will close wiil a biief evaluaiion
of Eiilson's ideniiiy ileoiy and commenis will be offeied foi fuiuie
ieseaicl. Befoie siaiiing, a few woids aie in oidei iegaiding ieiminology.
In ieviewing ile liieiaiuie on ideniiiy, ileie is veiy liiile agieemeni
on low ideniiiy is defined (Bosma, Giaafsma, Gioievani, 8 de Leviia,
iqq(). Eiilson alone used a vaiieiy of ideniiiy ielaied ieims (ideniificaiion,
ideniiiy foimaiion, ideniiiy developmeni, ideniiiy consolidaiion, ideniiiy
foieclosuie, and ideniiiy iesoluiion) wiiloui pioviding a gieai deal of
explanaiion (Hoaie, :oo:). As a iesuli, le las been leavily ciiiicized foi
lis ambiguous siyle of wiiiing. Tle cuiieni aiiicle will uiilize fewei ieims
in an effoii io convey a cleai message. Tleiefoie, "ideniiiy developmeni"
will desciibe ile oveiaicling piocess of developmeni, paiiiculaily duiing
ile adulilood yeais. "Ideniificaiion" will be used io desciibe developmeni
duiing clildlood and "ideniiiy foimaiion" will apply io developmeni
duiing adolescence.
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Eiil Eiilson's psyclosocial ileoiy ievoluiionized developmenial
ilougli (Hoaie, :oo:). He was one of ile fiisi io piopose a life-span
model of luman developmeni wlicl included eigli successive
psyclosocial siages. Eacl siage is associaied wiil an inleieni conflici oi
ciisis ilai ile individual musi encouniei and successfully iesolve io
pioceed wiil developmeni. Ii is woiil noiing ilai Eiilson (iq6S) used ile
ieim ciisis "in a developmenial sense io connoie noi a ilieai of
caiasiiople, bui a iuining poini, a ciucial peiiod of incieased vulneiabiliiy
and leigliened poieniial" (p. q6). Tle assumpiion is ilai eacl
psyclosocial siage las boil a successful and unsuccessful ouicome (e.g.
iiusi veisus misiiusi, iniiiaiive veisus guili, iniimacy veisus isolaiion).
Resoluiion of eailiei siages is believed io diiecily affeci ile iesoluiion of
laiei siages (Maicia, iqq). Eiilson (iq6S) summaiizes wiil ile following
siaiemeni:
I slall pieseni luman giowil fiom ile poini of view of
ile conflicis, innei and ouiei, wlicl ile viial peisonaliiy
weaileis, ie-emeiging fiom eacl ciisis wiil an incieased
sense of innei uniiy, wiil an inciease of good judgmeni,
and an inciease in ile capaciiy 'io do well' accoiding io
lis own siandaids and io ile siandaids of ilose wlo aie
significani io lim. (pp. qi-q:)
Eiilson goes on io say "Tle use of ile woids 'io do well' of couise poinis
up ile wlole quesiion of culiuial ielaiiviiy" (p. q:) wlicl liglliglis ile
emplasis le placed on socioculiuial faciois.
Eiilson coniinues io ieceive a gieai deal of ciedii foi iecognizing ile
influence of culiuie on developmeni (Hoaie, :oo:). He was ile fiisi io
illusiiaie low ile social woild exisis wiilin ile psyclological maleup of
eacl individual. Eiilson (iqq) believed ilai ile individual cannoi be
undeisiood apaii fiom lis oi lei social coniexi. "Individual and socieiy
aie iniiicaiely woven, dynamically ielaied in coniinual clange" (p. ii().
Tlis is a ileme ilai peimeaies iliougloui all of Eiilson's eigli
developmenial siages and is especially ielevani io ile fifil psyclosocial
siage (ideniiiy veisus iole confusion) wlicl occuis duiing adolescence.
Befoie examining ilis developmenial iasl, ii is impoiiani io iecognize
wlai Eiilson meani wlen le used ile ieim "adolescence."
Eiilson (iq6S) consideied adolescence io be a iiansiiional peiiod of
developmeni following clildlood and leading inio adulilood.
Unfoiiunaiely, le nevei defined a iange of clionological ages foi
adolescence oi oilei peiiods of life sucl as clildlood and adulilood
(Waieiman, iqq). He also wioie in an eia wlen aiiending college was less
common ilan ii is ioday; ilis las diieci implicaiions because of ile
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emplasis le placed on vocaiional ideniiiy. Ii can be lypoilesized ilai
Eiilson's veision of adolescence iefeis io an age peiiod iouglly associaied
wiil middle and ligl sclool: ages i: iliougl iS. Aineii (:ooo) las since
pioposed a peiiod of developmeni iefeiied io as emeiging adulilood
wlicl encompasses ile yeais beyond ligl sclool: ages iS iliougl :.
Ideniiiy developmeni is an inleieni componeni of emeiging adulilood
and ileie appeais io be consideiable oveilap wiil ile social iasls of
adolescence ilai Eiilson desciibes. Because ilis siage may be moie
ielevani io wlai Eiilson iniiially ieimed adolescence, ii will be iniegiaied
wiil ile lypoilesized age ianges. Tlus, adolescence will iefei io ile laige
span of ages i: iliougl :( foi ile cuiieni siudy. Ii is equally impoiiani io
opeiaiionalize age ianges foi ile oilei developmenial peiiods ilai will be
discussed. Clildlood will include ages 6 iliougl ii, young adulilood will
include ages : iliougl q, middle adulilood will include ages (o iliougl
6, and laie adulilood will consisi of ile yeais beyond age 6. Alilougl
Eiilson (iq6S) believed ideniiiy foimaiion is ile focal poini of
adolescence, ii seems logical io begin fiom ile siaii wiil a discussion of
clildlood developmeni and ilen pioceed iliougl boil adolescence and
adulilood.

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Tle piocess of ideniiiy developmeni begins mucl eailiei ilan
adolescence. Eiilson (iq6S) believed ilai seeds of ideniiiy aie planied ai a
young age wlen ile clild iecognizes limself]leiself as a unique being,
sepaiaie fiom lis]lei paienis. As maiuiaiion occuis, ile clild iales on
claiacieiisiics and admiied feaiuies of paienis oi significani oileis.
Eiilson called ilis piocess ideniificaiion. Ideniificaiion allows ile clild io
build a sei of expeciaiions aboui wlai le oi sle wisles io be and do.
Howevei, ile clild eveniually loses inieiesi in meiely adopiing ile ioles
and peisonaliiy aiiiibuies of paienis oi significani oileis; ii is ai ilis poini
ilai ile piocess of ideniiiy foimaiion is sei in moiion.
Accoiding io Eiilson (iq6S), ideniiiy foimaiion begins wlen ile
usefulness of ideniificaiion ends. Taling on claiacieiisiics of oileis no
longei piovides saiisfaciion; ile individual expeiiences a desiie io slape
lis oi lei woild in unique ways. Ideniiiy foimaiion begins wiil a synilesis
of clildlood slills, beliefs, and ideniificaiions inio a coleieni, unique
wlole ilai piovides coniinuiiy wiil ile pasi and diieciion foi ile fuiuie
(Maicia, iqq). Eiilson did noi discuss ideniiiy developmeni duiing
clildlood ai gieai lengil. Alieinaiively, le offeied gieai deiail aboui ile
piocess of ideniiiy foimaiion duiing adolescence.

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Eiilson (iq6S) believed ile piimaiy psyclosocial iasl of adolescence
is ile foimaiion of ideniiiy. Tleiefoie, le called ile developmenial
conflici ideniiiy veisus iole confusion. Tleie aie seveial coniiibuiing
faciois io ile foimaiion of ideniiiy. Tle onsei of pubeiiy duiing
adolescence leads io newfound cogniiive slills and plysical abiliiies
(Kiogei, :oo(). In addiiion, incieased independence and auionomy leads
io gieaiei inieiaciions wiil neiglboiloods, communiiies, and sclools.
Accoiding io Eiilson (iq6S), ilis allows ile individual io exploie
vocaiions, ideologies, and ielaiionslips. He gave paiiiculai aiieniion io
ile caieei domain, siaiing "In geneial, ii is ile inabiliiy io seiile on an
occupaiional ideniiiy wlicl disiuibs mosi young people" (Eiilson, iq6S,
p. i). New expeciaiions of aduli iesponsibiliiies aie giadually assumed as
ile adolesceni maiuies. Wiil adulilood on ile loiizon, eveniually ile
iwin ideniiiy quesiions emeige: "Wlo am I?" and "Wlai is my place in
ilis woild?" (McAdams, }osselson, 8 Lieblicl, :oo6). Wlen ile individual
is able io assess ileii peisonal aiiiibuies and maicl ilese wiil ouileis foi
expiession available in ile enviionmeni, Eiilson (iq6) would say ideniiiy
las been foimed. Howevei, wlen ile individual is unable io manage ilis
developmenial iasl, iole confusion occuis.
Fiom Eiilson's peispeciive, ideniiiy iefeis io a sense of wlo one is as a
peison and as a coniiibuioi io socieiy (Hoaie, :oo:). Ii is peisonal
coleience oi self-sameness iliougl evolving iime, social clange, and
alieied iole iequiiemenis. Tle foimaiion of ideniiiy is a majoi eveni in ile
developmeni of peisonaliiy and associaies wiil posiiive ouicomes
(Maicia, iqq). Ideniiiy piovides a deep sense of ideological commiimeni
and allows ile individual io lnow lis oi lei place in ile woild (Hoaie,
:oo:). Ii piovides one wiil a sense of well-being, a sense of being ai lome
in one's body, a sense of diieciion in one's life, and a sense of maiieiing io
ilose wlo couni (Eiilson, iq6S). Ideniiiy is wlai males one move wiil
diieciion; ii is wlai gives one ieason io be. Eiilson cleaily believed ilai
laving a solid sense of ideniiiy is ciucial io fuiilei developmeni.
Howevei, noi all people successfully iesolve ilis developmenial iasl.
Role confusion can lead io a veiy diffeieni luman expeiience. Ii
causes ile individual io seiiously quesiion one's esseniial peisonaliiy
claiacieiisiics, one's view of oneself, and ile peiceived views of oileis
(Bosma ei al., iqq(). Consequenily, ile individual expeiiences exiieme
doubi iegaiding ile meaning and puipose of ileii exisience, leading io a
sense of loss and confusion. Due io clanging plysical, cogniiive, and
social faciois, neaily all adolescenis expeiience some foim of iole
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confusion (Kiogei, :oo(). Howevei, mosi aciively iesolve ilese issues and
piogiess iowaids laiei developmenial siages.
In summaiy, Eiilson (iq6S) believed ilai adolescence is a iime in
wlicl ideniiiy noimally becomes ile focus of concein. Reseaicl appeais
io suppoii ilis noiion by indicaiing ilai ile mosi exiensive advances in
ideniiiy developmeni occui duiing ile college yeais (Waieiman, iqS).
Majoi gains aie expecied duiing college as siudenis male impoiiani
decisions ilai peiiain io vaiious life domains including occupaiion,
fiiendslip, iomaniic ielaiionslips, and ieligious oi poliiical beliefs
(Waieiman 8 Aiclei, iqqo). "College enviionmenis piovide a diveisiiy of
expeiiences ilai can boil iiiggei consideiaiions of ideniiiy issues and
suggesi alieinaiive iesoluiions foi ideniiiy conceins" (Waieiman, iqq, p.
-(); Eiilson would ceiiainly agiee. Howevei, noi all individuals aiiend
college and lave ile oppoiiuniiy io exploie ile afoiemeniioned ideniiiy
domains. Even foi ilose wlo do, is ii iealisiic io ilinl ilai iley will male
commiimenis in ilese aieas ilai will iemain unclanged iliougloui life?
Ii is foi ilese ieasons ilai ideniiiy developmeni beyond adolescence will
now be discussed.

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Eiilson leld ilai ideniiiy developmeni does noi end wiil iis
foimaiion (Hoaie, :oo:). He viewed ii as an ongoing piocess ilai capiuies
one's invesimenis iliougloui ile long yeais of adulilood. Tlus, ideniiiy
developmeni is boil a noimaiive peiiod of adolescence and an evolving
aspeci of adulilood. In coniiasi io Eiilson's exiensive wiiiings on ile
adolesceni ideniiiy foimaiion piocess, le did noi offei deiailed commenis
iegaiding ideniiiy's evoluiion iliougloui ile aduli life (Kiogei, :ooy). As
a iesuli, le las been ciiiicized foi exiending lis ileoiy beyond
adolescence wiiloui pioviding mucl deiail. To complicaie maiieis
fuiilei, Eiilson conveys coniiadicioiy messages spealing on ideniiiy
developmeni beyond adolescence. Accoiding io Eiilson (iq6S), ile final
ideniiiy is "fixed ai ile end of adolescence" (p. i6i). He suggesis ilai
ideniiiy conceins fade as issues of iniimacy (followed by geneiaiiviiy and
ego iniegiiiy) become ile main focus. Alieinaiively, Eiilson pioposed ilai
ideniiiy-defining issues of adolescence do noi iemain fixed; iley ieiain
flexibiliiy foi modificaiion iliougloui ile adulilood yeais due io new life
expeiiences. Cleaily ilese iwo siaiemenis appeai coniiadicioiy; ilis is
wly ii is difficuli io assess ideniiiy developmeni beyond adolescence fiom
lis peispeciive. Tlanlfully, oileis lave picled up wleie Eiilson lefi off.
Tleie appeais io be a consideiable scope foi ideniiiy developmeni
beyond adolescence (Kiogei, :ooy). Tle ideniiiy-defining domains of
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meaningful vocaiional, poliiical, ieligious, inieipeisonal, and sexual
cloices iemain ley foundaiional issues duiing young adulilood (ages :-
q). Vaillani and Milofsly (iqSo) suggesi ilai young adulilood is a iime of
developing and consolidaiing goals, paiiiculaily in ile aieas of caieei and
family. On iop of implemeniing a vocaiional pailway, ile demands of
paiineiing (and possibly paieniing) iaise new issues foi many young
adulis. Reseaicl las indicaied ilai in iiansiiioning fiom young io middle
adulilood, boil men and women fiequenily clange ileii values, goals,
wlai iley find impoiiani in life, and wlai iley aie geneially siiiving
iowaids (Hailei 8 Solomon, iqq6).
Ideniiiy ielaied issues coniinue io emeige duiing middle adulilood
(ages (o-6). Duiing ilis iime peiiod, individuals begin io ieclaim
opposiie-sex qualiiies and expeiience a slifi in peispeciive on iime (Koiie
8 Hall, iqqo). Women iend io iale on moie masculine claiacieiisiics
wlile men iale on moie feminine claiacieiisiics (Huycl, iqqo; }ames,
Lewlowicz, Liblabei, 8 Laclman, iqq); in addiiion, ile iealiiy ilai life is
"lalf finisled" begins io sinl in. Ii is noi uncommon foi individuals io
ieevaluaie, iefine, and ieadjusi vocaiional and social ioles duiing middle
adulilood (Kiogei, :ooy). Clanges in life ciicumsiances can also cause a
ieexaminaiion of ideniiiy issues (Waieiman, iqq). Midlife caieei clanges,
geogiaplic ielocaiions, iesuming one's educaiion, divoice, iemaiiiage,
deail of loved ones, and adopiion aie all viable possibiliiies foi middle
adulilood. Finally, ile commonly used pliase "midlife ciisis" is ofien
associaied wiil ideniiiy ielaied issues, alilougl ieseaicl indicaies ilai
ilis is an infiequenily occuiiing eveni (Beil, :ooy).
Examinaiion and evaluaiion aie iwo woids synonymous wiil
coniinued ideniiiy developmeni in laie adulilood (ages 6 and beyond).
Reiiiemeni allows ile individual io iefleci upon ile cloices ilai lave
been made iliougloui ile couise of life. Reviewing one's life in a posiiive
mannei allows ile individual io expeiience saiisfaciion. Alieinaiively, a
negaiive life ieview can leave ile individual wiil feelings of iegiei. Kiogei
(:oo:) conducied one of ile few siudies on ideniiiy ievision and
mainienance piocesses duiing laie adulilood. Resulis slowed ilai
impoiiani ideniiiy piocesses included ieiniegiaiing impoiiani ideniiiy
elemenis fiom youngei yeais, iebalancing ielaiionslips and oilei social
ioles, ieadjusiing io loss and diminisled plysical capaciiies, and finding
life meanings. Tle aigumeni could be made ilai ideniiiy developmeni is
siill jusi as mucl an issue in laie adulilood as ii is eailiei in life.




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In summaiy, Eiilson's psyclosocial ileoiy is composed of eigli
developmenial siages wlicl span iliougloui ile couise of life. Eacl siage
piesenis ile individual wiil an inleieni iasl oi conflici ilai iley musi
successfully iesolve io pioceed wiil developmeni. Eiilson placed a gieai
deal of emplasis on socioculiuial faciois because le believed ilese
siiongly influence developmeni. Sucl faciois aie especially ielevani in ile
piocess of ideniiiy foimaiion. Eiilson believed ilai clildlood
ideniificaiions lay ile gioundwoil foi ideniiiy foimaiion in adolescence.
Tle piocess of foiming an ideniiiy involves cieaiing a coleieni sense of
self and wlo one is in ielaiion io ile woild. Adolescence iepiesenis an
opiimal iime foi ideniiiy developmeni due io a vaiieiy of plysical,
cogniiive, and social faciois. Alilougl Eiilson believed ideniiiy was
laigely "fixed" by ile end of adolescence, le did suggesi ilai ideniiiy
coniinues io evolve iliougloui adulilood. Unfoiiunaiely, le did noi give
gieai deiail on wlai ilis piocess lools lile. Reseaicl slows ilai ideniiiy
developmeni coniinues io be an ongoing piocess iliougloui adulilood.
}usi as in adolescence, vocaiions, ideologies, and ielaiionslips coniinue io
iemain impoiiani ideniiiy issues. Seveial siudies lave been piesenied io
suppoii ilis noiion.
Mucl lile foiming an ideniiiy, ieviewing ile liieiaiuie on ilis
nebulous iopic is no small iasl. As discussed eailiei, ieseaicleis use a
vaiieiy of ieims and pliases wlen desciibing ile piocess of ideniiiy
developmeni. Ii is also difficuli io find coniinuiiy wiil iegaids io
developmenial peiiods and associaied ages. A siiong effoii las been made
io use ieiminology ilai connecis Eiilson's woil wiil moie ieceni
empiiical siudies in a mannei ilai is undeisiandable and coleieni. Ii
would be wise foi fuiuie ieseaicleis io use agieed upon ieims and
definiiions so as noi io confuse ieadeis and fellow colleagues. No maiiei
wlai you call ii, ideniiiy developmeni is a majoi psyclosocial iasl and one
ilai appeais duiing many plases of life. Alilougl Eiilson may noi lave
been cleai iegaiding ideniiiy developmeni beyond adolescence, we will
always be indebied io lim foi ile gieai deal of discussion and
conveisaiion le las siimulaied on ilis iniiiguing iopic.

J=L=J=O1=E

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(6q-(So.
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9
Sokol: Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of E
Published by e-Publications@Marquette, 2009

i(S
+)2*3- "[ E,Y,.
Justin Sokol obtained his BS in Psychology from the University of
Wisconsin-La Crosse. He is currently a first year doctoral student in the
Counseling Psychology program at Marquette University. Justins
research and clinical interests include psychotherapy process/outcome
studies and religion/spirituality. He hopes to conduct research,
psychotherapy, and teach at the university level.

























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Sokol: Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of E
Published by e-Publications@Marquette, 2009