Erikson's Identity vs. Role Confusion in Adolescent Development

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  • 0:01 Adolescent Development
  • 1:21 Identity vs. Role Confusion
  • 3:50 Fidelity
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Adolescents often rebel against their parents and try out new and different things. In this lesson, we'll look at Erik Erikson's theory of adolescent development, including how resolving a psychosocial crisis can lead to fidelity in interpersonal relationships.

Adolescent Development

Chaya is 15, and lately she's been driving her parents a little crazy. She used to be a very obedient daughter. She dressed appropriately, got good grades and generally did what her parents expected her to do. All in all, she was a good girl.

But recently, things have changed. She's started dressing differently, and she dyed her hair blue. She isn't listening to her parents as much anymore. Just last week, she told her mom that she wasn't going to become a doctor, like her parents want. In fact, she said that she might not even go to college!

Chaya is in adolescence, or the period of life between childhood and adulthood. This is usually seen as being between ages 12 and 20. Like Chaya, many adolescents begin to change and rebel. They explore new ideas about themselves and their place in the world. Psychologist Erik Erikson said that this exploration is part of a psychosocial crisis, or a developmental period when a person has to resolve a conflict in his or her own life.

Let's look closer at the psychosocial crisis that is common in adolescence, identity versus role confusion, and what happens when an adolescent resolves that conflict.

Identity vs. Role Confusion

Remember Chaya? She's rebelling against her parents, changing before their very eyes. She's resisting their expectations of her and trying out new and different aspects of herself.

Chaya is displaying the adolescent psychosocial crisis that will either lead her to identity, or knowing who she is and what she believes, or to role confusion, or not being sure of who she is or what she believes. Remember that this is called a psychosocial crisis, or sometimes a psychosocial conflict. In fact, a key part of adolescence is exploring the two parts of the word 'psychosocial.'

Think about it like this: Chaya is exploring and experimenting with different aspects of herself. She is dressing differently, dying her hair, making up her own mind about college and other aspects of her life. These are all part of her inner self: her psychology, which is the first part of psychosocial.

On the other hand, her parents and the rest of society expect certain things from her. They expect her to dress and act like a girl. They expect her to behave and have her hair a certain way. They pressure her to do certain things and be certain things. Society is the second part of psychosocial, and it's all about external forces.

In adolescence, many people find that the tension between the internal forces of the self and the external forces of society is particularly high. Just like Chaya, adolescents begin to explore different roles, or ideas about themselves. They may change their behavior or physical looks. They might change their minds about what they want to do with their lives. They are experimenting with who they are and what that means.

If Chaya's parents and friends are supportive of her and allow some amount of experimentation with roles, Chaya will likely end up with a cohesive, full identity that expresses who she is.

But what if her parents and friends are not supportive of her? What if Chaya lives in a society that denies her the ability to experiment with roles and explore who she is as an individual? Well, then Chaya will likely end up in role confusion. She might not feel like she knows who she is deep down, or she might go through life constantly playing the part that her parents or friends want her to play.


So, what's the big deal with identity and role confusion? Why should Chaya develop cohesive identity?

There are many benefits to having a cohesive identity. For one thing, people who end up in role confusion often feel dissatisfied and kind of drift from one thing to another. They might have trouble figuring out what they want from life or relationships.

But most importantly, people in role confusion do not develop fidelity, which Erikson defined as being able to relate to people in a sincere, genuine way. Good relationships have a strong foundation of fidelity.

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