Identity Achievement: Definition & Example

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Identity achievement refers to when someone has a well-defined sense of what their values and goals in life are and is highly committed to making them come true. Learn about James Marcia's identity theory, explore the definition of the four identity statuses, and take a closer look at an example of identity achievement. Updated: 09/07/2021

James Marcia and Identity

James Marcia is a Canadian developmental psychologist who is known for his theory of identity development. Following up on Erik Erikson's concepts of identity crisis and identity confusion, Marcia believes that there are 4 processes that adolescents can go through as they develop their identity. Marcia called these processes identity statuses. An adolescent's identity status depends on two conditions:

If the adolescent is actively searching for, or exploring, their identity, and if the adolescent is dedicated to, or made a commitment to, any personal values or beliefs.

Marcia's four identity statuses are:

  1. Identity Diffusion: Adolescents have not yet attempted to find their identity, nor do they have a clear picture of what their identity may be. They have not set any goals for themselves. Identity diffusion is characterized by low commitment and low exploration.
  2. Identity Foreclosure: Adolescents have blindly accepted and committed to values and beliefs taught to them by their family, community, or significant others without exploring alternatives. They do not question the values that were taught to them. Identity foreclosure is characterized by high commitment and low exploration.
  3. Identity Moratorium: Adolescents are actively experiencing a crisis which has led them to explore their identity and values. However, they have not yet committed to any values or beliefs and are instead experimenting. Identity moratorium is characterized by low commitment and high exploration.
  4. Identity Achievement: After a process of active exploration, adolescents have made a strong commitment to a highly developed set of beliefs and values. Identity achievement is characterized by high commitment and high exploration.

These four statuses are not sequential. For example, an adolescent may begin at the identity diffusion status and jump right into identity achievement. Though all adolescents will eventually experience at least one of the four identity statuses, they do not have to go through all four statuses. So what does identity achievement in adolescence look like?

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  • 0:01 James Marcia & Identity
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Example of Identity Achievement

Adolescents at the identity achievement stage have actively explored and examined different values and beliefs and have finally chosen those that are most important to them. They are able to sort out who they want to be and what their life's purpose is. They realize what their priorities are. These adolescents are also confident and positive that they chose the right values and beliefs.

Let's take Sally, for example. Sally's parents and grandparents are both medical doctors, and as college students they all went to the same medical school. Ever since she can remember, Sally's parents have always told her that she was going to be a surgeon. Although Sally thought the world of her parents, she did not think that she wanted to spend all of her time caring for sick people.

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