Do You Really Know Who You Are?

Identity Crisis

If you were to be asked to tell the other person who you are, you would probably think it is the easiest thing for you to do because you know yourself, right? I mean, you have been you for the longest time, so it shouldn’t be such a difficult thing for you to do, right? Well, while this is assumed to be an easy thing to do, for a lot of people, it can be one of the hardest things one has to do. And not because they do not really know who they are, but because their knowledge of self might be superficial. It might constantly change drastically after mere inconveniences in life. Not being too sure about who you are and what your purpose is in life is one of the most painful experiences one can ever go through; an experience a lot of people go through.

According to Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, this experience is called an Identity Crisis.

An Identity Crisis is a developmental event that involves a person questioning their sense of self or place in the world. During this time, one finds themselves analysing themselves intensively in trying to understand and view (perceive) themselves.

Even though it is considered to be normal during adolescence as one tries to explore who they are (trying to form their identity), an identity crisis can happen at any stage of one’s life, particularly when one is faced with different challenges that may make them question who and what they thought they are/were. The process becomes a concern when one’s uncertainty about one’s identity begins to interfere with their daily life/functioning/wellbeing.

Identity Crisis at Different Points in Life:

Human beings are not stagnant beings who remain the same forever. We change and evolve all the time, knowingly or unkowingly, as we try to adjust to life’s demands on us. During these times, it can be tremendously confusing. One moment you thought you were a certain person, and then the next, you feel like you are not that person anymore. Here are a few examples of events that could lead to an identity crisis:

  • Transitioning from a child to an adolescent
  • Transitioning from an adolescent to an a young adult
  • Starting a relationship/marriage
  • Ending a relationship/marriage
  • Career change (e.g. losing a job)
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Having a child
  • Life plans not going accordingly

If you have a close look at the list above, what stands out is the different roles that individuals tend to play in their lives, and/or what they have (possessions) being at the center (e.g. partner-to-ex partner; employee-to-unemployed; non-parent-to-a parent; etc.). The external aspects of self are the main focus. The roles that one plays in life are in relation to others and come with a lot of responsibilities that contribute to how one views self and/or how others view them. If you think about it, a lot of the time when asked about oneself, one always tends to start by describing what they do/responsibilities, what they have and/or how they relate to others.

“Hi. My name is Stacy. I am an engineer, a mother, a wife, and a good friend. I really enjoy playing football.”

While these is nothing wrong with such an introduction and focusing on the roles you play when describing yourself, it becomes a concern when it becomes ALL of you. When no other aspect(s) that form part of your identity are acknowledged. Your knowledge of self is seemingly superficial, and based only on the things you do (what you are), and not who you are, which unfortunately is how the world is wired. And so, when those roles/possessions need to change, or change unexpectedly, it can lead to an identity crisis, because you would not know yourself outside of that role. Very dangerous for your mental health!

An identity entails  the experiences, relationships, beliefs, values, and memories that make up a person’s subjective sense of self.

When one has a healthy identity, self-image remains constant/ fairly stable throughout life. It does not necessarily change or change drastically after some experiences.

 Identity Crisis Interventions:

  • Individual Psychotherapy for intensive internal work and identity development
  • Group Psychotherapy for support and helping one find their voice/identity
  • Medication, mainly to manage the associated anxiety and depressive symptoms
  • Support from loved ones

Reflective Questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. How do you know who you are?
  3. What makes you different from the others?
  4. Is there anyone who knows you more than you know yourself?
  5. What aspect of yourself are you most proud of?
  6. What are you most passionate about?
  7. The choices you have made thus far, were they based on what you want or what others wanted for you?
  8. Who would you be if you were stuck in a deserted island without the roles you play and the people in your life?

Do not be so hard on yourself!

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