Identity experiences and the ongoing resolutions of crises

Identity
is the full picture of one’s physical makeup, sexual orientation, occupational
interest, value system, and personal beliefs. The psychosocial development
toward that identity is based on our early experiences and the ongoing resolutions
of crises as we progress, along with a shaping and reshaping of our identities
from interactions with others in our lives. In terms of young adults, these interactions
with others are very powerful, and, according to Erikson, the young adult years
are an especially complex and important time in terms of identity shaping.  Those of us who can resolve our crises create
a strong sense of self, and can transition successfully from college to
adulthood, picking and choosing our options from a menu of what we have seen
around us in our world. 

     James Marcia was able to bring Erikson’s
stages to life by employing his psychosocial theory to experimentation and explain
development through the lens of the exploration and the choices made in
commitment. The idea of becoming identity-achieved feels right to me.  I had the opportunity to be shaped and to
have helpful experiences along my journey that enabled me to choose with
confidence my personal, occupational, religious, political, and sex-role
commitments, even when they were in opposition to my traditional Catholic
family.

    
Chickering described our adolescence and early adulthood as a time made
up of a series of developmental tasks which he organized into 7 vectors. The
vectors are our paths toward identity which can include separation from our parents’
beliefs and values. As an early entrant college student, entering community
college at age 15, I was able to accelerate the first three vectors of
development.  I was able to separate
early from my parents, study independently, seek help when needed, and had the
freedom to organize my day and activities in a self-directed way. I worked
toward becoming competent academically, physically, and interpersonally during
adolescence. I appreciated learning about Chickering’s model because I can now
understand vectors one through three, though I would not have recognized them
at the time.  When I transferred to UConn
in my junior year, I had to wait for friends to catch up.  I had a hammer, nails, notecards, and
highlighters at the ready, while they still had high school yearbooks and
stuffed animals.  I also appreciate the
wide breadth of Chickering’s vectors. Though Hamrick, Evans, and Schuh (2002) outline
in great detail the unique needs of students of specific ethnicities,
backgrounds, gender selection, sexuality, or race in student development, I
think my background as a nontraditional student leads me to relate to
Chickering’s more inclusive theory of student development.

     I can relate to Erikson and Marcia’s
theories, conceptually. I have always seen the people around me as models of
success or failure in terms of their ability to move through what I now see as
life stages. I knew at an early age that both interactions with and
observations of parents, family members, neighbors, friends, teachers, and
supervisors provided me with choices to accept or reject their behaviors. The
crises presented were often subtle, but became pivot points in my development. 

     I respect Ruth Josselson’s adaptation of
Marcia’s theory with her Theory of Identity Development Among Women Only.  She fine tunes his theory for women, noting
that women find their identity more through how effective they are in the world
and through their relationships.  Relationships
represent women’s crises and women weave in their own self-perceptions with those
around her and by helping others who need her. I took many Women’s Studies
courses and appreciate the idea that women’s identity formation can be studied
as a unique development.  However, I also
find the tenets of Josselson’s theory not only dated but claustrophobic.  Categorizing women as assuming full identity development
with ambivalence is indicative of their patriarchal family lives and does not
reflect the opportunities gained in family and work life and the shifting definitions
of gender. I can see why so many of the women in Josselyn’s study remained in
the foreclosure mode and could not imagine a life that was different from that
of their mothers.