Identityis the full picture of one’s physical makeup, sexual orientation, occupationalinterest, value system, and personal beliefs. The psychosocial developmenttoward that identity is based on our early experiences and the ongoing resolutionsof crises as we progress, along with a shaping and reshaping of our identitiesfrom interactions with others in our lives. In terms of young adults, these interactionswith others are very powerful, and, according to Erikson, the young adult yearsare an especially complex and important time in terms of identity shaping. Those of us who can resolve our crises createa strong sense of self, and can transition successfully from college toadulthood, picking and choosing our options from a menu of what we have seenaround us in our world. James Marcia was able to bring Erikson’sstages to life by employing his psychosocial theory to experimentation and explaindevelopment through the lens of the exploration and the choices made incommitment. The idea of becoming identity-achieved feels right to me.
I had the opportunity to be shaped and tohave helpful experiences along my journey that enabled me to choose withconfidence my personal, occupational, religious, political, and sex-rolecommitments, even when they were in opposition to my traditional Catholicfamily. Chickering described our adolescence and early adulthood as a time madeup of a series of developmental tasks which he organized into 7 vectors. Thevectors are our paths toward identity which can include separation from our parents’beliefs and values. As an early entrant college student, entering communitycollege at age 15, I was able to accelerate the first three vectors ofdevelopment. I was able to separateearly from my parents, study independently, seek help when needed, and had thefreedom to organize my day and activities in a self-directed way. I workedtoward becoming competent academically, physically, and interpersonally duringadolescence. I appreciated learning about Chickering’s model because I can nowunderstand vectors one through three, though I would not have recognized themat the time.
When I transferred to UConnin my junior year, I had to wait for friends to catch up. I had a hammer, nails, notecards, andhighlighters at the ready, while they still had high school yearbooks andstuffed animals. I also appreciate thewide breadth of Chickering’s vectors. Though Hamrick, Evans, and Schuh (2002) outlinein great detail the unique needs of students of specific ethnicities,backgrounds, gender selection, sexuality, or race in student development, Ithink my background as a nontraditional student leads me to relate toChickering’s more inclusive theory of student development. I can relate to Erikson and Marcia’stheories, conceptually.
I have always seen the people around me as models ofsuccess or failure in terms of their ability to move through what I now see aslife stages. I knew at an early age that both interactions with andobservations of parents, family members, neighbors, friends, teachers, andsupervisors provided me with choices to accept or reject their behaviors. Thecrises presented were often subtle, but became pivot points in my development. I respect Ruth Josselson’s adaptation ofMarcia’s theory with her Theory of Identity Development Among Women Only. She fine tunes his theory for women, notingthat women find their identity more through how effective they are in the worldand through their relationships. Relationshipsrepresent women’s crises and women weave in their own self-perceptions with thosearound her and by helping others who need her. I took many Women’s Studiescourses and appreciate the idea that women’s identity formation can be studiedas a unique development. However, I alsofind the tenets of Josselson’s theory not only dated but claustrophobic.
Categorizing women as assuming full identity developmentwith ambivalence is indicative of their patriarchal family lives and does notreflect the opportunities gained in family and work life and the shifting definitionsof gender. I can see why so many of the women in Josselyn’s study remained inthe foreclosure mode and could not imagine a life that was different from thatof their mothers.