Identity Crisis

Famed psychologist Erik Erickson first coined the term “identity crisis”. It may appear at any stage in one’s life and at varying levels of seriousness. It can manifest through constant depression and other external behaviors, depending on the affected person.

With our modern way of life, there are plenty of distractions and plenty of things that can confuse us. In this article, we will try to delve a bit deeper into what an identity crisis is, its common symptoms and common responses.

Identity Crisis: An Introduction


We often find identity crisis amongst teenagers and adolescents. However, identity crisis may strike at any age depending on various triggers. These may result from adolescent or teenage issues. Some are unable to cope and this may result in negative effects like doing drugs or getting involved in crimes.

Identity is a subjective sense of self. Identity crisis on the other hand is often described as a misplacement of any sense of personal semblance in one’s existence. Often, people with identity crisis are confused as to the role he is playing in this world. Since there is a constant demand to fit in as well as to stand out, most teenage crises recur at later stages of ones life.

It’s common causes may be triggered by sudden stress and troubles. It can also be magnified by sudden societal demands that force people to consider current roles. More often, it also occurs because of demands to conform to society.

This identity crisis may manifest in different areas of life including time perspective, self certainty, role experimentation, anticipation of achievement, gender identity and ideological values.

Time Perspective

This involves somebody’s questioning of the present. Many who have problems in this area feel that they are trapped in the current time. Often they feel powerless over the happenings of the future and so they fail to prepare for it.

Self certainty

People who are faced with this area of identity crisis may feel that they have no self-image to stick to or they are confused about what kind of self-image they want to portray. This includes the way they look and their overall personality.

Often, a person at this stage may lack self confidence and may perceive themselves as less attractive.

Anticipation of achievement

If a person is affected by this phase, he or she may feel that everything they do for work or for their family life will not be successful. It is characterised by negative thinking.

Gender identity

A common misconception about identity crisis is that it only applies to this specific area or issue. However, gender identity is only a small part of the big picture. A person may be confused regarding whether they’ identify as male or female. Sometimes they are also uncomfortable with current gender and may have feelings of inadequacy when dealing with the opposite gender.

Ideological values

In this case of identity crisis, one may question their current social, political or religious views in relation to their values.

Common Symptoms

There are many different ways that identity crisis can manifest and it can vary from person to person.

Lying about age

People suffering through an identity crisis are more likely to lie about their age in conversation. They either lie to appear younger or older and this can be caused by peer pressure (i.e. the person is surrounded by younger or older people and feels the need to lie), and feeling out of place in their actual age group.

Questioning the value of past success

When a successful person starts to feel insecure over their achievements, then a crisis may be starting to set in. Many people who receive a good salary and are in good position in their companies often feel they have fallen short of their own definition of success despite their achievements.

Insecurity about relationships

At this stage, many may feel that they are already incapable of forging relationships or they are just too afraid to date anyone. This may affect not only single people, it may also occur among those who are married, dating, in long term relationships, etc. These people may feel that they are suddenly not satisfied about their long term relationship or are anxious that they haven’t had enough dating experience.


Regret is often a part of identity crisis. People affected by regret often carry all of their past regrets without letting go. These regrets might include dissatisfaction in work life, personal life, relationships, bad choices, opportunities passed up and messed up chances.


Often, they are unfounded worries. These kind of worries stem from little things you might suddenly remember. This may include worries over health, work and relationships. Sometimes these worries may affect work and even personal dealings to a great extent.

Questioning career

Have I chosen the correct career path? This confusion is often magnified when somebody realizes that what they have chosen seems not to compliment what they want at the moment. Although this can just be brought forth by current confusion, this sometimes result in people quitting their jobs and taking different careers, which is not always a bad thing if the person is thinking straight.

Corporate jobs are often the ones that are left, even if people are earning lots of money.

Questioning who you are

Who am I? Why am I here? These are two existential questions often asked by those undergoing a crisis. At this point, those who suffer from this crisis may question their old values, their choices and the life they lead.

Comparing self to peers

When peers achieve more or friends seem to be happier than them, many may feel inadequate of their own success. This leads to the thinking that life doesn’t measure up. Checking on somebody and comparing results in envy and eventually, social isolation.

Isolating self

Since there is a feeling of inadequacy, not belonging and career confusion, some may turn to social isolation. At this point, those affected are likely to turn down invitations and may opt for alone time at home. Although some meditative alone time can be good, this can become an alarming crisis when isolation becomes severe.

Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something people experience when they feel they are faking what they have achieved. They doubt their achievements and skills and self doubt sets in. Feeling incapable of everything and believing that the things you achieved in the past happened by luck alone are also signals of this.

Emotional symptoms

Those who have identity crisis may feel anxious, depressed, self-doubting, a lowered sense of self worth and self conscious. When this crisis spell lasts for a long time, it can become alarming. Depression may become worse unless everything is addressed.

Other Outward symptoms

Other outward symptoms my include:

  • Negative behaviours
  • Unhealthy friendships
  • Substance abuse
  • impulsive behaviour
  • poor choices
  • poor decision making

Common Responses to Identity Crisis


Common response to identity crisis are often drastic. They may include negative responses including turning to vices and abandoning their current jobs and even family life. However, positive responses can occur when coping.

Many may try to better themselves by taking positive steps. This might include taking up new hobbies to ease burn outs, seeking social support and even makeovers can help.

These makeovers may involve people giving more importance to themselves as well giving themselves more attention. Some may try cosmetic procedures as well as treatments. Some may involve wardrobe transformations and even changing ones overall outlook on life.

Managing Identity Crisis

There is no easy way to overcome severe cases of identity crisis. But with the right management techniques, it can be done.

  1.  Relax, slow down, and reassess life. You don’t need to hurry just to fit in. Take some time off work and check your life from a different perspective.
  2. Picture who you want to be. If you are confused about the future, picture out who you want to be now. Ssk yourself if it’s achievable and if it’s practical. If it can be achieved without too many sacrifices, go for it. If it needs some serious sacrifices, reevaluate.
  3. Accept changes. Changes can trigger identity crisis. However, gradually, changes can also help shape you. Accept them slowly through the help of friends and a positive outlook.
  4. List your positive attitudes. You have many things that are positive, so don’t dwell on the negatives alone.
  5. Try new things, explore other interests. Seek out new hobbies and stick to them.
  6. Start doing things that make you feel better. If a new hairstyle is going to make you happy, then do it. If a face rejuvenation can also rejuvenate your mood, then do it. If shopping helps, then shop (in moderation).
  7. Seek friends. Real friends can be a good social support mechanism for you to turn to along the way. Never lose them, never isolate yourself from them.
  8. Seek professional help if necessary. If you think everything isn’t manageable anymore, then maybe it’s time to seek help from a professional.

Image credit: All images used in this post are from pixabay with License: CC0 Public Domain / FAQ – Free for commercial use / No attribution required


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