At C.R.E.A.T.E. Outcomes, we strive to support individuals in uncovering and embracing one’s identity. This is a process which involves creating goals, exploring values, and reflecting on relationships. As practitioners, we are mindful that there are a multitude of forces that shape an individual’s identity. One important source of identity formation and growth is the community, which a person is a part of.
Psychologist Erik Erikson suggested that the main task of adolescence is identity formation. That is, the focus of the teenage years are spent trying on different roles and exploring one’s preferences within several realms such as finding a career, ideological values, and sexual preferences. However, identity development starts when an individual is a young child and lasts through adulthood.
Erikson also coined the term “identity crisis.” This is term one may hear when an individual does something bold and uncharacteristic. Erikson defined identity crisis as a critical turning point in the life history of an individual in which development can only move forward by taking a new directional course.
Gerald Adams and Sheila Marshall wrote extensively on the purpose of identity and how identity is formed in a “person-in-context” fashion. They believe identity is made of two components: individual and social. Individual identity is composed of what makes a person unique and different than those around them. Social identity relates to a person’s sense of belonging and connectedness to others.
According to researchers Adams and Marshall, identity is important because it provides the structure for understanding who one is. A sense of individual and social identity offers one a sense of meaning and direction through commitment, values, and goals. Furthermore, identity provides a sense of personal control and free will. With identity, a person can strive for consistency between one’s values and actions, bringing the person a sense of harmony. Lastly, an individual with a strong sense of identity can recognize one’s potential and feels good about the future.
Having a strong sense of identity brings a person greater well-being. Therefore, it is important to examine how identity is developed in context, or in other words, in the community. A study by Francis Ianni showed that in communities where adults express consistent values and expectations, there is a huge positive impact on the youth living there. Adolescents in these communities develop a positive sense of self, have clear goals, feel a sense of social responsibility, and feel they have control and mastery in life’s tasks. In contrast, in communities with a lot of conflicts and where adults have inconsistent expectations for young people, the youth are negatively affected. Adolescents in these communities tend to participate in more risky behavior, feel confused and cynical, and do not have a solid sense of self.
The community can support the growth of its individual members throughout life’s phases. When considering that identity is made of two parts, the individual and the social, it may be helpful to support people in their individual pursuits such as specialized roles at work, creative hobbies, and sports. The social identity may benefit from community gatherings when people can feel connected to others and feel as they belong to a community.
The search for identity is ongoing and fluid. A person’s identity may transform as one’s priorities change throughout the different stages in life. However, taking time for oneself to do what is enjoyable and also connecting with people around us may help each person feel good about themselves. It is when a person feels supported, connected, and special that they may be a catalyst for positive change within the community.
Photo Credit: Tim Marshall