In Erikson’s psychosocial theory, there are various stages in which personality is developed and built as an individual age. The experiences of each person can vary, depending on the psychosocial crisis, which could be either negative or positive. The crisis of each state is described as psychosocial because they involve a person’s needs and the conflict these have with the needs of society (Sokol, 2009). According to Erikson, the positive outcome or success of each stage will bring satisfaction/happiness and will result in strong personality characteristics. If an individual fails to successfully complete a stage, he or she will have unhealthy personality traits and a confused sense of self. In total, there are eight psychosocial stages, including five stages that go up to the age of eighteen and three stages beyond adolescence (Erikson, 1980).
In Erikson’s fifth stage, Identity vs. Role Confusion, which affects ages twelve to eighteen, is where individuals going through the adolescence years explore their autonomy and develop and sense of ego identity with the importance of fidelity as a basic virtue. People in this stage begin to feel confusion as to how they fit into society. This is a stage where an adolescence must ask themselves “who am I?” in order to find their sense of self and build strong social relationships with those around. This is where family members, especially parents, play an important role yet the most significant figures are the people and trends outside their household environment such as friends, groups, schoolmates and popular culture because they play a key role in shaping the individual’s identity (Erikson, 1994). As stated by Erikson, one way to successfully emerge from this stage is to receive encouragement and praise when exploring personal identity; resulting in a sense of independence, confidence and fidelity.
However, those who are not capable of testing out different identities will remain unsure of their desires and lack a vision for their future will remain that way until they find success in another stage (Erikson, 1994). Erikson refers to this as role confusion and are predicted to fail in the upcoming stage; intimacy versus isolation which involves relationships, personal style choices and career paths. It has also been mentioned that the success or failure of individuals during this stage affects the quality their fidelity. If an adolescent successfully completes Erikson’s fifth stage, then he or her will be able to sustain strong and trustworthy relationships necessary to succeed in a romantic relationship and other common things. Erikson notes that for many, this stage will be prolonged because identity formation tends to take long since one is acquiring skills that are going to be important and needed for adulthood (Erikson, 1980).
It has been stated that family, friends and social conditions shape a teenager during the fifth stage and therefore they are important roles, yet to what extent to these affect the lives of adolescents? It has been reported that suicide among individuals between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four is the second leading cause of death in the United States (NIH, 2018). According to the AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) those who attempt to commit suicide suffer from depression and mental disorders (AACAP, 2017). Some Factors that could contribute to depression among teenagers are; exposure to violence, bullying, rejection and the lack of friends or caring family members. The suicide rate has significantly increased over the last seventeen years, correlating with substance abuse. According to another research by George E. Murphy, MD, adolescents who have alcohol and drug problems are at more risk of committing suicide because these intensify depression and its many factors (Murphy, 1988). Many believe that teenagers are living in a more accepting society in which they are able to openly express themselves, yet surveys and studies have shown that bullying rates have increased, and more than forty percent of students have experiences bullying at least once in their lives (Bullying Statistics & Information, 2011). Societal norms also exert a great amount of pressure among teenagers. In a society where teenagers feel it that it is expected of them to act and look a certain way, many lose themselves, making it hard to find an identity that fits.
As stated before, one factor that contributes to the high rates of suicide among teens is the failure to construct an identity that is healthy. Suicide is reported to be linked to stress coming from parental figures, lack of support and sexual identity. In order to successfully complete the fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, a person must be able to connect with others and therefore, the institution of the family is of primary importance in order to ignite healthy socialization habits among individuals (Robert, 2002). However, some households lack socialization and emotional bonding among family members, causing depression and disturbances among personality and identity development that are likely to develop into feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. Erikson recognized the importance of social context in a person’s personality development and linked a person’s sense of self to society and that is why he noted that socioemotional disturbances exert great influence on an individual and could lead to life-threatening behavior such as suicide and suicidal thoughts (Erikson, 1980).
According to Erikson, everything varies according to current societal norms and that is why he stated that it is important to resolve identity crisis; one reason may be to stop the popularization of suicide. If suicide becomes acceptable among the teenage population, then the belief that suicide is an acceptable solution to unsolvable problems will emerge. It is also important to mention that individuals who have suicidal thoughts have not resolved their developmental tasks and if it is left unsettled it will bring failure to be autonomous, make poor life choices and will be unable to create healthy emotional attachments that will carry on onto the next three stages (Robert, 2002). The origins of life-threatening behavior can appear to be related to dissatisfaction or failure to succeed in previous stages; Erikson refers to this as a type of developmental syndrome that does not allow an individual to fully develop and therefore constructs self-destructive behavior to escape.
- Sokol, J. T. (2009). Identity development throughout the lifetime: An examination of Eriksonian theory. Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1(2), 14.
- Rosenthal, D. A., Gurney, R. M., & Moore, S. M. (1981). From trust on intimacy: A new inventory for examining Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 10(6), 525-537.
- Erikson, E. H. (1994). Identity: Youth and crisis (No. 7). WW Norton & Company.
- Erikson, E. H. (1980). Elements of a psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development. The course of life: Psychoanalytic contributions toward understanding personality development, 1, 11-61.
- Suicide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
- Murphy, G. E. (1988). Suicide and substance abuse. Archives of general psychiatry, 45(6), 593-594.
- Bullying Statistics & Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://americanspcc.org/our-voice/bullying/statistics-and-information/
- Pprtes, Pedro & Sandhu, Daya & Longwell-Grice, Robert. (2002). Understanding adolescent suicide: A psychosocial interpretation of developmental and contextual factors. Adolescence. 37. 805-14.