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Stage 5: Identity versus Role Confusion (about 13 Years to about 21 Years). With the onset of puberty and its myriad social and physiological changes, the adolescent becomes preoccupied with the question of identity. Erikson noted in Childhood and Society that youth are now “primarily concerned with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared to what they feel they are, and with the question of how to connect the roles and skills cultivated earlier with the occupational prototypes of the day.” Childhood roles and fantasies are no longer appropriate, yet the adolescent is far from equipped to become an adult. In Childhood and Society, Erikson writes that the integration that occurs in the formation of ego identity encompasses far more than the summation of childhood identifications. “It is the accrued experience of the ego’s ability to integrate these identifications with the vicissitudes of the libido, with the aptitudes developed out of endowment, and with the opportunities offered in social roles.” The formation of cliques and an identity crisis occur at the end of adolescence. Erikson calls the crisis normative because it is a normal event. Failure to negotiate this stage leaves adolescents without a solid identity; they suffer from identity diffusion or role confusion, characterized by not having a sense of self and by confusion about their place in the world. Role confusion can manifest in such behavioral abnormalities as running away, criminality, and overt psychosis. Problems in gender identity and sexual role may manifest at this time. Adolescents may defend against role diffusion by joining cliques or cults or by identifying with folk heroes. Intolerance of individual differences is a way in which the young person attempts to ward off a sense of identity loss. Falling in love, a process by which the adolescent may clarify a sense of identity by projecting a diffused self-image onto the partner and seeing it gradually assume a more distinctive shape, and an overidentification with idealized figures are means by which the adolescent seeks self-definition. With the attainment of a more sharply focused identity, the youth develops the virtue of fidelity—faithfulness not only to the nascent self-definition but also to an ideology that provides a version of self-in-world. As Erik Erikson, Joan Erikson, and Helen Kivnick wrote in Vital Involvement in Old Age, “Fidelity is the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable contradictions of value systems. It is the cornerstone of identity and receives inspiration from confirming ideologies and affirming companionships.” Role confusion ensues when the youth is unable to formulate a sense of identity and belonging. Erikson held that delinquency, gender-related identity disorders, and borderline psychotic episodes can result from such confusion.
Sadock, Benjamin J.. Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry . LWW. Kindle Edition.
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