Ego identity may be regarded as the sense of one understanding him or herself as a distinct individual. It is basically an outcome of the identity crisis that is most evident as a person progresses through the adolescent years. A number of psychologists have attempted to explain the process of identity development. James Marcia elaborated on Erikson’s work in order to elucidate identity formation, particularly in adolescents.
In his work, he described four statuses that characterize identity development.
According to Marcia (1996), the two criteria used to determine the identity state of an individual are crisis and commitment. Crisis in this context refers to the adolescent’s period of choosing among meaningful alternatives while commitment refers to the degree of personal investment the individual exhibits (Marcia, 1996).
The four identity statuses as defined by Marcia are; identity foreclosure, identity diffusion, identity moratorium and identity achievement.
Identity foreclosure occurs when an adolescent has decided on a commitment but has not undergone an identity crisis. Such an adolescent has not had the opportunity to develop his own ideals and has come up with their identity as a result of what he has learnt from his parents and society, his personality is characterized by a certain rigidity of mind (Marcia, 1996).
According to Marcia (1996), regardless of whether this type of an adolescent has or has not experienced a crisis he or she lacks commitment. In addition to this, the adolescent shows no interest in occupational or ideological choices (Wentzel & McNamara, 1999).
Identity moratorium is the status where the individual is on the verge of experiencing an identity crisis but has not yet made a commitment (Wentzel & McNamara, 1999). Moreover, it is at this point that a majority of adolescents will explore the various aspects of their personalities; they will look at different career opportunities and different philosophies.
According to Marcia (1996), identity achievement is similar to identity diffusion as at this point the individual has undergone a crisis and is now committed to an occupation and an ideology.
He has evaluated different career choices or ideologies and has made a decision on his own terms regardless of whether it is contrary to his or her parents’ wishes (Marcia, 1996).
During high school, most adolescents are adjusting to a greater degree of independence than they have had before, particularly if they are away in boarding schools. They are expected to make up their own minds with regard to friends, social activities as well as their studies (Wentzel & McNamara, 1999).
In addition, they are most vulnerable to pressure from peers at this stage of life as they have not fully developed their own identities and will be trying to figure out where they fit in. For this reasons, most of them are at the identity moratorium status where they are probably experiencing an identity crisis or are about to experience one. Towards the end of high school, however, they will be on the road to developing their own identities and hence have achieved their identity as a result of their varied experiences (Wentzel & McNamara, 1999). On a personal level, the loss of a loved one led me towards identity achievement. To lose someone you were dependent on means that you have to develop coping mechanisms to make life bearable. Being considerably young, I had to learn how to make independent choices and deal with their consequences, good or bad on my own. This enabled me to develop principles and personal ethics that moved me to identity achievement.
In conclusion, Marcia was right in describing these four statuses of ego identity as it is clear that one does not develop an identity overnight but develops it over a period that is characterized by a variety of crises and experiences. The experiences mould the identity of an individual and enable him or her to find a path in life that is governed by personal choices.
Marcia, J. E.
(1996). Development and Validation of Ego Identity Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3(5), 551-558. Retrieved on 6th September, 2011 from :< http://garfield.library.
upenn.edu/classics1984/A1984TR91100001.pdf>. Wentzel, K. R. & McNamara, C. C.
(1999). Interpersonal Relationships, Emotional Distress, and Prosocial Behavior in Middle School. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 19: 114 – 125.