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Changing Identity: Key Development Issues

Identity is a complex topic and consists of many interrelated items. The theory behind this notion has not yet developed to the stage when it can provide answers to all questions. Some believe that people are born with identity, while others consider culture as the primary influencer. These beliefs attribute identity with static nature that is acquired either upon birth or upon becoming part of a certain culture. Such views, however, do not correspond to how human beings grow and change throughout their lives. Identity is a reflection of the current state of mind, and it changes as part of a response to environmental and inner events.

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Firstly, identity is a combination of self-perception and how others see a person. It can be studied at various levels, including macro, where entire groups and populations are considered, and micro, where attention is given to an individual person. The formation may take place in various circumstances, including social context, when a person starts considering themselves as part of a specific group. Therefore, identity first develops within a family, when an individual starts feeling that they have certain responsibilities assigned by the roles in the family. The family member identity develops until the individual becomes an adult and starts to live an independent life. The scientific community often studies how identity forms rather than how it changes. Therefore, there are many theories regarding identity development and little focus on the change process. One of the most popular theories of identity formation is the model of James Marcia (Morelli). He believed that individuals pass through four stages until becoming mature and with formed identities (Morelli). These stages are diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium, and achievement (Morelli). In the diffusion stage, people do not have goals or options and are not yet ready to make any decisions because of the perceived lack of control (Morelli). In foreclosure, an individual decides to commit to some goal but allows many of the decisions to be made by others (Morelli). The moratorium is when a person has an identity crisis and does not know what choices to make (Morelli). In achievement, their identity is fully formed, which allows them to make decisions freely and commit themselves to goals and purposes they value. The family member identity passes through all these stages – from diffusion when they are children to achievement when they become adults.

Secondly, unless a person’s development stagnates completely, their identity constantly evolves because of new experiences, knowledge, and individual growth. Identity is a person’s image captured at this very moment, and because this picture is not the same as it was a year before, it is plausible to believe that identity changes throughout life. There are no specific reasons why there are alterations in identity – it is natural for human beings to strive for progress and improvement in all areas of activity. Suggesting that identity never changes once formed is to imply that no progress is ever possible once incorrect decisions are made. There is scientific evidence, however, that identity can be influenced intentionally (Miscenko et al. 605). Through structured interventions and training, individuals were able to change how they perceive themselves in terms of leadership (Miscenko et al. 605). Identity may change in response to external factors and experiences, which may often be created on purpose. For instance, prior to becoming an independent person, I was often treated unfairly by some of my relatives. If identity never changes, then I should be a submissive person for the rest of my life because of my childhood experiences. However, I managed to change during my college years, and today, I am a completely different person.

Lastly, Marcia’s model implies that after achievement, identity enters stagnation and experiences no progress. This notion of identity development is only concerned with how identity comes to existence. Its further progress, including the change that results from experience and systematic intervention, has not been studied thoroughly. In reality, the opposite is true, and an alternative model should be proposed. Marcia’s theory can be slightly altered in order to accommodate the ever-changing nature of identity. The last two steps can be put into an iteration – after achievement, at some point in life, a person may feel that something needs to change, which serves as motivation for progress. Through engaging in new activities and exposing themselves to new experiences, people can reach the achievement status once more. For instance, a skilled software developer, after working for more than ten years in the industry, may realize that spending days and nights in the office is a waste of time. They may want to start traveling and discovering new places. In this example, an identity crisis happened long after it was formed. The developer began to feel that they were not sure about the values they are committed to. Identity is achieved once more after realizing that traveling and writing are much more rewarding. Career change is a frequent event in contemporary society, which suggests that identity never stops evolving.

There are many definitions of identity, but in summary, it is how people view themselves combined with third-party perspectives. The majority of contemporary theories about identity and its development focus more on formation rather than continuous evolution. The lack of research in identity change has led to a belief that identity, once formed, can never be altered or influenced. However, real-world examples exist, which suggest that identity is in a continuous state of change. Marcia’s identity development model can be modified to make it suitable for constant identity change theory. Crisis and achievement occur in an iterative fashion, following one another. Identity is altered as a response to external events and experiences.

Works Cited

Miscenko, Darja, Hannes Guenter, and David V. Day. “Am I a leader? Examining Leader Identity Development Over Time.” The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 5, 2017, pp. 605-620.

Morelli, Angela Oswalt. “James Marcia and Self-Identity.” Rhode Island Student Assistance Services, 2020. Web.

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