It was Erik Erikson who first coined the phrase “identity crisis” in the late 1950s. His worked was influenced by Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, but Erikson took it in a slightly different direction and concentrated on how childhood influence can influence our beliefs about ourselves. Carl Jung also developed similar ideas about the “midlife crisis,” and the two do share some surprising similarities.
Early Developmental Influences
According to Erikson, children up to the age of 2 test their surroundings and the people in their lives. The testing involves the child learning whether their surroundings are safe or whether they can trust their parents and friends to make sure no accidents befall them. It sets the template for the adult belief that the world is a dangerous place or not. Erikson stated that a solid understanding of these surroundings lead to a feeling of hope.
Early Childhood Influences
Between the ages of 2 and 3, the child develops a sense of independence and autonomy. They decide which toys they prefer to play with or who they prefer to be held by. If they are forced to give up these ideas because the parent insists they do something else, they may form a negative view of their own self. Their sense of “will” becomes distorted. Around 6, teachers begin to influence the nature of the child’s learning. The teacher can have a positive or negative affect on the child’s sense of self and well-being. If their initiative is encouraged, they can form a positive sense of achievement that they carry on with throughout their lives.
Stress and Troubles
Stress can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. It also can have a profound effect on the mental condition of a person. During times of stress, people can development the need to run away from troubling times and the mind can formulate scenarios to help ease the stress of a situation. Sometimes it makes people wish they were someone else, living a richer life or quieter life or both. Everyone daydreams at some point in their life about living a luxurious life, but this can blow out of proportion in the mind. They may start to wonder who they really are and what they are supposed to do with their lives.
Consider the factors that cause society to change people's roles. Women in the workplace, artificial insemination and gender reassignment surgery have all had effects on how people see their roles in the world. Women used to be contained in the home, looking after the children and the house. Men had the role of “hunter and gatherer” and would produce the food. Those roles are not played out as much anymore, and some men are increasingly more confused about their new roles. This can lead to a crisis of identity in society. Women also are taking other steps to weaken the role of men in their lives, using artificial insemination instead of having relationships for the purpose of procreation.