- This question is about a common event and is responsible for marriages splintering, with each seeking for new excitement during mid-life crisis over ‘identity crisis!’! As a longtime listener of those inflicted with these ‘disease,’ have chosen to define it from a cultural standpoint. Mid-life crisis and identity crisis is experienced by men between the ages of 40 and 60. Women who have experienced menopause have, by then, usually dealt with it.
Couples, who over a lifetime have shared identical ideological and religious goals from the outset, their succeeding years gradually develop to become significant differences. Nothing can help to get you safely through this identify crisis except, better and ‘special wheels,’ of self-understanding! The ‘crisis’ is used to justify bad behavior!
As a child in Junior School, mother always pointed to the Temple. “Always worship this Temple in your heart – that is where God lives!” Following the successes of a successful a marriage and professional career, there was, unexpectedly, a strong dissatisfaction with all the achievements of life. Feelings of being on ‘top of the world’ with achievements, see-sawed with an inexplicable emptiness. Persistent chasing after the ‘forever’ passions seemed suddenly ‘short-term in satisfaction.’
Perplexed and internally confused, Hindu scriptures gave the understanding of the meaning and goal of life. Although Purusharthas (dharma) consider artha an important part of a successful life, Kama or want looked for more wealth! It is also called artha, and its importance is meaningful. ‘Success’ in education, family life, wealth and fame are important during the first half of life – they are all about ‘wealth or artha.’
In the second half of life, with the necessary source of safety measures, stability, unexpectedness and the impulse of control, the ego is by now disciplined and structured, to avoid disarray in real life. It is by the disciplined ego structure to be success a in the first half of life.
The second half of life manifests as an existential midlife crisis. The crisis comes with a deeper and obscure unexplained anxiety made worse by the appearance of unintended happenings.
A visit to the Temple of the ‘elders’ is where answers are found. We are told: “Pursue success” along a ‘new’ path: into your own identity! All the Upanishads are notabout the Higher Being. It is about: ‘Who, what am I? What exactly is my distinctiveness?”
“If this ‘distinctiveness’ is the ‘soul,’ what exactly does it want from me? Why have I become distanced from who I was, during the first half of my life?” The second half of life should be spent disentangling from the first half of life and unraveling the deeper mystery of our authentic identity and our relationship with this transient world.
What is the nature of the “crisis”? Do you think you do not know who you are? Do you not like who you think you are? These are two very different issues, so the ways one might deal with them are potentially quite different.
In either case, I encourage you to look at this moment as an opportunity to become who you want to be. Every reflective person has times when they ask, “Who am I?” It is not a sign of psychological problems to ask that question! Consider doing a “gap analysis” to take advantage of this opportunity.
I find it most useful to think about identity in terms of qualities of character: honesty, integrity, respect for self, respect for others, industriousness, conscientiousness, reliability, resourcefulness, compassion, generosity, self-reliance, etc. This is a list of terms that you must define for yourself; the words mean different things to different people. A useful way to do this can be to answer the question, “What does it look like when I’m being X (reliable, honest, and generous)?” That answer becomes your definition of the term. With that list and the meanings, you have a framework to assess who you are today (based on how you think and what you do) and who you hope to be in the future.
Start by writing down a brief statement (a phrase or sentence) you think is accurate about how you think and behave now with regard to a particular quality that matters to you, such as kindness or honesty. The goal here is not to judge how you think and act today, but rather just to recognize who you are now (for the most part). Notice that this is about who you actually are, not how you prefer to think of yourself.
The next step is to imagine what you want to be like in, say, two years. Which of those character qualities would you want to be different (and why)? Be kind to yourself, realistic, and guided by your best motives as you identify ways you want to evolve.
Analyze the gap between who you are today and who you want to be in two years. Identify actions you can take that will move you toward your goal on a particular quality. To give yourself a positive start, identify something you can do within a week of finishing your gap analysis that will move you even a small step closer to being the person you want to become… and then do it!
I have found this to be the most effective way to “deal with” situations like recognizing that you are questioning your identity.
What you are going through is completely normal. Adolescence is a period of huge norming and storming. There is a theory by James Marcia on identity development which you may want to go through. An excerpt about the four identity status that form part of a sequential process:
The four identity statuses he distinguished were: foreclosure, identity diffusion, moratorium, and identity achievement.
Foreclosure. “The foreclosure status is when a commitment is made without exploring alternatives. Often these commitments are based on parental ideas and beliefs that are accepted without question”. As Marcia himself put it, “the individual about to become a Methodist, Republican farmer like his Methodist, Republican farmer father, with little or no thought in the matter, certainly cannot be said to have “achieved” an identity, in spite of his commitment”.
Adolescents may foreclose on the handed-down identity willingly or under pressure. The case of “negative-identity” occurs when adolescents adopt an identity in direct opposition to a prescribed identity. Marcia saw the evidence for the endorsement of authoritarian values by foreclosures as fully commensurate with a view of them as becoming the alter egos of their parents.
Marcia stressed that once an identity crisis has been experienced, returning to the foreclosure status was no longer a possibility.
Identity diffusion. Adolescents unable to face the necessity of identity development avoid exploring or making commitments by remaining in an amorphous state of identity diffusion, something which may produce social isolation. The least complex and mature of the four identity statuses, Identity Diffusion is the mark of those who have neither explored nor made commitments across life-defining areas. They may or may not have experienced an identity crisis, with some reporting having little interest in such matters and others reporting repeated indecision.
Marcia suggested that those with identity diffusion “do not experience much anxiety because there is little in which they are invested. As they begin to care more…they move to the moratorium status, or they become so disturbed that they are diagnosed with issues, or may end up adopting a negative and self-destructive identity-role.
Moratorium. Identity moratorium is the status of individuals who are in the midst of a crisis, whose commitments are either absent or are only vaguely defined, but who are actively exploring alternatives. Marcia notes that “moratoriums…report experiencing more anxiety than do is in any other status…The world for them is not, currently, a highly predictable place; they are vitally engaged in a struggle to make it so”.
Despite such anxiety, the postmodern trend has been for more people to spend more time in the status, a phenomenon Gail Sheehy termed Provisional Adulthood.
Identity achievement once a crisis has been experienced and worked through, Marcia considered, “a likely progression would be from diffusion through moratorium to identity achievement”. The latter is thus the status of individuals who have typically experienced a crisis, undergone identity explorations and made commitments. Marcia found some evidence to support his “theoretical description of is who have achieved an identity as having developed an internal, as opposed to external, locus of self-definition”.
As you can see from this excerpt, you fall in the moratorium status. The only way to resolve this state is to work through it. You can do the following:
– keep exploring
– don’t feel that the ‘true self’ will be betrayed if you do certain things that you do not typically do – the true self is yet forming, and exploring will give you a chance to explore and either put things on your list or cut them off your list
– do things you like and which make you feel good (e.g., dance) – this is only to release stress, do not evaluate yourself on the stress-buster activities that you do.
– tell yourself this is normal. Keep telling yourself that adolescents all over the world feel this way – may be talk to a few close friends about how they are managing it.
– keep away from intoxicants. This is an age when a lot of young people are pushed into drugs in the lieu of exploring some nirvana state. It’s misleading and your vulnerability is only used by people to sell their stuff. Social drinking is okay but beyond that, use sports or movements like dance in order to feel better.
– talk to someone. Approach a good counselor/life coach or a tale counseling helpline. If you are Indian, you can call this psychosocial helping I mention.
Don’t worry too much! This will pass!
First, be sure that you are actually having one. Not to doubt your self-assessment skills, just verify that your identity and the problems you are facing aren’t the same. You may be tackling too many things at one time, and feel uncertain about yourself due to lack of control rather than an identity crisis. If that’s why, then I suggest Warren Buffet’s two-list strategy for simplifying your life.
Dealing with an Identity Crisis:
Identity is shaped by how we currently view ourselvescompared to our past, future and the people around us. Your identity is composed, then, of three facets: past (where you’ve been), present (where you are), and future (where you want to be). If you know at least one of those three, you are off to a good start.
Unless you’ve had a concussion recently, I assume you know your past.
Can you answer the following questions?
- What do I do for fun?
- Who/What inspires me?
- What do I pride myself on? /What am I good at?
If you can, then you have a present sense of self, which is two facets down and one to go.
I can’t help you with your future. That’s for you to decide. I can only hope you have a plan, and if you don’t then I hope you have dreams. There are a number of great TED talks about passion and motivation. I suggest watching a few.
Such as Adam Leipzig‘s “How to know your life purpose in 5 min”
And my favorite: Larry Smith’s “Why you will fail to have a great career“
Bottom line: Focus on what’s important to you in the meantime. Your identity is there, just hiding… It will reveal itself in due time.
Personally I believe that our personalities are dynamic and ever changing. To try and look for a static you is mistake. Other than that there are a few things that must be kept in mind: you are not what you do -that’s your work, you are not where you were born- that’s your nationality, you are what you think of yourself- that is your identity.
It is easy to attribute your identity to your work or nationality and other things that can be told in a word or two but your real identity lies in your likes, dislikes, decisions, how you came to take those decisions, expectations, things that inspire you, et cetera. Those are the things that make you who you are. That is where your identity lies. To overcome your identity crisis you’ll have to let go of descriptors and try and understand who you are as a person- what it is that makes you tick. If you ever know who you are then you’ll never have such doubts.
Another reminder for the first point: our personalities are dynamic. So along the way if you realize that you are not the same person that you used to be, say, five years ago then don’t fight with it- accept it as who you are? In time things happen to us and we do things and every once in a while we go through change. Your personality is what you are at this moment not who you have been the whole of your life. Remember nobody remains the same. Everyone changes and only those who accept it can be free.
Identity Crisis (New Edition)
1 New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer (The President’s Shadow, House of Secrets) delivers a look into the all-too-human lives of superheroes when the spouse of a member of the Justice League of America is brutally murdered.