Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)

Identity vs Role Confusion

Psychologists, anthropologists and other social scientists have always tried their best to understand human development. Every social scientist related to his field understands development in his own context. There are a number of theories which have panned out to understand human development. One of the most successful theories is of Freud’s psychosexual theory of development. Freud’s psychosexual stages of development were popular as theory of development but it has also raised a number of questions. Due to these arisen questions they also there were also other theories established as theories of human development. Erick Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the most well-known theories which were established in response to Freud’s theory. In this article we will discuss, Identity vs. Role Confusion.

Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)

We shall discuss the fifth stage of Erickson’s psychosocial stages of development which is identity vs. role confusion. This article will discuss everything related to identity vs. role confusion and how an individual can successfully develop through this stage. However, before going into depth of identity vs. role confusion we should probably establish the basis of Erickson’s psychosocial stages of development. We shall first discuss what this theory actually is and what stages are there in this theory then we shall discuss identity vs. role confusion, purpose of this stage and how a person successfully achieves the purpose. 

  • Erikson’s Work

Erikson was a psychologist in Frankfurt, Germany born in 1902. He spent his childhood with her mother and stepfather and he never realized that his father accepted him as his own son. He met Anna Freud while he was working in Vienna and he was inspired to pursue a career in research for psychoanalysis. In the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute he studied child development and earned a diploma. He married in 1930 with an artist and after they had their first boy he fled from Nazi Germany and went on to settles in Boston where they raised three children together. Erikson served at Judge Baker Guidance Center, Harvard Medical School, Yale’s Institute of Human Relations, Yale School of Medicine and Harvard’s Psychological Clinic. He conducted a study of Sioux children at a South Dakota Indian reservation which almost went on for a year. He conducted this study while he was working at Yale. Erikson passed away in 1994 while he was working at Massachusetts while conducting behavioral research. His most famous work was developing theory of psychosocial development and identity crisis. His work is mostly reflective of his troubled relationship with his stepfather. 

  • Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development

Erikson was sure that personality development happens in eight stages of psychosocial development. These stages run through infancy to adulthood. Every stage is different from the previous one and every stage has its own crisis which can have either positive or negative consequences on the person. These crises are known as psychosocial crises because they are psychological needs of the person which conflict with the needs of society. If a person successfully passes to one stage it will help him gain the basic virtues. Basic virtues are featured qualities which the ego can use to solve consequent crises. If the person fails to successfully pass through one stage it can result in lowered ability to complete next stages and that’s why an imbalance personality or sense of self will arise from it. However, a person can resolve these conflicts in later stages as well. Here are psychosocial stages of development by Erikson. 

These stages are arranged up in following order

Here is a table which explains ages on which every stage starts and ends. Moreover, the basic virtue of every stage is also mentioned in the table below.  All of these stages are needed to be learnt but this article is to study the fifth stage (identity vs. role confusion) of this theory in detail. Let’s have a closer look at the background of the fifth stage of psychosocial theory of Erikson which is identity vs. role confusion

Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)
  • Identity vs. Role Confusion

This is the fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development and it lasts throughout the teen years. It generally starts from twelve years of age and it lasts till eighteen years of age. This stage is called identity vs. role confusion because of the child’s confusions about his identity during this stage. Children tend to explore beliefs, values and they are aimed to find out a better understanding of themselves. Fidelity is known to be the basic virtue children tend to attain after the completion of this stage. At this stage, children are coming out of the age of dependency and going towards a more autonomous and adult life which includes relationships, careers, house and their place in society. He was more interested to know how social interactions and relationships of a person influence his growth and development. 

This stage (identity vs. role confusion) lasts during adolescent years and children are at this awkward stage between childhood and adulthood. There is a pressure on a child to fit in as well as finding his independent place in the world. If they are successful in this stage it means they have established the way they are going to look at themselves or they have a clear self-identity and it is easy for them to share themselves to others. They are confident in associations and relationships without losing their own self. Difficulties at this stage can result in problems in social interactions, inflated sense of self importance or withdrawal. 

  • Overview of Identity vs. Role Confusion

If we list out the most important things related to the fifth stages of psychosocial development of Erikson’s theory, it would be these things given below.

  • Major Question by the person during this stage: “Who am I?”
  • Important Event (s) during this stage: Social Relationships
  • Basic Virtue of this stage: Fidelity
  • Psychosocial Conflict during this stage: Ego Identity versus Role Confusion

Now we shall go through all the concepts of this stage one by one. First thing we need to discuss is to know how this stage got its name. 

  • Ego Identity

The main element is the development of ego identity and it is known to be the conscious sense of self and it is mostly developed with the help of social interaction. While our social interaction keeps changing because of new information and new experience and so ego identity is based on these ever changing social interactions. These years are crucial because teens can feel confused about themselves and about their adjustment in society. It is the age of experimentation by teens with different roles and behaviors and activities. This is the most crucial in development of a strong identity and a direction in life, according to Erickson. 

  • Development through Teen Years (identity vs. role confusion)

Parents seem to look at adolescent behavior as impulsive or unpredictable but, according to Erikson, it all seems normal because children are trying to find themselves amidst all the chaos. They are confused because of the standards of morality set by them and the standards set by the society. Parents and family are also influential at this stage but outside forces like peer groups, friends, and societal trends are also powerful influences during this stage. All of these forces play an important role in development of self and identity in children. If a child receives encouragement and reinforcement with the help of his own exploration and efforts he will emerge as a strong person with a strong sense of self with independence and self-control. Children who are unsure of their beliefs and desires remain confused and insecure about their future as well as themselves. 

Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)
  • Fidelity

Fidelity is the virtue of the fifth stage of development and it can be defined as ‘the ability to relate to others and form a genuine relationship’. It is the most important development of the fifth stage and development of fidelity is also related to development of successful relationships in future. Moreover, development of fidelity also guarantees success in the coming stage which is ‘intimacy vs. isolation’. 

  • Resolving Crisis

If a child commits to a particular identity at this stage of development, he is most likely to become successful at this stage. This can be anything, it can be a person’s career path or deciding about the social group he is going to stay in and even a development of personal style. A successful development of fidelity is the success of this stage and it will be also known as resolving the crisis of the fifth stage of development. 

  • What can parents do?

These are a few steps which can be taken by either parents or teachers for their children to help them go through this stage.

  • Keep an eye on your child’s moodiness and see if it is at the right level.
  • They need to be supportive listeners.
  • Keep them busy in clubs and sports so they are able to find their ‘fit’.
  • Make their behavior right according to time and place.
  • Take to the school counselor about the child’s overt behavior. 
Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)

FAQ about Identity vs Role-confusion

What are some of the most important elements for a positive outcome of identity vs. role confusion?

A conscious search for identity is one of the most important elements for positive outcome at identity vs. role confusion. If the conflict is resolved at an earlier stage it will be even more helpful. 

What are some of the most important elements for a negative outcome in the fifth stage of development of Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development?

If a child does not make conscious choices for himself and the most important of all are a vocation, choice of a partner or even about life in general, he might be under threat of role confusion.

What happens if identity conflict is not resolved?

Children who are not allowed to explore their options end up in role confusion are they are not sure what they like. Their relationships are also troubled and they have problems in decision making as well as in a sense of self. 


Identity vs Role Confusion (A Complete Guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.