Chapter 9: Self-Concept and Identity Formation
The Self, Self-Concept, Self-esteem and Identity FormationSelf-concept
are constructs that psychologists find useful in understanding peopleís
development and behavior. The self-concept is the picture one has of
himself/herself. Self-esteem is the valuation of particular elements of the
self. Identity is the unique combination of personality characteristics and
social styles that defines oneself and is recognized by others. The Self in Adolescence
Self-esteem in Adolescence
- William James argued that people
can have multiple selves, just as they play multiple roles. Sociological theories
claim that the self is formed as appraisals from others that are internalized.
Cognitive psychologists argue that people create a theory of self and actively
search for information about themselves. Humanistic psychologists argue that
the self is partially formed through the individualís understanding of his/her
- Young children often define themselves
in terms of possessions and activities. Elementary school children look at
their characteristics and compare themselves with others, but adolescents
define themselves in more abstract terms. Their descriptions are more complex
and some of the traits are in conflict with each other.
- Early adolescents are not aware
of these contradictions. During the middle years of adolescence, these contradictions
bother teenagers and they are aware of acting phony or false. These contradictions
are integrated during the late adolescent years. Discrepancies between the
real self and the ideal self are troublesome, especially in middle adolescence.
- High self-esteem is related to
many positive outcomes, while low self-esteem is related to a number of poorer
outcomes. The relationship between high self-esteem and positive outcomes
is relatively low, though.
- A person may have high self-esteem
in one area and low in another. High global self- esteem would be found if
an individual evaluates himself/herself highly in domains of importance.
- Although self-esteem is relatively
stable, if social support or positive evaluations of the self in areas of
importance improve, self-esteem may increase as well. Self- esteem begins
to decline in middle childhood as children become more sensitive to the evaluations
of others and evaluate their own successes and failures. This reduction in
self-esteem may represent a more realistic picture of themselves and evaluation
of their abilities. Self-esteem continues to decline in early adolescence,
but increases in middle and late adolescence. Generally, males have higher
self-esteem than females. African Americans have self-esteem that is at least
equal to that of white teenagers.
- Although high self-esteem is preferable to low self-esteem, people with
an inflated self- esteem are characterized by defensiveness, anger, hostility
and even aggression. They are seen as shallow and self-serving. People with
high self-esteem that is unstable or who show narcissistic tendencies may
also be defensive and hostile.
- The self-concept, self-esteem and identity formation
in adolescence are influenced by cognitive development. The development of
formal operational abilities, such as the ability to use abstractions,
to separate the real from the possible, and to use hypothetical-deductive
logic enable adolescents to develop a personal philosophy of life,
a more abstract self-concept and a greater awareness of their self.
Male and Female
- Erikson argued that the positive outcome of
the psychosocial crisis of adolescence is a solid sense of ego identity
while the negative outcome is a sense of role confusion. While some psychologists
consider identity as a coherent whole, others speak about identity in terms
of different parts, such as a occupational identity or a religious identity.
- Erikson argued that identity formation entailed
exploration (called crisis originally) and commitment.
- James Marcia suggested four identity statuses.
Adolescents who are in the identity foreclosed status (identity foreclosure)
have made commitments but have not experienced a crisis. Those in the identity
diffused status (identity diffusion) have not meaningfully explored
their alternatives, and avoid commitments. Those in the moratorium status
(identity moratorium) are presently experiencing a crisis, but
have not yet made commitments. Those in the identity achievement
status have explored the issues and made commitments.†
- Although exploration is central to identity formation for both males and
females, some psychologists argue that females base their identity on interpersonal
factors and males on intrapersonal factors. Most recent studies emphasize
the integration of interpersonal and intrapersonal factors for women.†
- Sex typing involves learning the
behaviors and attitudes that are considered appropriate for oneís gender in
a particular culture. Gender roles involve the expectations for the behaviors
within a society for males and females. People still hold gender stereotypes,
seeing men as agentic and women as more communal.
- Elementary children become somewhat
more flexible regarding gender stereotyped behavior, but early adolescents
become less flexible. In later adolescence, more flexibility is found. Females
are more flexible than males.
- Learning gender roles is a complicated
affair and many agents of socialization participate including
parents, peers and the media. The learning processes of reinforcement and
imitation are important. At the same time, people are active in forming a
gender schema, a body of knowledge of how males and females
behave. This gender schema guides behavior and influences how information
Placing The Self-Concept And Identity Into Perspective
- Many minority group youth may
not have the same opportunities for exploration as majority group youth, due
to poverty, differing cultural expectations and discrimination. Minority group
members also develop a racial/ethnic identity.
- Minority group members who develop
a bicultural identity, who see themselves as actively involved in both cultural
environments, have the most flexible and adaptable identity.
- The meaning of the self and identity
differ according to cultural expectations. Western societies see the self
and identity in terms of becoming an independent individual and separating
from others. Non-western societies often see the self and identity in terms
of fitting into the group and define themselves in terms of group membership.
- Parents may help adolescents find
who they are by encouraging the adolescent to look at alternatives, showing
them ways of overcoming barriers, accepting the fact that teens are not going
to be carbon copies of the adults around them, encouraging communication,
helping teens understand that a certain amount of confusion is typical, and
showing possible consequences to their decisions.