After reading this article you will learn about the process of formation of psycho-social identity.
In the early years, the child has very little interaction with the society and identity formation is essentially personal, very much anchored on one’s idea or image of oneself.
The foundations for these are laid by a process of acquisition of a stable ‘body image’ and also the formation of stable relationships with significant individuals who are part of one’s early childhood and environment. This personal identity established during childhood however, has to gradually expand itself and become more and more inclusive incorporating different social affiliation roles etc., and develop into psycho-social identity.
Psycho-social identity formation more or less commences during the process of adolescence by which time the child has probably arrives at a stable idea of oneself. The formation of psycho-social identity involves an organised, integrated and hierarchical ordering of one’s roles in the society.
Thus, we are all adults, citizens, parents, employees, members of political parties and even service organisations. These multiple roles and relationships stipulate that all these roles are to be arranged in an order of priority. In the words of Erikson only a hierarchical integration of roles fosters the vitality of individual growth as they represent a vital trend in the existing or developing social order and can support identity.
Psychosocial identity depends very much on a more inclusive extension, expansion and achieving a sense of mutual interdependence of an integrated idea of oneself and an ordered and prioritized hierarchy of one’s social roles.
This process of identity formation, needless to say, depends on a number of factors. First we have the factor of growth and establishment of personal identity. The personal identity based mainly on ‘body image’ suffers a setback during the years of adolescence, where large scale physiological changes involving different bodily systems disturbs and sometimes upsets the personal ‘body identity’ so far formed.
At the same time, the pubertal years also bring with them, an expanding world of social demands and call for extended reference group relationships and orientation. As observed by Stanley Hall in his classical work, adolescence brings with it such radical changes and disturbances both within the individual and also in his relationship with others that very often there is a deep psychological crisis – ‘youth awakens to a new world and knows neither it nor itself.
One of the leading psychologists who had devoted considerable attention and effort to understand the problem of identity formation is Erikson. In his theory of psycho-social development, Erikson postulates eight different stages starting from infancy and extending to old age.
The period of adolescence according to Erikson brings with it an identity crisis or dilemma between identity and diffusion. This view has been shared by others like Lithtenstein.
The extension of identity to the social world at large and various roles one has to play can generate considerable amount of confusion and stress and no wonder many young people at this stage experience severe emotional problems which in extreme cases can result even in suicide.
According to Erikson, the gradual development of a natural psycho-social identity, presupposes a community of people whose traditional values become significant even as his growth assumes relevance for them. The mere roles that can be played interchangeably obviously are not sufficient for the social aspect of the equation.
Only a hierarchical integration of roles into an ordered pattern, can support the formation of psycho-social identity. Every individual, as he grows up finds that he has to play multiple roles son, brother, husband, father, employee member of an ideological group, citizen and what not! The arrival of a stable sense of psycho-social identity depends then on an organisation of these roles.
In this process, the individual’s own life history, and the socio-historic settings of a society play an important part. In a society, where at a particular point of time in history, the number of roles are limited and the roles mutually exclusive, the process of identity formation is easier.
This process of psycho-social identity formation in as much as it implies a hierarchical and prioritized organisation of the various roles, necessarily involves elimination of negative identities which very often conflict with emerging and more preferable roles. Negative identities which were eliminated, again show their ugly heads in times of crisis.
Thus a most reasonable individual, at times of crisis often tends to become very demanding and even violent. Social changes, technology changes, political changes, all such events very often require a continuous expansion, development and modification of one’s sense of identity.
In many instances, this can result in a panic. Large scale and frequent changes of this type no doubt can result in problems of identity, confusion and conflict and under these conditions negative identities earlier buried can stage a comeback.
In societies like ours, which are broadly divided and stratified into different social, cultural groups and which are also traditional it becomes necessary for individuals and the society at large to evolve and develop more inclusive larger identities.
It is necessary, for us to move towards an identity as an ‘Indian’ and a ‘civilized human being’ from the traditional passive and past-oriented identities. This is a very serious psycho-social need for us. One does not know how far we have succeeded in arriving at such an identity.
In the words of Erikson functioning societies can reconfirm the principles and true leaders can create significant and new solidarities only by supporting and developing more inclusive identities for only a new and enlightened ethics can successfully replace dying morals.
In other parts of the world youth itself has shown that when trusted to do so it can provide patterns for new elites. One thinks here of Israelis ‘Kibbutz Nikes’, the US Peace Corps and the American students committed to the dislodgement of racial prejudices. In such developments young men and women can be seen to develop new forms of solidarity and new “ethics”.
Ultimately the writings on the wall clearly indicate the inevitability and absolute necessity of the development of a universal human identity replacing traditional religious, racial, caste and other forms of related identity. Successful and effective living of an individual in society in modern days very much depends on how far we are able to achieve this.
The reader can see a parallel between self- formation and identity formation. The two are parallel processes which at the same time should be integrated. If the concept of self helps in establishing an order and an order of priorities inside the individual, identity formation aims at doing the same in relation to the outside world. However, one need not necessarily see a contradiction between a national identity and a universal identity.