Developmental Issues in Identity Formation and Self Esteem



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Identity achievement status (crisis is past)





Moratorium status (in midst of crisis)

Identity diffusion status

Not Committed

Degree of crisis

(O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.153)

Marcia’s theory does not conclude that each adolescent will go through and encounter all four identity statuses. Some may experience only one or two identity statuses throughout their adolescence. Furthermore unlike Erikson’s, Marcia’s theory takes into account multidirectional movement between and among the various identity statuses. For example, an adolescent may experience a traumatic event such as their parents separating, or an assault, which may cause them to re-assess their perception of the world and it’s value system. The type of crisis may result in them reverting to a previous enacted identity status as to adjust to this new situation.

These are four identity statuses proposed by Marcia, furthering Erikson’s theory. Marcia described the process as having four main, reoccurring steps. Identity formation has two key parts: Crisis and Commitment. For fully achieved identity, young people must have both examined value/gaols and reached firm commitment. For Identity achievement: Marcia suggests that adolescents who have experienced crisis and reached an undertaking to ideological, occupational or other objectives. Moratorium: is when a crisis is in progress, but no commitment has yet been made. With foreclosure: adolescents who have made a commitment without having gone through a crisis. Then identity diffusion: this represents either an early stage before the crisis, or a failure to reach a commitment after a crisis. “Marcia suggested that identity involves the adoption of ideals and values, sexual orientation and work possibilities. He formulated the idea of status which allowed for a more fluid conception of identity formation.” (O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.168) According to Schlossberg the best way to cope with a crisis or transition in life, is to adapt the 4 S’s System: Situation, Self, Supports and Strategies. (Schlossberg, N. K., 2011)

Minority teenagers, especially those of colour in a predominantly white culture, face the task of creating two identities in adolescence. (Boyd, D and Bee, H. 2003, p.316) Boyd and Bee define Ethnic Identity as a sense of belonging to an ethnic group. American developmental psychologist Jean Phinney, proposed in 1990 that in adolescence, the development of a complete ethnic identity moves through three stages:

Unexamined ethnic identity: which is very similar to Marcia’s identity status called foreclosure.
Ethnic identity search: parallel to crisis in Marcia’s analysis of ego identity.
Resolution: Of conflicts and contradictions – similar to Marcia’s status of identity.

Young people of colour often develop two identities, a psychological sense of self and an ethnic identity. (Boyd, D and Bee, H. 2003, p.317) In addition to establishing a sense of personal identity minority teens must also develop an ethnic identity. Some resolve this developmental task by creating a bicultural identity for themselves, one that allows them to interact comfortably with members of the majority group, individuals who belong to other minority groups and members of their own group. . (Boyd, D and Bee, H. 2007, p.284)

An ethnic identity is identification with definite ethnicity, usually on the basis of a presumed shared ethnic descent. Ethnic groups are often also united by common cultural, behavioural, linguistic or religious traits. “They must also develop an ethnic or racial identity, including self-identification as a member of some specific group, commitment to that group and it’s values and attitudes“. (Boyd, D and Bee, H. 2007, p.284). Phinney’s stage model is a useful general description of the process of ethnic identity formation. While others resolve the dilemma by consciously choosing their own ethnic group’s patterns and values, yet this choice could limit their access to a larger culture but they make this as an informed decision. Also adolescents from different cultural backgrounds who try to compete and succeed in the most dominant culture might be shunned by their own peers.

Based on the studies which have derived from Erikson’s & Marcia’s Theories there is a need to examine the pro’s and con’s of both theories. Erikson’s can be ambiguous about the causes of development and his theory does not have a universal structure for crisis resolution. Erikson’s theory is more a depictive overview of human social and emotional progression that does not comprehensively explain why or how this advancement occurs. Furthermore Erikson does not clearly explain how the outcome of one psychosocial stage influence personalities at a later stage. Then on the more positive side of Erikson’s theory is, it’s ability to bring together important psychosocial developments across the entire lifespan. Also “Erikson was more positive than Freud as he believed that negative outcomes in a stage could be resolved at a later date“. (O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.22) Unlike Erickson’s stage theory, Marcia’s theory accounts for multi-directional movement among and between the various identity statuses. Finally Marcia formulated the idea of status, which allowed for a more fluid conception of identity formation. (O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.168)

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987), an American psychologist best known for his work on the Theory of stages of moral development, also known as a stage theorist. Kohlberg’s theory was developed from the research and principles of Jean Piaget’s identity development. Previously, Piaget (1932) suggested a two-way theory of moral development (moral realism and moral relativism). (Hearne, L., 2017, p. 11). Kohlberg’s moral development is focused on the cognitive process rather than the actual moral actions of a person. Continually people who are able to cognitively discuss appropriate moral choices do not always exhibit moral behaviour. Furthermore, persons can know the right moral decisions to make and decide to respond in the opposite manner. However, the theorist whose work has had the most powerful impact has been Kohlberg (Bergman, 2002; Colby et al., 1976, 1981). Moreover, theories of moral reasoning have been important in explanations of adolescent antisocial behaviour. (Boyd, D and Bee, H. 2006, p.335). Kohlberg’s moral judgement development seems to have a parallel relationship between age and stage. “Before the age of ten years of age a child believes rules are fixed, handed down by a higher authority (such a parent or adult) and subject to change. After the age of ten, the child realises that rules are flexible and can be modified, with the agreement of others.” (O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.120) Kohlberg based his theory on interviews he conducted with children and adolescents regarding moral reasoning. He then devised ‘moral dilemmas’, the answers to which were used to categorise moral development, one of example of this is the Heinz dilemma. Where a woman was near death from a specific cancer but there was one drug which doctors thought might save her. But the drug was very expensive to make & it was made in her same town, it was $2,000 for a small dose of the drug so her husband became desperate and broke into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife. Kohlberg then suggested 6 responses for this moral dilemma to assess people’s reasoning on their decision. Listed below are the six stages of Kohlberg’s moral development:




Shared standards, rights and duties

Stage 6: Self-selection of universal values and principles

Stage 5: -Sense of democracy and relativity of rules




Performing right roles

Stage 4: Fulfilling duties and upholding laws

Stage 3: Meeting expectations of others




Values in external events

Stage 2: “Getting what you want” by trade-off or in exchange for behaving

Stage 1: Punishment avoidance

Figure 2: Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Various theorists have criticized Kohlberg’s theory, by those who placed more emphasis on learning moral behaviour and by those who believe moral reasoning is based mostly on emotional factors rather than on their ideas of fairness and justice. “Carol Gilligan claims Kohlberg’s theory is flawed because his research was based on male responses and represents a male perspective of moral development and reasoning“. .” (O’Brien, E. Z. 2013, p.138) From Gilligan’s work with women she deduced that women apply an ethic of care in the judgements rather than a ‘male’ ethic of justice. Eisenberg has defined “empathy as an affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension of another’s emotional state” However .”an empathic response usually turns into either sympathy or personal distress ” (Eisenberg, 2000, p.671)

In conclusion young adolescents warrant educational experiences and schools try to care for their physical, intellectual, emotional/psychological, moral/ethical, social developmental and spiritual, characteristics. Parents, practitioners and others who work with young adolescents need to be aware of both obvious and subtle changes in their developmental characteristics. Changes like these can give adults intuitive into the demands facing young adolescents and emphasise possible logic for transference in their capabilities and behaviour. Educators and career guidance counsellors and policymakers today need to persevere with their support of initiatives that allow young adolescents with developmentally appropriate environment and learning experiences. “Teenage aspirations, especially educational, in combination with academic attainment are an important predictor of adult social status.” (Schoon, I. 2006,
p. 138).


Schoon, I. (2006) Risk and Resilience; Adaptations in changing times, 1st ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boyd, D and Bee, H. (2003) Lifespan development, 3rd ed., Allyn and Bacon, Pearson

Boyd, D and Bee, H. (2006) Lifespan development, 4th ed., Allyn and Bacon, Pearson

Boyd, D and Bee, H. (2007) The Developing Child, 11th ed.,Pearson, International Edition. Allyn and Bacon.

O’Brien, E. Z., (2013) Human Growth & Development, 2nd ed., Gill and MacMillan

Sugarman, L. (1986) Life-Span Development, Concepts, Theories and Interventions, 1st ed., Methuen & Co. Ltd.

Eisenberg, 2000 ..

Hearne, L., (2017). Session 5: Theories of Social and Personality Development, Lecture Notes, University of Limerick.

Eccles, J., (2012) Developmental Psychology, Vol 48(6), Nov 2012, 1540-1553.

Schlossberg, N. K., (2011). The Challenge of change: The transition model and it’s applications. Journal of employment counselling, Vol 48

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