Identity usually means a stable sense of who one is and a clear understanding of what one’s values and ideals are. Problems with identity include not achieving a stable, long-term sense of who one is and trouble establishing and committing to people, goals, careers, and other major aspects of life. Identity issues can occur at any point in the life span, but most often we think of adolescents and young adults as those concerned with establishing their identity. When this doesn’t happen, problems with relationships, career, self-esteem, and one’s overall sense of well-being can suffer, often for years until the issues pertaining to identity are addressed.
People who have successfully achieved a stable identity during late adolescence/early adulthood may find this identity shaken due to life circumstances, such as the death of a loved one, the sudden loss of a job or other important commitment, or the natural transitions of life (for example, when children grow up and leave home, retirement, etc.).
These events may force a person to re-evaluate their identity and adjust accordingly. For example, a woman who has defined herself primarily as a wife and mother may feel lost and confused about who she is when her children grow up and leave home. Although she may continue to see herself as a wife and mother, she may need to explore other areas of interest and involvement in order to continue to feel positive about herself as a person. As a result, her identity will shift to accommodate these changes.
When a person has difficulty establishing an identity or adjusting his or her identity at a later point in life, therapy may be able to help.