Erikson developed the psychosocial theory of identity from clinical work, naturalistic observations and probably his own experiences (Miell et al 52). He was the first theorist to view identity as psychosocial, implying that both children’s and adolescent’s identity is shaped by the community in which they live. Erikson considered identity as a conscious sense of individual uniqueness, an unconscious striving for continuity and solidarity with a group’s ideals. In other words, identity involves the development of a stable, consistent and reliable sense of who we are and what we stand for in the world that makes sense for us and for the surrounding community. The core identity gives a sense of continuity with the past and a direction for the future. It is essential for people to feel that their social group views them as the same over time.
According to Mill et al (57), Erikson’s clinical work with the veterans made him conclude that when life is going well, identity is normally taken for granted and people tend to be unselfconscious. However, the importance of identity is most obvious and definable when it is no longer possible to take it for granted. Consequently, it increases one’s existence and individuals tend to experience themselves as unique. In Erikson’s view, identity crisis was common during his era of two world wars which led many people to think about their own mortality, generating identity confusion.
Erikson’s focus on continuity did not imply that identity did not change once it was achieved, instead, he considered achievement of identity as a lifelong developmental process which involved a progressive resolution of conflicts or normative crises between individual needs and social demands and between positive and negative developmental possibilities. He considered the conflicts to be common to most people and hence typical rather than abnormal (Miell et al 62).
In reference to Erikson’s approach, there are eight stages of identity development involved whereby each stage builds on what has taken place initially.