What is Identity Formation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Identity formation is the process of developing a distinct personality and characteristics, becoming an individuated person separate from others. As people move through various developmental stages from infancy to maturity, different aspects of the identity formation process take place, shaping personal identity, self-concept, and self-perception. Some people may experience radical identity shifts as they mature, especially when they start to leave home and experience life in new environments separate from parents and siblings.

During the process of identity formation, people will turn their sense of self-awareness, the knowledge that they are separate human beings, into an understanding of their uniqueness. Personality traits will start to develop and flourish. Some aspects of a person's personality will shift and fade, especially during adolescence, when people often try on different identities to see how they fit, and explore the limits of the traits they like on the way to settling into a more fixed method of seeing and presenting themselves.


At the same time people understand the ways they are separate from other people, they can also start to develop affiliations. Race, gender, religion, and culture are all part of identity formation, providing common ground to connect with other people and share life experiences. In identity formation, people may seek out members of groups they belong to so they can acquire knowledge of that group's behavior, and they may want mentoring and assistance from people with life experience. In many cultures, this assistance is part of cultural values, as seen in many religious faiths where young people can seek counseling and mentoring from religious officiants or knowledgeable older people.

Numerous things can interrupt identity formation. Moving between radically different environments can cause a significant shift, as people attempt to transition to different cultures and places. Someone raised as a British citizen, for example, might have trouble adjusting to China as a teen, and would probably seek out other British people to find common ground and avoid losing national and cultural identity.

While identity formation is often extremely rapid in childhood and adolescence, people can also experience alterations in their identities as older adults. Life changes like acquiring a disability can shift the way people think about themselves and change the way they want to interact with the world. Some aspects of identity may only become apparent later in life; for example, a 40-year-old man may come to the understanding through therapy and community interactions that he is transgender, and could pursue life as a woman.


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Post 4

It does form up into your 20s. Identity can be severely repressed due to environmental circumstances out of your control.

Post 3

I read in an article that women's identity formation in adulthood is more commonly seen then men.

Do you think that there might be some genetic factor involved?

Also, education was said to be an important factor. Somehow, a person's level of education or the fact that they were still going to school in adulthood, has an effect on their identity.

Isn't that interesting?

Post 2

I totally agree that culture has a lot to do with our identity. My parents migrated to the U.S. when I was young and I know that it has been and always will be the most important event in my life.

Even when I go back to our native place on vacation, I see that I am completely different than my extended family over there. I think differently and act differently.

This makes me think that there is our individual identity but also a cultural collective identity that affects us.

Post 1

I have been interested in something called enneagram for some time now. The enneagram is a personality analysis system and it says that identity forms early in childhood, perhaps from birth until age 5, 6 or 7.

It also says that our identity, or the way we see and experience the world, is deeply impacted and established by our interaction with our parents. Each one of us is said to experience a wound in childhood. This wound is sort of our first shock that helps us see the reality of life and it happens during the transition from toddler to child.

I was amazed to know that identity forms at such an early age. I always thought that it formed up to our 20s.

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