Sep 16, 2023
In Their Own Words

Identity and Why It Matters

Jennifer Dobberfuhl Quinlan
What You'll Learn
I'm Getting Too Old for ThisWhat Makes Up Identity?Who am I?

Developing our personality and identity is a life-long process.

I'm Getting Too Old for This

I was recently talking with a friend about evolving identities... he's nearing retirement and isn't sure who he is if not an employee of the company where he's been the last 30+ years. Another friend was sharing her spiritual journey with me, including navigating away from the church where she's been actively involved for most of her life. A collegue shared with me his desire to leave his desk job and become a comic book artist (which he eventually did!) and how his family might not know what to think of it  all. And this weekend, I attended a conference geared toward LGBTQ+ Christians who are navigating a complicated identity intersection between their sexual orientation and their religious affiliation. My neighbor summed it up this way: I'm getting too old for all this identity stuff. It's way more complex than it was when I was young, and it's too much for me to think about at my age."

That got me thinking... is understanding identity more complicated than it used to be? There are many different labels for neurological and psychological diagnoses, sexual orientations, and more. Aspects of our identities are ever developing and evolving, though certainly at some points of life they may feel more or less stable or stagnant. But what actually makes up our identity, and is developing our identity actually more complex than it used to be for other generations? 

What Makes Up Identity?

In a recent article in Simply Psychology, Saul Mcleod, PhD, writes, "[Erik] Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order through eight stages of psychosocial development, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis that could positively or negatively affect personality development. For Erikson (1958, 1963), these crises are psychosocial because they involve the psychological needs of the individual (i.e., psycho) conflicting with the needs of society (i.e., social)" (

Erikson identified these stages of psychosocial development:

1. Trust vs. mistrust

2. Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

3. Initiative vs. guilt

4. Industry vs. inferiority

5. Identity vs. role confusion

6. Intimacy vs. isolation

7. Generativity Vs. Stagnation

8. Ego Integrity Vs. Despair

(Mcleod nicely summarizes and explains each stage here.)

The fifth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals.

Who am I?

Regardless what stage of life we're in and where we are in our psychosocial development or evolution of our personality, we're all figuring out who we are and what matters to us in this life.

And whether it seems more or less complicated than it used to be, today we have access to a host of resources, support materials and people, and opportunities for exploration that may not have been as easy to find or access as in days past. At Hope Recovery and Healing, we want to connect you with resources and support as you continue on your path of development, exploration, and identity evolution. Contact us to learn more.

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Jennifer Dobberfuhl Quinlan

Jennifer has PhD in instructional psychology and technology and has been working in education and administration for over 20 years. Her research has focused on connection, integration, and language and identity. She is an LGBTQ+ ally at Brigham Young University.

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