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Famed psychologist, Erik Erikson argued that development is a lifelong process, from conception until death. He argued that we go through eight stages, the first in infancy and the last in old age. At each stage there is a crisis that we must deal with. The most famous crisis that Erikson proposed is that which we experience during adolescence: the identity crisis.


During adolescence, the crisis is identity. We must figure out who we are. Erikson argued that in order to come to a sense of identity, teens must engage in exploration. They must try out new ways of thinking and behaving. Erikson would explain the many "phases" that teens go through as their attempts at exploration. They explore with new ways of looking, new ideas, new groups of friends, new styles of music, with everything. Only after exploring a variety of options should teens commit to an identity.


Erikson argued that there are two potential outcomes to the identity search process: identity achievement or identity diffusion. The identity achieved person is one who has come to a firm sense of self after engaging in a long search full of exploration. He or she tends to have high self esteem, is socially skilled, and does well in life.


The opposite end of the spectrum is the identity diffused person. This is one who at the end of adolescence or beginning of adulthood has not achieved a sense of identity. Perhaps he or she never explored or explored and never committed. Erikson argued that the person who is identity diffused will have difficulties successfully resolving the later crises in life. The diffused person is likely to have low self esteem, have trouble making friends, and be much less successful than the identity achieved person.


Because each of Erikson's stages build upon each other, the person who is identity diffused, or who has not successfully resolved the identity crisis, will have difficulty resolving the crises to come. For example, in young adulthood, the crisis is regarding intimacy– to find someone to share your life with. How can you do that if you don't know who you are?