Explain what Erikson meant by "achieving a clear sense of personal identity," and why is this so hard to do?Short please.

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crmhaske eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Achieving a clear sense of personal identity means knowing who you are/want to be, and what your place in society is/will be.
In Erikson's stages of identity this takes place in the teenage years during the identity vs. role confusion stage.  During the high school years teenagers experiment with different personalities to determine what feels right for them.

It is common to "wear different masks" depending on the social situation.  This is because during this stage how one appears to other's is really important to the teenager.  This causes a certain normal amount of role identity as the teenager struggles to identify the difference between acting, and who they really are.

Adversity in one's life arrests this development of the sense of self.  This is why it is so difficult to discover who we really are.  It takes time, space, and a safe environment to experiment in, and these days this kind of environment is hard to come by.  Given enough time; however, later in life an individual will develop a sense of who they are  - some just do it sooner than others.

Open, and understanding parents who allow their children room to experiment, and are accepting of decisions their children make, that are safe, but not necessarily ones they agree, with make this process much smoother.