Personal Development
Identity Crisis: Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Cope

Identity Crisis: Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Cope

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Complexities of Identity Crisis

An identity crisis is a period of confusion and uncertainty that many people experience as they come to terms with who they are. This can manifest as a range of symptoms such as feelings of restlessness, emptiness, depression, and confusion. Everyone passes through different experiences in life and this affects how they define their identity. Culture often places importance on labels, having people define themselves by their profession, family, relationships, or passions.

What Causes an Identity Crisis?

An identity crisis is defined as a time when someone's sense of identity becomes insecure and unstable. This can be brought about by life changes, trauma, or even during the regular process of growing up. Psychologist Erik Erikson spent a lot of time researching identity and the concept of the identity crisis. Erikson developed a psychology theory with eight stages of identity development. These stages are as follows:

  • Basic trust vs mistrust
  • Autonomy vs shame and doubt
  • Initiative vs guilt
  • Industry vs inferiority
  • Identity vs role confusion
  • Intimacy vs isolation
  • Generativity vs stagnation
  • Ego integrity vs despair

Having an understanding of one's identity gives a sense of belonging and can also be an effective way of structuring your life and making decisions. However, sometimes we are unaware that we are in the middle of an identity crisis. This is what happened to my husband following a traumatic accident, requiring him to redefine himself.

How to Overcome an Identity Crisis

To move through an identity crisis, it is important to take time and understanding yourself. This can be done by reflecting on personal values, exploring interests and hobbies, or reflecting on stages of identity development. Having a strong identity and sense of belonging can help provide mental fitness, resiliency, and physical health. It's important to note, however, that an identity crisis can result in depression and anxiety.

If you observe any of the following seven symptoms in yourself, it could be a sign that you are experiencing an identity crisis: low self-esteem, questioning your value or worth, feeling lost or aimless, not feeling a sense of purpose or understanding your values, emotionally scattered (or difficulty regulating your emotions), increased feelings of insecurity, increased feelings of anxiety or depression.

What is an Identity Crisis?

Studies have shown that people living with depression are much more prone to identity crises. Negative self-views are a common symptom of depression, and when you have a poor idea of yourself and who you are, it can have a damaging effect on your mental wellbeing.

Causes of an Identity Crisis

There is no single trigger for an identity crisis, as different events can cause them for different people. Here is a list of the most common causes of an identity crisis:

  • Marriage or starting a serious relationship
  • Divorce or separation
  • Losing a loved one
  • Moving to a new place
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Losing a job
  • Gaining a new job
  • Physical health issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Retirement
  • Becoming a parent

Coping with an Identity Crisis

You are not alone in going through an identity crisis, as there are many ways to cope and plenty of support available. Here are five helpful ways to handle an identity crisis:

  • Take the time to recognize your values
  • Acknowledge and accept your emotions
  • Examine and analyze your self-identity
  • Practice self-care
  • Connect with people who can provide support

It is important to prioritize yourself and your health during an identity crisis. Talking to a therapist, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy, and attending support groups can all be beneficial. Understanding your identity development and how it has changed can help to get through this difficult period.

Understanding an Existential Crisis

It can also be helpful to understand the concept of an existential crisis. While it can be a daunting experience, it should not be feared. An existential crisis consists of psychological conflict caused by the discrepancy between an individual's desired image and reality. Self-identity is a combination of self-awareness, personal characteristics, and beliefs about the self, and its development typically begins in adolescence. Symptoms of an identity crisis may include feelings of confusion, emptiness, worry, guilt, or distress.


Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an identity crisis and learning effective ways to cope is important. Grounding yourself in your values, connecting with yourself, practicing self-care, seeking out support, and creating a plan for the future can help to get through an identity crisis. By working through and understanding your identity crisis, you can learn to have a stronger sense of self and live a more fulfilling life.

Navigating an Identity Crisis

It can be disorienting and emotionally difficult to experience an identity crisis. But it is possible to find resolution and healing if one takes the time to explore what strategies work best for them. Talking to a trusted friend or professional, engaging in activities that bring a sense of purpose, and reflecting upon one's core values are all effective steps in navigating an identity crisis.

Speaking With Someone

Speaking with a friend, family member, or mental health professional can be extremely helpful and reassuring when facing an identity crisis. It provides an opportunity to reflect on one's feelings and can offer comfort in a difficult time. Moreover, it can be beneficial to hear another's perspective on a situation and to receive guidance in processing emotions.

Finding Purpose in Activities

Engaging in activities that bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment can be a great way to combat an identity crisis. These can be anything from creative pursuits to volunteering. Doing activities that bring joy can be a way to reassess the current circumstances in a more positive light and help to rediscover a feeling of self-fulfillment.

Reviewing Core Values

Taking the time to remind ourselves of what is important to us can be beneficial in times of crisis. Reflecting on one's core values can provide a much needed sense of grounding and stability in a confusing or intimidating process. Revisiting these values can help bring clarity to a confusing situation and guide one through difficult times.

No matter the severity of an identity crisis, there are ways to start working toward healing and self-acceptance. Asking for guidance, engaging in meaningful activities, and reflecting upon one's core values are all great starting points for managing an identity crisis.

Join Shiken For FREE

AI-powered learning tools. Create, relax, learn.

Gumbo Study Buddy

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime