If someone displays these 8 subtle behaviors, they might be going through an identity crisis

Is someone close to you acting out-of-character that it makes you wonder “Wait, are they possessed by an alien?”

While this may end with you questioning your relationship with them, hang tight. 

It’s not you, it’s them.

It’s possible they just got hit by an identity crisis!

It’s where a person experiences confusion and inner conflict as they seek to reconcile their values, beliefs, and aspirations with their outside world. 

And this is totally normal.

To find out if it’s really what’s going on, pay very close attention if they display these 8 subtle behaviors.

If they do, they’re indeed going through an identity crisis.

1) They often ask what you think

They ask you big questions like:

“Should I quit my high-paying job to pursue my passion?”

“Is having children really that important?”

It’s hard not to feel at least a bit flattered when a friend often asks for your opinion.

Until you notice that they’re asking too often, and not just you— but as it turns out—everyone else in your circle and beyond!

And then it suddenly feels like your opinion isn’t as highly valued as you thought.

But before you let this bruise your ego, consider that your friend may be in the midst of an identity crisis. 

Seeking validation and approval are signs of a person that could be deep in an identity crisis.

You’ll notice this especially if they’re contemplating on or already going through life changes—changing careers, breaking up or getting into a relationship, moving locations, or a death of a loved one.

2) They become indecisive

While you might be inclined to pressure them into making a move, that’s not going to really help long-term. 

That’s because most people going through an identity crisis feel stuck. They need to pause and reassess their lives so they can move forward.

According to psychologist James Marcia, people define their identity status by two dimensions— commitment and exploration. 

People who are low on identity commitment have an uncertain sense of self and if it’s combined with high exploration, then it means they are also actively questioning their sense of self.

Murcia calls people in this category on “moratorium,” meaning all major decisions of their lives are on hold because they’re still thinking about it and not ready to commit.

So…do you notice that they now question the things they used to be 100% sure about?

Do you notice that they can’t make simple decisions, when they used to do it in a heartbeat?

They’re probably going through an identity crisis.

3) They drop off the radar

Did they stop hanging out with you?

Are they unreachable?

Did they delete their social media?

Someone in an identity crisis will feel like in the battle of isolation vs intimacy, the former wins unequivocally.

This sixth phase of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, often happens at around ages 19-40 and centers on intimate, loving relationships.

Someone going through an identity crisis struggles at this phase and experiences feelings of loneliness and alienation.

For one reason or another, they feel like failures for not being able to create meaningful connections— whether in romance or friendships. And so instead of leaning into intimacy, they cope by isolating themselves.

It’s also at this time that they go inward and ask themselves: 

“What do I really want?”

“Who am I without people looking at me?”

“What kind of person do I really want to be?”

4) They don’t feel like doing anything

Sometimes called ‘bed rotting,’ an identity crisis causes a person to feel lethargic, and lose enthusiasm for doing anything because… “What’s the point?”

Psychologist James Marcia calls it ‘identity diffusion’ or the apathetic state that represents the relative lack of both exploration and commitment.” 

On the other hand, Erik Erikson calls it “stagnation” defined by self-absorption, lack of a willingness to grow and make positive changes.

It’s the opposite of generativity where one continues to produce, and create options and possibilities for expansion.

People in an identity crisis lose their enthusiasm for life along with their sense of self.

If they’ve been saying “no” to your invites—even if it’s to an event that you were sure they’d like—don’t assume it’s because they don’t like you.

They probably have no interest in ANYTHING thanks to their identity crisis.

5) They’ve got so many memberships and groups

pic2256 If someone displays these 8 subtle behaviors, they might be going through an identity crisis

Ideally, belonging in groups can support a sense of identity. 

But having too many groups and memberships can actually be a sign that someone is having an identity crisis.

They’ve joined a Yoga club, Karate club, Salsa club, Tango club, Filmmaking Club, Vegan Club, Carnivore Club…and 99 others.

They’re trying to look for who they really are and what they really want by trying new things…so many things!

This phase can last the longest in people, and Marcia describes it as “the active exploration of alternatives.” 

Like the college kid who keeps shifting majors but still can’t find their passion, people in this phase are looking for belonging in too many places, in the process ironically, getting more lost in their identity crisis.

6) They shapeshift 

You notice that they shift based on who they’re with, or where they are.

Like a chameleon, they are constantly changing how they talk, move, and even dress to feel like they belong.

According to the Social Identity Theory, in an identity crisis, individuals may align themselves based on what they feel is important and valued in the group.

So if a group that values high fashion, they might do their best to fit in, even when it’s not their preference or comfort. 

If it’s a group with many booklovers, they might pretend to love certain authors even if they actually find reading their books such a bore.

People in an identity crisis, not only categorize themselves according to their social groups but adopt the norms, values, attitudes, and behaviors of the “populars” in order to gain a false sense of belonging and self-definition.

7) They suddenly have a lot of “friends”

They now have too many “besties”.

You might find this strange because they used to be an introvert and you’re one of their closest friends. Now you’re just one of their many, many, many friends.

Well, it might seem that they have plenty of friends but take a closer look. Maybe what they really have are acquaintances…and that their friendships are actually superficial.

According to Sullivan’s interpersonal theory, an identity crisis is either caused or amplified when people are unable to derive their sense of security and sense of self from interactions with other people.

And in their attempt to find their sense of self from other people, they overdo it by befriending way too many people.

So if they’re your close friend, don’t take this too personally. They’re just exploring who they really are.

8) Their moral compass feels more like a weather vane

Always favoring what is popular or acceptable, their opinions, values, and beliefs shift just as fast as the weather.

If there’s a difficult conversation being had, they’ll speak out last and take the popular side.

So are they evil, two-faced, or manipulative? 

An identity crisis can also be understood through the lens of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development.

It says that identity, exploration of values, and the resolution of moral dilemmas all intersect at the same time.

If they are able to maintain balance between these three, they gain a solid sense of self. 

But if they don’t make clear efforts to define their moral values or “personal ethics” apart from the authority and influence of their groups, it’s likely they will remain stuck in an identity crisis.

So whether it’s spirituality, politics or even their opinions on food or fashion, you can bet it will shift several times in a day!

It all depends on who they are trying to please, in the vain hope of finding their tribe—of finally finding acceptance.

How to help someone going through an identity crisis:

1) Be their safe space

Let them know they will be loved no matter what.

Even if they resign from that prestigious company, or shave off their hair, or suddenly want to explore playing drums and get tattoos—make them feel your love and support.

As long as they’re not harming anyone, let them enjoy exploring who they can be in the next phase of their lives. 

2) Be their mirror and anchor

If you’ve known them for a while, you can serve as their mirror…if they want to look at their past and present self.

Amidst the tides of change, there are days when they will struggle to remember who they are, and they will feel like they’ve wasted their life.

Remind them of how brilliant they are— particularly the moments when they persevered against adversity. 

3) Don’t try to ‘fix’ them 

Tell them that it’s fine to change but also fine to remain the same.

Remember they aren’t ‘broken’ just because they are evolving so don’t force them to go back to their ‘old self.’

4) Let experts guide them

While an identity crisis is normal and doesn’t need treatment, if your friend is showing signs of depression or severe anxiety, encourage them to seek support with therapy.

A compassionate psychologist may recommend options like cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy to ease the transition. 

Last words

All of us will experience shifts and transitions as we go about our lives. 

That’s how we grow.

If someone you love is displaying these 8 subtle behaviors of an identity crisis, know that this is a particularly challenging time for them.

Don’t judge them or make it about you.

Instead, give them as much love and support as you can through their transitions.

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Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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