Identity Formation in Teens and Young Adults

Forming identity is usually complicated and challenging, while also often exciting and rewarding. For teens and young adults struggling with mental health disorders, this process can be even more challenging, as certain symptoms can greatly disrupt the process.

Adolescence is the time of greatest change and development in a person’s life.  During the teen years, people grow and develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, as well as developing many of their belief systems, interests, and skills.  In this sense, adolescence is a time of forming one’s identity, which is a multi-layered, complicated process, affected by many different factors.  While identity is a continually changing, dynamic thing, many of the traits formed during adolescence will last with the teens, for years to come.  At Paradigm Treatment we respect and incorporate the idea of identity formation throughout our treatment processes, in order to support the growth and development of teens as people.

For any teen, forming identity is usually complicated and challenging, while also often exciting and rewarding.  For teens that are struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders, this process can be even more challenging, as certain symptoms can greatly affect and/or disrupt certain aspects of the process.  At Paradigm Treatment we’ve designed numerous different therapeutic classes and support systems to address these specific needs, in order to help support the healthy growth and development of teens’ identities.

The term identity not only includes how teens view themselves but also the groups they’re a part of.  In this sense, there are internal and external factors that form identity, including those which teens do and do not have control of.  There are some aspects of identity that are made up of how teens define themselves in relationship to their peers, school, family, and social environments.  This aspect of self-identity is largely where teens gain their sense of self-esteem and confidence.  However, there’s also a sort of “social identity” which is more constructed by other people’s perceptions, which the teens of course can’t control.  This particular aspect of identity can be especially challenging during adolescence, when peers can tend to be harsh and inconsiderate with the labels and stereotypes by which they define others.  In some unfortunate cases (for instance such as discrimination or bullying) teens can be very negatively affected by consistently being named incorrectly by others, and this can have lasting effects on how teens view themselves with relation to the world.  Of course there can also be instance of positive social identity, such as healthy, supportive friendships in which teens feel understood, accepted, and free to be themselves.  This is one aspect of peer support and identity formation which we strive to create here within our treatment center, for all teens to benefit from.

Regardless of the different backgrounds that teens come from, there will always be a number of positive and negative factors contributing to helping and harming the way teens view themselves.  This idea of the challenge of identity development dates back to the 1960s, when psychologist Erik Erikson discussed this as one of the stages of psycho-social development.  In short, Erikson describes that there are different stages of identity development, related to the conscious and unconscious decisions teens make to fulfill certain aspects of their own lives.  Erikson stated that a successful resolution creates a secure identity in teens, whereas failed resolution leads to confusion and a weakened sense of self.

With this said, the formation of identity is already a complicated thing, affected by many different factors.  This can be made even more complex for teens who are suffering with mental health and/or substance abuse disorders and as a result, tend to believe the negative thoughts, false beliefs, and dark feelings that they have about themselves.  At the same time, the symptoms they’re experiencing can make it difficult for them to engage in identity formation in a healthy way.  Therefore at Paradigm Treatment, we implement a number of different therapeutic tools and resources which help teens through this process.

While it’s common for teens to come to Paradigm Treatment feeling confused and/or negatively about who they are, our therapists work with them to help them rebuild their ability to see themselves more clearly and more importantly, to appreciate and value themselves again.  This in turn can lead to teens regaining an even stronger and more whole identity than before, which only fortifies their ability to sustain the positive life changes they make, during their time here with us.

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