Fluid self-identity not limited to adolescence

Erica Gelman, columnist

The thing about adolescence, according to Erik Erikson, is that everyone struggles to find their identity among all of the roles around them.

The thing about Erik Erikson is that he, like many other psychologists, based his theories on his own life.

The thing about Erik Erikson is that Erik Erikson isn’t even his original name. His identity changed throughout his life as well.

According to Erikson, the goal of adolescence, ultimately, is to find one’s own identity. This seems like a relatively fair and balanced concept, already ascribed in every single health textbook and at least partially ingrained by the struggles of middle and high schoolers. Be unique is the American mantra, the capitalist incentive; be the one and only YOU. In younger years, we are raised to this mentality through the well-known notion of the “special snowflake”.

On the flipside, however, I would argue that identity is and should be fluid throughout our lives.

Perhaps my opinion is not entirely valid; I am an adolescent, after all, and my identity is perhaps not what it will be within one or two years at all. Maybe I haven’t found it yet. Maybe this is it, and perhaps I just haven’t come to terms with it. After all, things used to be different; I remember being younger and lying in bed, thinking of the yellow concept that is “Me”, and feeling it like a large, amorphous cloud. Who was I? Am I the same person now as I was then?

Many sociologists argue that who you are entirely depends on those around you, and the situation you are in. I notice this in myself, catching myself adopting different manners of speaking depending on who I am talking to, and while this does work, I can’t help but shake the notion that I am a different person in every different situation. On one hand, this is comforting. On the other, this further distorts the notion of identity. No matter how prized this concept is in our society, it seems that it is just a sham.

Perhaps identity only exists when you are alone. Much has been said about the significance of isolation; take the transcendentalists, who argue that one only finds his or her true self away from societal constructs.  This seems true enough, but it doesn’t stop the fact that the second you enter society again, you change once more.

Holding all of these ideas in my palm, I am once again thinking of the concept that is “me”. How can anyone really ever know who they are?

I feel as if the concept of identity is overplayed. With so many options in front of me, I feel as if constricting myself into one box or mannerism limits me from touching any other. I remember back to middle school, where phases such as “scene”, “prep” and “emo” held reign, limiting the fluidity of our identities.

Maybe the end goal of growing up is to slowly come out of these constructions, to peel off these rigid layers and become multifaceted instead of static. It is true enough that with every year that adds on, we grow; I would argue that who we are, intuitively, our identities, grow as well.

Therefore, if the goal of adolescence is to reach a consensus as to who you are, I think I might just pass. I do not want one answer to the question of who I am; I want many, with infinitesimal possibility.