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Navigating What Feels Like An Identity Crisis: Find Help

Presented by BetterHelp

how to cope with an identity crisis

As we go through life we may experience many ebbs and flows. For most people, there is a natural rhythm to growth, healing, and self-discovery. In many ways, life is a journey that continues to change direction.

Sometimes, however, progress may feel difficult. It’s common for some people to feel directionless or uneasy when faced with changes. Sometimes these changes spring from within and sometimes they are external.

If you are at a time of your life where you are experiencing conflicting feelings or a lack of clarity, you are not alone. Midlife or identity crises happen to people from all demographics and help is available. Avenues like personal development and online therapy can help guide you through turbulent times.

Here are some tips on understanding and navigating an identity crisis, as well as ways to advocate for yourself and secure the help you deserve.

What Is An Identity Crisis

From a positive perspective, a phase of life commonly called an identity crisis is a time of change, experimentation, and expansion. Boundaries may be tested and pushed, and how you see yourself in terms of others can fluctuate. 

For some people, it may feel uncertain and even uncomfortable- hence the term, ‘crisis.’

These changes in self-perception and societal roles can occur at any time but can often be seen in adolescence and midlife. It is important to note that any sensation of uncertainty around your understanding of who you are is valid and worthy of exploration.

Whether you feel in a ‘crisis’ or not, proactively tending to your mental well-being can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

External triggers, especially for men, may include concerns about perception from peers, other mental health conditions, the aging process, and even relationship issues with their partners.

However, men are not a monolith, and each experiences life uniquely. There is no guarantee that you’ll develop an identity crisis as a result of stressors or for any other reason. Of course, women also experience identity concerns in a variety of ways.

This is not a gendered issue, but a human one.

The APA (American Psychological Association) defines an identity crisis as:

a phase of life marked by experimentation; changing, conflicting, or newly emerging values; and a lack of commitment to one’s usual roles in society (especially in work and family relationships). Erik Erikson claimed that it is natural and desirable for adolescents to go through a period of identity crisis and that greater maturity results from the experience. The concept has been expanded to refer to adult midlife crises and other periods marked by change or uncertainty about the self.

Some people may find comfort in the understanding that these periods of life are not only common but often manageable. They do not necessarily have to be disruptive, especially if you have skilled support to assist you.

How can you better identify the way you are feeling?

How You May Be Feeling With An Identity Crisis

identity crisis feelings

Although every person is an individual and encounters unique emotional states and challenges, there are some generally accepted common signs of identity concerns.

You may wish to seek guidance from a trained mental health professional or support system if you are experiencing:

  • Aimless, directionless, or empty feelings;
  • Fixated, intrusive, or repetitive thoughts about identity;
  • Emotional fluctuations or upset;
  • Disruption in your daily functioning; 
  • Conflict in your relationships; and/or
  • A decrease in the desire for social interaction.

These could be signs that it may be time to reach out and ask for help. You deserve to feel safe, and secure, and to enjoy your life. There is no shame in seeking mentorship, therapy, or other professional guidance. 

What if identity concerns spring up in middle age? Is a midlife crisis the same as an identity crisis?

Midlife Crisis vs. Identity Crisis

The term midlife crisis is attributed to psychologist Elliott Jaques who introduced the concept in 1965.

A midlife crisis could be considered a type of identity crisis, as it ticks many of the same boxes based on the APA definition. It does have some specific considerations, however, and understanding them may bring additional clarity to someone experiencing these feelings.

As with an identity crisis, a midlife crisis may involve self-reflection, reassessment, and existential questions about one’s sense of self. It typically occurs between the ages of 40 and 60, when some people begin experiencing a strong desire for change.

One potentially unique aspect of a midlife crisis, as presented by Jacques, is contemplating mortality. However, a midlife crisis is not a diagnosable condition and no particular criteria must be met.

People facing identity concerns around middle age could feel a varying degree of emotional upset and upheaval in their lives. This may spur them to seek treatment or assistance.

Practising sound self-care and mental wellness can be proactive, however, and it’s not necessary to identify with every aspect of a term or condition to reach out.

Gender Roles And Identity 

In the context of an ever-changing society, men can encounter some gender-specific challenges when it comes to identity and gender roles.

Traditionally, society has assigned specific roles and expectations based on gender. These perceptions may influence everything from career choices to familial responsibilities. 

Gender Roles And Identity 

As men approach middle age, societal expectations may collide with personal aspirations.

For some, this can trigger a profound examination of identity. Questioning predefined roles can spark a desire for greater authenticity and fulfillment. People who already feel constrained by societal expectations may experience this kind of introspection.

Breaking Free from Conformity: A Catalyst for Identity Exploration

For some, a midlife crisis becomes a catalyst. It can be a positive invitation to challenging and redefining traditional gender roles. Even when the change is beneficial, the transitions can be delicate. 

Men who think they may be having a midlife crisis could question their careers. Stress in their lives may contribute to the reassessment of relationships. The transitions often occurring in middle age may inspire reconsideration around societal norms associated with masculinity

This type of self-inspection may be disruptive and upsetting to some while feeling inspiring to others. 

There is no right or wrong way to approach introspection and transition. However, every individual has a right to feel their best.

Assistance Is Available For Your Identity Crisis

If you or someone you know is contemplating their identity or experiencing challenges in their life, help is available in many forms. There is no shame in seeking assistance and it is courageous to embrace personal growth whenever possible.

Traditional or online therapy programs like BetterHelp connect people with skilled professionals who are trained to assist in challenging times. Remote therapy is accessible to many people regardless of their ability and income level.

online therapy for identity crisis

The support of friends, family, and even mentors can also help men who want to feel their best and navigate the ever-undulating waves of the human experience.

Above all, you are not alone and with the right support, you may find a serene sense of clarity and empowerment when the dust settles on a disruptive period of your life.

By Melissa L. Walker, Guest Post Writer for BetterHelp.com

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