On the Nature of Structural Transition in the Identity Formation Process
In his writings on ego identity, Erikson (1963, 1968) gave considerable attention to the epigenesis of identity and the roles played by biological capacities, psychological needs and defenses, and societal recognition in supporting the “adolescing” ego. The analyst identifies developmental steps through which the ego grows in “ever more mature interplay” with its surrounding interpersonal environment, culminating in the identity form ation process of late adolescence. Considerable energy is also devot ed to a description of this enterprise, which, for Erikson involves a “selec tive repudiation and mutual assimilation of childhood identifications and their absorption in a new configuration. . . . The final identity, then, as fixed at the end of adolescence, is superordinated to any single identifi cation with individuals of the past: It includes all significant identifica tions, but it also alters them in order to make a unique and reasonably coherent whole of them ” (1963, pp. 160-161). Erikson further noted the limited usefulness of identification as the basis for a well functioning adult personality: “ The limited usefulness of the mechanism of identifi cation becomes obvious at once if we consider the fact that none of the identifications of childhood . . . could, if merely added up, result in a func tioning personality. . . . [In the identity formation process] identifications at the same time tend to be quietly subordinated to a new, unique Gestalt which is more than the sum of its parts” (Erikson, 1963, p. 158). Despite the pivotal importance of the identity formation process to adolescent development and its role in the resolution of all later psychosocial tasks,
Erikson does not detail the actual mechanisms involved in this structural “ alteration” or the role played by the environm ent in stimulating such change.