by Andrea M. Darcy
Is an identity crisis normal in our age of social media? Sure, many of us end up creating a bit of a false identity with our Facebook and Instagram accounts, exaggerating our good bits while glossing over the bad.
But what if our inability to be authentic is more than just an online issue? And means we struggle in every part of our life?
What IS identity, really?
Our identity is the way we define ourselves. This includes our values, our beliefs, and our personality.
It also encompasses the roles we play in our society and family. Our past memories, our hopes for the future, as well as our hobbies and interests.
What does a stable identity look like?
To have a solid identity we need to be able to see that we are the same person in our past as we are now, and as we will be in the future. We need to feel the same no matter what our environment.
It doesn’t mean that we act the same all the time. We might be moody, or act differently under stress, or depending on who we are around. We are not, for example, going to act the same around a romantic partner as we act around our parents or colleagues.
But even with these variances in our behaviour and moods, we feel we are the same person underneath.
And if I have identity issues?
A person without a sense of identity can instead feel a disconnect from who they have been, and/or no sense as to who they will become next.
They feel a different person sometimes from day to day. Some report looking in the mirror and finding it hard to believe it is them looking back.
An identity crisis is not related to your personality. You are not born with a uncertain personality. An identity crisis is thought to develop because the environments you grow up in don’t give you the support you need (see the section below, “Why do I have an identity crisis?”).
A study published in the International Journal of Development Research looked at how teenagers’ personality dimensions affected their identity, and they found that there was no link to having an identity crisis. 
And what does an identity crisis look like?
If we lose our job or a loved one, if we have to move countries and leave our family behind, all these things can leave us so bereft we temporarily lose sight of ourselves.
But a real identity crisis means we don’t develop a solid identity as an adolescent. We then struggle with adult life.
7 Signs That you Lack a Sense of Identity
Check for these seven factors that show you might not have a stable sense of self.
1. You change with your environment.
If you work at one job and everyone is studious and quiet, you will be studious and quiet. If your next job requires you to be chatty and upbeat, it will soon seem as if you were always the social type. It’s as if you are more formed by your environment than your own choices and personality.
2. Relationships mould you.
Likely the sort who feels bereft without a relationship, when you do get into one? You change your hobbies and appearance to match your partner.
You will convince yourself that what they like is what you really like, but you just didn’t know it, even if you have just gone from wearing black and listening to classical to wearing cowboy boots and listening to country.
And if your partner doesn’t like things you’ll give them up, down to changing your friends sometimes. It’s easier to be what they want than admit to your identity crisis.
3. You often have radical shifts in your opinion.
This can include big things like political and religious beliefs, or just your opinion on popular culture and things like food and fashion.
You might even find you change your mind from day to day and never know what you’ll agree with next.
Whether you realise it or not, you will be changing your opinion to please others and find acceptance. Even if you are disagreeing with someone, on a certain level you ascertain they like a challenge so present an opinion that allows for debate.
4. You don’t like being asked about yourself.
It makes you uncomfortable when people ask too many questions about yourself. Perhaps you have developed good tactics for avoiding this, like changing the subject, or turning questions around on to the other person, then just agreeing with them.
5. Your identity crisis means you get bored easily.
At the heart of not having an identity is often a restlessness, as if you are afraid to settle down, incase you commit to the wrong thing that makes your life worse instead of better.
The truth is that as much as you want to know who you are, there is a fear of knowing, too.
6. Your relationships don’t run deep.
If you aren’t sure who you are, you can have a fear that others will find out that you are actually nothing much, and then not like you.
So there can be a lot of self-protection going on that prevents real connection with others, even if you tend to attract a lot of ‘friends’ and are often in a relationship. You will likely suffer a fear of intimacy.
You might also have troubles holding on to a relationship or social circle for too long, or find you hang around with people who control you and tell you what to do.
7. Deep down you don’t trust yourself.
If you don’t know who you are, and you have surprised yourself in the past with your own quick decisions and sudden changes of opinion, you can feel that you can’t even trust yourself.
Why do I lack a sense of identity?
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term ‘identity crisis’. He theorised the environment a child grew up in was crucial to forming their sense of self awareness and self.
He identified eight stages to psychosocial growth that all build on each other. Each offers us a positive outcome if we experience it properly. In the teenage years, we hit the level called ‘Identity vs. Role Confusion’. This is where we learn to be true to ourselves.
But if we have not had the healthy environment required to learn the crucial lessons of the earlier levels of our childhood, it will be far less likely we succeed, and we end up entering our adulthood confused about who we are.
For example, from birth to one years old, is the ‘Basic Trust vs Basic Mistrust” stage. If our caretakers don’t give us a reason to develop trust, we grow up in a world we see as unreliable, we don’t have a stable base.
Borderline personality disorder and identity issues
As well as an unstable identity:
You might have what is called ‘borderline personality disorder‘ (BPD) or ‘emotionally unstable personality disorder‘. This leads to intense difficulties with relating, and can leave you lonely and convinced everyone is against you, even when they aren’t.
A study on 95 people with borderline personality disorder found that the main identity disturbance factors in those with BPD are role absorption (defining yourself in terms of a single role or cause), painful incoherence (you don’t feel ‘whole’), inconsistency (confusing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours) and lack of commitment. 
If this sounds like you, it’s important to seek support. Read our article, ‘What Therapies Work for BPD?‘.
Are you in the midst of one long identity crisis? We connect you with some of London’s most highly regarded talk therapists. Or use our booking site to find UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors you can chat to no matter where you live.
Still have a question about having an identity crisis? Or want to share your experience of identity issues with other readers? Use the comment box below. *Note that we can not provide free counselling services over the comment box. *
Andrea M. Darcy is the lead writer and editor of this site. Trained in person-centred therapy and group coaching, she is a popular mental health writer and also runs a consultancy advising people on how to find the right therapist. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy
International Journal of Development Research Vol. 3, Issue, 10, pp.126-129, October, 2013.
Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Empirical Investigation. Tess Wilkinson-Ryan and Drew Westen. American Journal of Psychiatry 2000 157:4, 528-541.