The term “identity crisis” was first created by psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson who believed that creating some form of identity is part of every person’s life. If somebody is questioning his/her sense of self or identity, that person may be suffering from an identity crisis. This can often occur due to big changes in life or stress, or because of change in one’s outlook of the surrounding world.

In most cases, the identity crisis resolves after adolescence. Dr. Erikson considered it a “part of maturing”. But for some youths, it may not go down smoothly. In certain cases, youths create their identity based around extremist groups and radicalized philosophy. Moreover, there’s also a correlation between identity crisis and the sudden rise of far-left or far-right groups among youths. Understanding how this crisis can lead to radicalization is very crucial for our current generation.

“Who am I” and “Who I should be”?

These are two of the most common questions that young people going through identity crisis always ask themselves. Because of our current globalized world, most of us have multiple identities. We have our national identity as well as religious, cultural, ethnic, and political identity. Sometimes one of our identity clashes with another. For some, their nation seems to odd their religious and cultural identities. For others, their religion clashes with their political beliefs. As we grow up, we start to understand these complexities more and more. Not all of us can find a common ground between all these persisting identities. Some may just have to abandon one of their identity to fully adopt their other identity. If a youth abandons his other identities to feel more in touch with his religious or political identity, more often than not that person becomes radicalized.

Feeling the need for “Acceptance”

When youths suffer from an identity crisis, it is very difficult for them to find proper answers from others. They feel like the older members of their families won’t “get them” and their friends will “judge them”. Because of this dilemma, they try to seek out people or groups who are actively working on the issues that can be disturbing. Problem is, answers that these people or groups may provide are usually not the proper answers. In many cases, these answers only lead those conflicted youth down a path of radicalization. Unfortunately, those youths willingly follow that path because they feel like only these groups actually understand and accept them.

Mindset crafted by Information

The common cause behind the identity crisis is dramatic events. Sometimes it can be one major incident like the death of a family member or a change in livelihood. However, in other cases, it can be a series of events that cause our identity crisis. Nearly all youths nowadays use social media to a certain degree. It is a great source of information but what kind of information that depends on the user. Youths use it as a source of news. If one has some conviction against a group of people, he can easily find a plethora of information that only reinforces his conviction, that information can be true, biased, or even flat out lies and in most cases, the youth can’t distinguish which is what. This sudden exposure to vast information makes them feel conflicted about their identity and creates a sense of insecurity, fear, and hatred that coincides with radicalization.

Act of “Desperation”

Youths who suffer from an identity crisis create their own identity based on what they know. If they feel like their society, family, or community failed them, then their newfound identity will revolve around that. People who have some form of inferiority complex or those who are unsatisfied with what they are now often will try to do something drastic to change that identity. They do it as an act of desperation to feel like they’ve done something or changed something of the world. In some cases, this can be the most violent example of radicalized attacks.

By going through an identity crisis, many youths can also develop positive identities for themselves. They can actually be a better person who can do something really virtuous for their society and community. Yet, it can also work the other way around and lead to radicalization. We must realize that people usually seek out the truth they want to know, not the truth they need to know. If youths of our generation can create a broader mindset by seeing the world from multiple perspectives, then they can create a positive identity free of radicalized principles.

Recommended Reading List

Cherry, K. (2019, 10 31). How Our Identity Forms out of Conflict.

Errico, F. B. (2018, 09 12). “Where Do I Belong?” – Identity Crises and Islamic Radicalism.