Identity achievement (the 4 identity statuses)

In this article, we will talk about the 4 identity statuses that develop during adolescence: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, moratorium and identity achievement.

What is identity achievement?

Identity achievement is defined as the development of the true sense of self, which is usually achieved when adolescents reconsider all the objectives and values ​​established by their parents and by the culture, accepting some and rejecting others. Identity achievement is said to happen around tweens and later teenage years.

Adolescence is the period in development that transforms children into adults. During this stage, changes occur in all areas. In this article, I will explain the psychosocial development that occurs during adolescence, which is fundamentally a search for identity by adolescents.

This search begins with what is called the primary crisis, a crisis in which young people struggle to find the appropriate combination of self-affirmation and group solidarity. This is the moment of self-discovery.

Especially in the early years, teens often have multiple identities. Many experiment, developing multiple “I’s,” testing various roles and personalities.

Identity Achievement: Examples

A prime example of identity achievement can be an adolescent who is able to figure out what their values are and be confident about them. The example of identity achievement is seen in the fact that this person will know who they want to be and what their life’s purpose is, or what their key priorities are. 

The four identity statuses

Currently, researchers consider that there are four identity statuses:

Identity Diffusion:

It is the opposite of the achievement of identity. Young people who show diffusion find it difficult to meet the usual demands of adolescence, such as completing schoolwork, finding a job, making new friends, and thinking about the future. 

Identity diffusion is not so much a type of identity as the lack of it, the absence of self-definition or commitment. An example of dissemination may be an adolescent for whom parental criticism or deadlines for a job seem to be indifferent.

Premature Identity:

It occurs when young people shorten their search without questioning their traditional values ​​or adopting a preformed identity. These young people may accept the roles and customs of their parents or their culture instead of exploring alternatives and forging their own identity. 

An example might be a teenage boy who has always planned to follow in his father’s footsteps. If the father were a doctor, the son would study medicine.

Negative identity:

Some adolescents decide that the roles that adults offer them are unattainable or unattractive, although they cannot find alternatives that are truly their own. The reaction may be a negative identity, that is, contrary to what is expected of them. 

The fundamental factor in negative identity is not the identity itself but the rebellious challenge that underlies it. For example, the son of a teacher refuses to go to university.

Identity moratorium:

Finally, in the process of searching for a mature identity, many young people declare an identity moratorium, a kind of recess. It is a pause in the formation of identity. Alternatives are explored but the definitive identity is postponed. It is not necessarily harmful. An example could be a military academy or a religious mission or trip.

Later we will speak about Marcia’s identity theory, which is similar to what we have written above. But first, let’s understand why identity achievement matters. 

Based on the concept of Identity Achievement, researchers deduce the future behavior of an individual under the Correspondent Inference Theory.

The achievement of identity

According to the researchers, these paths towards the final objective occur in four different scenarios:

Religious: Religious identity is important to teens because values ​​are important as a guide. Most young people complete their search for religious identity by age 30.

Sexual: Adolescents achieve sexual or gender identity, not only by resolving their sexual orientation but also by choosing specific characteristics of behaviour and male and female roles. Achieving ethnic identity for adolescents is difficult, as it involves combining past and future

Political: Currently, political identity is usually expressed through ethnic identity, achieving ethnic identity for adolescents is difficult, since it involves combining past and future.

Vocational: Just as sexual and ethnic identities have become much more complex, so has a vocational identity. It is almost impossible to achieve vocational identity before age 20, as many jobs are unknown to teens and because teen employment rarely leads to a career.

It is important to recognize that a person does not achieve identity at once, but rather looks for the path in each scenario, some aspects being easier to find than others.

Thus, for example, an adolescent may have a premature religious identity, achieve sexual identity, show diffusion in politics and be in a moratorium on vocational identity.

Social support

The social network grows in size and importance during puberty, more often for the adolescent’s benefit than against it. Parents are essential as support and guide. They continue to influence their children, despite the fights. Communication by reference adults is very useful in matters of importance such as future vocation and sexuality. Communication by adults is very useful in questions such as future vocation and sexuality.

Teen relationships with peers facilitate the transition from childhood to adulthood. Most teens value the opinions of their peers. Peer pressure can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the teen’s choice of friends.

Friendships and couples begin in adolescence and become increasingly important for personal concept and maturation. Whether a given adolescent is emotionally linked or sexually active depends on many factors, both personal and cultural.

Adolescence is the transition from a childhood reality to adulthood, hence its complexity and difficulty. Young people who experience this process are confused and it is important that as adults we can be available to serve as a guide, helping them to complete this process and promoting a proper transition to adulthood.

How does identity grow during adolescence?

Adolescence is the period from the start of puberty (13/14 years) to 18 years. Popularly, it is known as a difficult and troubled period, but in reality, most individuals go through this stage of their lives without complications. However, it is important to note that identity during adolescence undergoes several changes.

The changes lead the adolescent to a goal: to achieve essential autonomy and independence so that she can immerse herself in adult life, with her rights and obligations. Now, how does this identity develop during adolescence? James Marcia, through his adolescent identity theory, has sought to shed light on this process.

Identity theory during adolescence according to James Marcia

To explain this process in which the most important features of identity are configured, James Marcia suggested four identity statuses. These four statuses would show the state of the individual concerning his identity and would be born from two circumstances: 

(a) having or not having undergone an identity crisis, or (b) having or not having adopted vocational, ideological or personal commitments.

What does an identity crisis mean? During adolescence, the person is presented with a multitude of options to build their own identity. When the adolescent realizes these alternatives, it is when she begins to explore her world, her tastes, her intimate relationships, her gender, her friends, etc. This search, among so many opportunities, is what can give rise to what we know as an identity crisis.

What does it mean to make commitments regarding your identity? After exploring the options that the world offers the adolescent, he may decide to screen some aspects (ideas, commitments, values, etc.) and accept others as his own. This acceptance supposes a commitment to certain ideological, personal and vocational concepts, which will develop an identity during adolescence and self-concept that will influence, much, in their adult life.

Next, I will explain the four statuses that appear after the crossing of these two dimensions: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, moratorium and identity achievement.

Identity diffusion

It is the first stage of identity development during adolescence. The adolescent is placed in this status when he has not made any commitment or is exploring the alternatives that are presented to him. At this stage, the adolescent does not care about his identity.

We are talking about a state that sooner or later will break since the adolescent will be forced to develop a personal identity: either due to the emergence of an identity crisis or the social pressures to commit that accompany all important commitments.


This is the stage that in normal development tends to follow identity diffusion. The adolescent is in Moratorium when he has suffered an identity crisis but has not yet developed any commitments.

Here the individual searches, explores, tries different alternatives, yes, without actually opting for one of them. It is a dangerous stage because, for example, if the adolescent has battered self-esteem, it can lead to the consumption of addictive substances (alcohol, tobacco, cannabis …).

Identity achievement

Status in which the adolescent has passed the moratorium stage and has decided on certain ideological, vocational and personal commitments. After the identity crisis and exploring her options, the individual has chosen the path she wants to follow to continue developing as a person.

Which leads her to the construction of her identity and to have an idea of what she is like. After this, the person will feel confident that he will show a positive adjustment both on a behavioural and personal level.

Identity Foreclosure

But, what happens if the adolescent never suffers from an identity crisis? Sometimes you may not explore your options and never experience a moratorium period. Thus, your way of building your identity will be through the advice or guidelines of an adult.

People who are in this state show a better fit than those who are in default or diffuse. However, it is no less true that it is a rather unstable state and much more insecure than identity achievement.


The first thing to keep in mind when understanding this theory of identity development during adolescence is: personal identity is not something unitary and it is not an irrevocable process. In this sense, it is a dynamic in which there will be decisions, but above all tests.

By saying that it is not unitary, we mean that this process can occur at different rates in different aspects of our identity. For example, I may have certain commitments that determine my professional identity, but when it comes to my political identity, I am in a Moratorium period.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know!

FAQ about identity achievement

What is identity achievement?

Identity achievement is the final objective, which is achieved when adolescents reconsider all the objectives and values ​​established by their parents and by the culture, accepting some and rejecting others.

What are the 4 identity statuses?

The 4 identity statuses are identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, moratorium and identity achievement, according to James Marcia’s theory.

How do you achieve achievement of identity?

Identity achievement is achieved after the identity crisis and exploring one’s options. Therefore, the individual chooses the path he/she wants to follow to continue developing as a person. Which leads him to the construction of his identity and to have an idea of what he is like.

What is an example of identity moratorium?

Identity moratorium is the stage that in normal development tends to follow identity diffusion. The adolescent is in Moratorium when he has suffered an identity crisis but has not yet developed any commitments.


Kerpelman, J. L., Pittman, J. F., & Lamke, L. K. (1997). Toward a Micro process Perspective on Adolescent Identity Development: An Identity Control Theory Approach. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12(3), 325–346.

Kidwell, Jeannie S., et al. “Adolescent identity exploration: a test of Erikson’s theory of transitional crisis.” Adolescence, vol. 30, no. 120, 1995, p. 785+. Gale OneFile: Health and Medicine, Accessed 30 July 2020. – James Marcia and Self-Identity

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