Identity foreclosure is a concept used to describe the process by which an individual closes off their identity exploration by prematurely committing to a particular lifestyle or worldview without exploring other potential paths.
In essence, this process is characterized by making decisions without engaging in thoughtful and intentional reflection on the surrounding issues, beliefs, or values.
An identity foreclosure example may be when someone who decides to pursue a career path based solely on expected salary or prestige without seriously considering their own interests and goals is engaging in identity foreclosure.
Similarly, individuals may reach certain conclusions about religion or politics by solely relying on the views of family members and peers rather than taking steps to research various positions available independently.
In each case, there is no engagement with meaningful growth opportunities due to premature commitment.
Overall, identity foreclosure is a concept that highlights why it’s important for individuals to strive for thoughtfulness in their decision-making.
Identity Foreclosure Definition
Identity foreclosure is a concept used in psychology to describe the process of prematurely committing to a particular lifestyle or worldview without engaging in meaningful exploration, reflection, or research.
It is typically seen as an aspect of non-normative identity development and can lead to stagnation in one’s ability to grow or progress toward personal fulfillment.
As written by Yunus and colleagues (2012),
“…identity foreclosure is the status of an adolescent who has made a commitment, but no exploration” (p. 146).
At its core, identity foreclosure involves individuals making decisions based solely on external influences such as family members, peers, or cultural expectations rather than their own individual values and goals.
Erikson (1956) believes that:
“…identity foreclosure occurs when an individual settles into a single identity, closing off any further exploration of other identities in their hierarchy, and often happens in order to resolve or avoid role conflict” (Whipple, 2009, p. 3).
Scientifically speaking, identity foreclosure is associated with maladaptive coping strategies such as rumination (which is characterized by repetitive negative thoughts), which can arise from difficulty dealing with stress or uncertainty.
Additionally, recent studies have found that identity foreclosure leads to decreased mental health functioning due to lowered self-esteem arising from identity confusion (Sharma & Chandiramani, 2021).
Simply, identity foreclosure is a concept that serves to remind individuals of the importance of taking time to explore and reflect on their values, beliefs, and goals before committing to a certain path in life.
10 Examples of Identity Foreclosure
- Selecting a college major based on parental wishes: A university student opts for a particular field of study in response to their parents’ desires, neglecting to investigate their own personal interests and aspirations. This decision hinders their ability to identify a domain that aligns with their ambitions, leading to identity foreclosure.
- Continuing a family legacy: A person decides to maintain the family enterprise without contemplating other professional possibilities. This choice is frequently motivated by a sense of responsibility rather than true enthusiasm, causing an underdeveloped sense of personal career identity.
- Embracing familial religious views: An individual adopts the religious viewpoints of their family members without scrutinizing or seeking different spiritual options. Such unquestioning acceptance can contribute to identity foreclosure, as they might miss the chance to cultivate a spiritual identity that corresponds with their own beliefs.
- Conforming to cultural standards: A person may rigorously conform to their community’s cultural values, customs and expectations without evaluating whether those values coincide with their own convictions. This compliance can result in identity foreclosure, as the individual does not delve into other cultural alternatives or create a distinct cultural identity.
- Entering a marriage due to obligation: A boy may choose to marry someone based on familial or societal pressure rather than love or compatibility. This decision may lead to identity foreclosure, as he does not explore other potential relationships or fully understand his own desires for a romantic partner.
- Adhering to traditional gender roles: A woman may conform to traditional gender roles without considering their personal preferences and identity. This conformity can lead to identity foreclosure, as she may not have the opportunity to explore other gender expressions or fully understand her own gender identity.
- Joining a political party based on family affiliation: An adolescent may align themselves with a political party due to family influence without critically examining their own political beliefs or considering alternative perspectives. Consequently, they may not develop their own political identity or understand the nuances of their political values.
- Adopting a friend’s interests: A person may adopt their friends’ interests or hobbies without exploring their own passions or considering alternative pursuits. If not addressed, this mimicry could ultimately lead to identity foreclosure by stifling their ability to reflect and cultivate personal interests.
- Entering a profession due to social status: Suppose someone decides to pursue a particular profession for the prestige and social status it affords rather than considering whether the career aligns with their personal goals and values. This choice also can result in identity foreclosure, as the individual may not be fully satisfied or engaged in their chosen profession.
- Upholding family values without question: Identity foreclosure may occur when a family member embraces their family’s values without considering their own beliefs. This lack of introspection can prevent individuals from understanding and expressing their values and ideals.
Origins of Identity Foreclosure
Identity foreclosure was first articulated in the late 1960s and early 1970s by clinical psychologist James Marcia as a development of Erikson’s earlier stages of identity formation (Marcia et al., 1993).
Erikson (1994) believed that individuals undergo a process of identity formation during adolescence, whereby they explore and negotiate different identities to discover one that can guide them into adulthood.
Marcia, however, suggested that some individuals remain in the exploration phase of identity formation and do not progress to the commitment stage.
In his research, Marcia observed a pattern of behavior amongst adolescents where they prematurely committed to an identity without exploring or researching the surrounding issues (Marcia et al., 1993).
Marcia argued that identity exploration should be seen as a part of normal adolescent development.
It means teens should be encouraged to engage in thoughtful self-reflection and consideration before coming to any conclusions about their beliefs and ambitions for life rather than automatically following societal trends or the expectations of others.
Since Marcia’s initial research, identity foreclosure has become an integral part of the study of human development. Researchers have continued to explore how this phenomenon affects adolescents and young adults in their formative years.
Stages of Identity Development
Within the identity formation framework, there are four distinct developmental paths that individuals may take when creating their identity: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement (Marcia et al., 1993).
- Identity diffusion refers to an individual who has not yet developed a strong sense of self; instead, their behavior is largely propelled by outside sources such as family or peers.
- Identity foreclosure involves individuals making definitive choices about themselves prematurely without the opportunity to explore various options or seek advice from others.
- Identity moratorium represents a period of exploration where individuals form an integrated sense of self but haven’t yet decided who they want to become.
- Identity achievement represents a fully formed and committed sense of self, indicating that individuals have taken the time to fully consider and explore potential aspects of their identity before committing to one path (Marcia et al., 1993).
Importance of Identity Foreclosure
Identity foreclosure is an important concept in the study of human development as it provides valuable insight into why certain individuals might prematurely commit to a single identity without exploring all possible options.
By thoroughly understanding this phenomenon, researchers can better understand how it affects decision-making and lifestyle choices, leading to interventions and strategies designed to facilitate positive growth and development in those affected.
Identity foreclosure has been linked to multiple negative outcomes, such as substance abuse, socio-emotional issues, impaired relationships, delinquency, low educational attainment, poor job prospects, mental health issues, and self-harm (Sharma & Chandiramani, 2021).
It can also lead to missed opportunities for growth and exploration, limiting one’s potential for success later in life (Marcia et al., 1993).
Recognizing the impact of identity foreclosure is essential for developing strategies that support healthy development while minimizing negative consequences.
Critique of Identity Foreclosure
Identity foreclosure has been criticized for its potential to limit individual development and cause psychological distress.
Critics have argued that by locking themselves into a single path prematurely, individuals may be hindered from exploring their possible futures and discovering hidden talents or interests that could lead to greater success in the future.
Additionally, they may not be aware of the possible repercussions of their decisions, leading to further frustration and unhappiness.
As such, adults must help young people explore all available options before making definitive choices about their identities to set them up for success.
Identity foreclosure is a psychological concept that describes the process of an individual prematurely committing to a specific lifestyle or worldview without adequately exploring other alternatives.
This phenomenon can lead to missed opportunities for personal growth and limit an individual’s potential for success in various aspects of life.
Some need to reflect thoughtfully and explore their values, beliefs, and goals before making life-altering decisions.
Understanding the concept of identity foreclosure can help individuals avoid prematurely closing off their identity exploration and, instead, encourage them to take time to examine different paths in life thoroughly.
Erikson, E. H. (1994). Identity and the life cycle. Norton.
Marcia, J. E., Waterman, A. S., Matteson, D. R., Archer, S. L., & Orlofsky, J. L. (1993). Ego identity: A handbook for psychosocial research. Springer New York.
Sharma, D., & Chandiramani, K. (2021). Impact of identity process on psychological well-being of adolescents. The International Journal of Indian Psychology, 9(1), 769–786. https://doi.org/10.25215/0901.082
Whipple, K. R. (2009). Athletic identity, identity foreclosure, and career maturity: An investigation of intercollegiate athletes [Graduate Theses and Dissertations]. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/38925006.pdf
Yunus, F. W., Malik, M., & Zakaria, A. (2012). A study on the identity status of future english teachers. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 35, 146–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.02.073