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Identity Diffusion Definition

The Meaning of Identity Diffusion


Updated March 18, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Identity diffusion is one step in the process of finding a sense of self. It refers to a period when an individual does not have an established identity, nor is actively searching for one. In other words, it's a time when a person's identity remains unresolved, yet there is no identity crisis (called an identity moratorium).

Children and young tweens are often in a state of identity diffusion for most types of identity, such as religious, occupational or cultural identity. For instance, if you ask a young tween whether he is a Republican, Democrat or Independent - that is, about his political identity - he would most likely say he doesn't know and has never even thought about it. This is a classic answer from someone in identity diffusion: there is no commitment to a way of thinking and no concern about that lack of commitment. Identity diffusion is a normal phase in personality development.

Identity diffusion is one of four identity statuses identified by psychologist James Marcia. Theorist Erik Erikson also wrote extensively about identity crises.

Related terms: Identity Moratorium, Identity Foreclosure, Identity Achievement

Santrock, John, PhD. Children, Eleventh Edition. 2010. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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